mash-ups, spirituality, sunday summary, yoga

The Intersection of Yoga and Writing–and this Week’s Mash-Up

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Earlier this year, I rediscovered my yoga practice. For those of you who don’t do yoga, it’s more than a form of exercise; it’s a spiritual practice meant to bring mind, body, and soul into balance.

For most of my life, I’ve celebrated and revered the life of the mind. From the mind all great inventions and creations spring: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Einstein’s theory of relativity. Gradually, I allowed my spiritual practice to fall away, too consumed with what I was doing. I saw my body merely as a tool, not as something to be honored in its own right.

By forcing us to become aware of our bodies–every muscle, every movement, every breath–yoga reconnects our busy minds, our stressed bodies, our neglected souls. Its art is in its simplicity: The focus on breathing in and out, the holding and releases of poses. Even wiggling the fingers, flexing the toes, following the breath from nose to belly, draws the awareness. We release the worries of our day. The books to be written, tasks to be completed fall away. And in that space, mind, body, and heart become one. By the end of the practice, we stop chiding ourselves for our failings. We accept ourselves as we are. True, that feeling rarely lasts, but it becomes easier to cultivate with each breath, each posture, each intention.

At the beginning of every practice, my instructor asks us to set an intention. In November, our focus has been gratitude. What are we grateful for? In that space, there’s no room to overthink. I’m grateful for my body, my life, my job, my art, the simple blessing of attending yoga class each week and the kind souls who join me there. We can also dedicate our practice to something, if we choose. The options are endless. These are not goals, but intentions–simpler, deeper, powerful.

Such a practice can also be helpful for us, as artists, as writers. Too many blog posts and articles tell us to set goals. We create Excel spreadsheets and track our word counts. Ours is a very goal-driven society, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But sometimes, it’s not the quantity of words written. It’s the intent with which we write.

During our yoga class, the sun’s last rays filter in through the high windows. Candles flicker from all corners of the room. Wooden floorboards creak gently beneath our feet as we stretch and move between poses. Quiet music plays in the background. There’s no competition; we’re too focused on our own breath, each person reaching as far into the pose as she can. Like writers before the blank page, it’s just us. No one is watching.

If you were to set an intention each day as you sat before the blank page, what would it be? An intention isn’t a goal, a number, something measured, easily achieved or clearly delivered. It comes from a deeper place.

The next time you sit down to write, how would you answer this question: Why are you writing today? What is your intention?

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness:

Mila Ballentine interviews enchantress of tales Tonya Kappes in this inspiring interview.
Michelle Davidson talks faerie-tale inspiration in this guest blog post at Nicole Zoltack’s blog.
Wisdom and Whimsy: Join the bloggers over at the Fantasy Collective for a celebration of author Anne McCaffrey’s work.
Lisa Lin offers tips to keep the procrastination faeries at bay.
In the midst of NaNo, memoirist Wade Rouse offers authors 10 ways to stay true to themselves in publishing.
Graphic designer, photographer, author. Melinda VanLone does it all, and Diane Capri caught up with her to chat about her upcoming release.

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In pockets of silence: Yoga, stillness, and making art

“Every day the sun rises/ out of low word-clouds/ into burning silence.”–Rumi, “Secret Places”

Writers, like the lovers in Rumi’s poem Secret Places, also often dwell in secret, silent places. As writers, we have an intimate relationship with language. Yet it’s what is beyond the words that matters; it’s the evocation of emotion in the reader that gives art meaning. As Ursula K. Le Guin puts it, “The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.”

I’m thinking about this because last night, after a long hiatus, I came back to my yoga practice. My hamstrings were tight, and there were a couple surprise moments where I realized how much tension I’d been carrying around with me. It’s the letting go, the paying attention to the silent tension in our bodies and releasing it into relaxation, that makes yoga so wonderful for mind, body, and spirit. We’re all carrying things we didn’t realize we were carrying. In yoga, we feel the weight of each thing, each tight muscle, each pocket of unacknowledged stress, and we work toward letting it go. At the end of my practice, I felt calmer, lighter, and grateful. Yoga practices, composed of studied poses, bring us to awareness and to stillness. Through movement, we make our way to stillness and repose.

I see yoga practice as a form of composition; if not its own art form, yoga is at least linked to my artist craft. Writing is about finding stillness and silence, and listening. It seems strange that a 95,000-word novel, with all of the energy and the flurry of activity that goes into its creation, is made up of so much listening, of so many moments of quietude.

The words are there. We’re just listening for them. We are scribes in the truest sense of the word. Someone else is talking; we’re just jotting down what they say. I don’t “create” my characters. I’m not even sure I find them. I believe they find me.

There’s so much talking in the world. A student of rhetoric, I’m fascinated by the way we make meaning, by the way we reason and debate, and by the way we communicate our ideas and beliefs to each other. It’s everywhere, in newspapers and shopping malls, in conversations in our homes and Starbucks and around the water cooler. We are creatures of meaning, and I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand how we make meaning—or how we find it.

But I don’t believe writers get to make meaning. I think we share stories. It’s up to communities of readers and individual readers to find the meaning in a story or a poem. The writer’s idea of what something means carries as much weight as each reader’s; it’s the writer’s interpretation of his or her own work as read through the writer’s eyes (the writer-reader). I’m so eager to send stories out into the world because it’s there they find their voice. Art is meant to be shared.

But it’s always the silence that I come back to, searching for the words that, if I cup an ear and stay still, will find their way to me. The notes are already there, humming in the air around me. I find a place of stillness and repose, and I listen. And then I write the songs of my characters. It’s their words, their melodies I’m writing. They are the singers. I’m just the scribe.

Here’s to a little Svasana to help us find our way back to our center and ourselves. Namaste.