Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Yoga of Transformative Writing

I can easily remember the date of my first yoga class here in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was Sept. 11, 2001. I had taken a few classes here and there in the 1990’s back in Florida, and I’d been wanting to start taking it on a more regular basis, but there were no classes nearby until a YMCA opened up near my house. Of course I’ll never forget that day. I was so happy that I’d found a class near me, and I immediately liked the teacher. And yet the day that I started my journey with yoga, our collective journey as a nation “at war with terrorism” also began. The juxtaposition of my individual peace-filled morning practice with a nation’s unexplainable horror made everything seem surreal and uncertain. But two days later I went back to yoga. It sustained me through many a difficult time.

The other night, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Ashtanga, NY about a yoga class taking place in New York City at the time of the 9/11 attack. It was interesting to see how the yoga practice helped the participants absorb the terrible news and cope with the tragic sense of loss. Yoga helped them internalize and process external events.

Yoga means union. I have studied both the spiritual side of yoga through Isha yoga and the physical aspects of it through my local YMCA. The physical practice of yoga has grown enormously in popularity. According to an article in the New York Times, “the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011.” The article was actually about the negative effects of yoga. No doubt people can injure themselves doing yoga, just as you can injure yourself any time you get up off the couch.

But there’s a reason for its popularity. When you are doing yoga you are fully present. I rarely think about anything else when I am doing yoga. My family worries disappear, the latest drama with my students is of no importance, and I’m not wondering what I’m going to eat next! I’m completely there on the mat. I’m in my body, fully aware of the steadiness of my breath, that tautening of my muscles, and even the expression on my face.

So how does this relate to transformative writing you may be wondering? It relates because the greatest gift we can give to our writing is to be fully present, to be in the moment, absorbing each detail, recording the sounds we hear, and noticing our thoughts and bodily reactions.

I think there are other connections as well. Yoga is a practice, and as it grounds us in the now, it becomes a spiritual practice. The now moment is where we meet the Divine. Transformative writing is also a practice. We do it regularly. Sometimes we have rituals associated with our writing practice: a hot cup of tea, a special place where we like to sit, or some other routine. When we engage in transformative writing, we are accessing the Creator within. It is our creativity that makes us divine. When we are in the creative flow we enter a blissful state. We are more alive.

When you are in your yoga class practicing with other yoginis, you are in communion with others. Transformative writing is also about communion. It is the connections we make with others that make the writing truly transformative. Yoga and transformative writing bring us together and sustain us through tough times.

I am certainly not saying that you have to take yoga in order to write well. I could just as easily say you should become an alcoholic to write well! (We have plenty of examples to back up that statement.) No, I’m simply making a connection between two activities that are meaningful to me.

The thing I love about both yoga and about writing is that I will never be perfect at either one. I will always be a student, always learning, always trying to get a little better. The mat and the page will always challenge me. They remind me not just of my divinity but of my fallible humanity as well.

WIY: Here are a few prompts to play with this week:
What do you do that is physical? What are the rewards and challenges? Describe it. Get into the body.
What is writing like for you? By that I mean, what other thing can you compare it to?
What is your spiritual practice? How does it feed your writing? And how does your writing feed your spirituality?
Create a character who has an obsession. Show that character doing what he or she loves to do, needs to do.
Finally, put a character or a community in a situation of crisis or tragedy. How does the character/community cope with it? Show us what enables them to move forward.

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