The Gift of Yoga & Writing
Nov 30, 2015 10:56AM
by Yael FlusbergAfter failing to interest a single agent or editor in a book-length memoir project, I began playing with shorter pieces as a path to healing from my creative stillbirth. Without a clear purpose for my writing, I frequently felt stuck, unsure of where to begin. One morning, I turned on reggae and laid out my yoga mat, placing my journal and purple pen by the top corner. I began to move. When a thought appeared that I couldn’t breathe away, I paused and wrote it down. Magic didn’t happen that first time, but eventually, the process of interweaving the movement of my breath and body with the pen on the page generated many ideas for poems – and more importantly, allowed profound healing insights to find their way to the surface.
Since then, I have offered dozens of “Pen and Pose” workshops in diverse settings—from libraries and community gardens to poetry festivals and hospices. While each workshop’s focus is unique, participants report surprisingly similar results: being able to access what University of Chicago professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as a “flow” state, where “every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved.”
This egoless, effortless concentration is where the richest memories and ideas can emerge, asking us to revisit what we have previously carried unknown and unexamined, or to explore new ways of engaging with our inner landscape and with others.
Seven tips for integrating yoga with writing (or any creative activity!) in your own practice:
Remember that yoga is more than poses. Pen and Pose sessions often begin with a guided visualization and then students are asked to write about the images that showed up. Meditation, breathwork, mudras, mantras, non-yoga movement (such as dancing or tai chi) can be powerful portals to deeper meaning.
Give yourself enough time to connect fully with each activity. Try interspersing activities in chunks, giving 10 to 20 minutes per segment. Experiment, but don’t shortchange your writing for sake of exercise.
Warm up your body and your creativity. Similar to physical warm ups, consider an initial writing segment to get you out of your head and into the groove. Try six-word memoirs, haikus, five-minute “freewriting” (where you write without attention to spelling or grammar, letting thoughts take their writing astray at will), or just a simple prompt such as “today”.
Plan for at least one longer writing exercise. Choose a writing prompt ahead of time, so you can dive headfirst into writing. Your prompt could be a poem. You can write about what the piece means to you, or let your imagine run wild. Feel free to steal the title, or a phase or image within the poem, and launch your writing from that place. Or, use a family photo, an object from nature, even the morning headline. Alternatively, pose a question you’ve been wrestling with that you don’t know the answer to. Over the years, I’ve done many lists: the five people I’d love to invite to a dinner party, the person I’d most like to be stuck with in an airport bar, what gives and drains my energy, what I’m terrified of admitting even to myself, etc.
Consider a theme. I plan my public sessions with by selecting themes first. Themes can be seasonal (“winter”), environmental (“muddy waters”), physical (“scars”), or occasional (“loss”). From here, I pick my writing prompts and, depending on my audience, the yogic elements that make the most sense. Themes sometimes allow for improvisation to happen more readily.
Honor whatever comes up. What comes up might be dark, strange—even nonsensical. Go with it. As Natalie Goldberg advises: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” Then, put your pen aside, and do something else.
Let your body and mind integrate. Make sure to give yourself at least five minutes at the end of each session to relax quietly. Take a final resting position such as legs up against the wall or corpse pose.
As a yoga therapist, I believe “the issues are in the tissues.” Using yoga and writing as parallel tools for shifting your awareness and excavating what might have been buried inside is the biggest gift you can give yourself this holiday season.
Yael Flusberg is a Reiki Master Teacher, board-certified polarity therapist, yoga therapist, leadership coach, organizational facilitator and poet at the GW Center for Integrative Medicine.