As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’m in the middle of training for my yoga certification so I can teach yoga for writers. As someone who loves to experiment with ways to improve my writing and creative mind, yoga and meditation were always something I turned to in order to find space for my process. Now, I’m taking a deep dive, and it’s been transformative.
You don’t have to spend eight hours like me every Sunday doing a million chatarangas to get the benefits of yoga in your writing process. Here are some of the lessons and tools from yoga that anyone can use, regardless of your ability to put your foot behind your head:
1. I Am a Student of My Body — and My Body of Work
This is a mantra I love that gets repeated frequently in my yoga training. As students of our bodies, we have so much to learn from them. With kindness, we can curiously explore how our bodies move into poses, where our edge is, and how to find depth without pain.
Same goes for writing: everything we write and produce serves to teach us a lesson about us and our work. The only way we can improve with each draft and each script is by being open to reflecting on past drafts and stories and figuring out what worked and what didn’t.
In yoga, it’s all about doing things with kind curiosity. How does half moon pose feel like if I use a block to support my hand? How does it feel to rotate my chest more upward, and maybe take my gaze up? Every body is different, and so each pose is going to be approached differently.
Same with scripts and stories: it’s a journey, and there’s no one-size-fits-all writing advice for each project. Having a curious mind when approaching your story will help you be less frustrated, and instead just start to approach different solutions to a problem you’re facing with an open mind.
2. Find Stillness to Find Peace and Creativity
Wow, do I struggle with this one. In the last seven days, I’ve read an entire book in twenty-four hours for a True Crime book club at the Last Bookstore, I ran a writing workshop in my favorite coffeeshop with some other amazing writers, did 16 hours of yoga training today and last Sunday, went to a meditation workshop and a dueling piano bar and a concert and oh also did real work and wrote and ran around on the Universal lot in a golf cart after a lunch meeting —
— yeah. So, suffice to say this is why I’m in bed with tea and a hummus wrap and no plans of leaving anytime soon until I have to.
All this chaotic busyness is also on the heels of me writing my post about how introverts need space and alone time to function!
Pushing myself beyond my limits — both on the page and on my calendar — is definitely an unhealthy habit of mine. Arguably, pushing yourself beyond your limits help you realize where you limits actually are, but if you do it too often (as I maybe do…) then you’ll end up burnt out and exhausted. Luckily, I’m able to pull myself back and take the space I need before I get stretched too thin, but I’m not going to be able to do 8 hours of yoga after staying up dancing until 2am forever, so moving forward I need to be a bit more kind on myself.
There’s this quote I stumbled across that really stuck with me:
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy: then, you should sit for an hour.”-Old Zen Proverb
Meditation and stillness act as a cleaning crew for your brain: just like a restful night’s sleep, they help you clear out the negative thoughts so you can enjoy the present moment.
We’ve all had intrusive thoughts along the lines of “I’m never going to amount to anything”/”I’m a terrible writer”/”I’m not a writer” — and those can be damaging thoughts. They keep us from the page. Meditation can help cut through our imposter syndrome and insecurities in a way that other types of rest (i.e. turning on Netflix) don’t really confront or assuage.
There’s this amazing article in the Smarter Living Column at the New York Times about how procrastination is a mood management problem, not a time management problem. We procrastinate because of the negative emotions surrounding a task we don’t want to do.
The same applies to writers’ block: we feel like we can’t write because of negative self-talk and other emotions that are keeping us from the page. Meditation and yoga can help cultivate an attitude of positivity and peacefulness that dissolve writers’ block and procrastination. Trust me — it works.
So, give meditation a shot. Download an app like Headspace, and just sit in silence for 20 minutes a day. Do it for 28 days I dare you and get @ me on Twitter to let me know if you think Southern California has turned me into a juice-loving vegan yoga hippie, or if meditation actually helped you write your space opera. I’ll be patiently watching my mentions.
3. If You’re Feeling Sharp Stabbing Pain You’re Doing it Wrong
In yoga, the mantra “no pain no gain” doesn’t exist. Instead, finding your edge should be a pain-free process: we build heat in the body and challenge ourselves in different ways, but we never aspire to pain. Especially sharp, stabbing pain.
Same for writing: while staring at a blank page might be daunting or scary or challenging, it should never be painful. The writing process, on good days, should yield a flow state where you love what you’re doing.
If writing is like pulling teeth, maybe you’re too focused on the outcome instead of the process. Stop thinking about how this script will bring you fame or riches, and instead think about how your characters feel and and what you’re trying to say with this story. Why does each word matter to you?
In the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga, there is the idea of “Aparigraha” or non-attachment. This yama, or attitude to our environment, is meant to free us from our ideas of what should be. By freeing yourself from your expectations, you can more fully enjoy the process and take your writing and your life day-by-day.
That’s not to say you can’t plan and strategize and write with an intent: it just means that you’ll be happier if you stop focusing every energy on what it will feel like to hold an Oscar and instead revel in how it feels to type beautiful words on a page. Besides, as we saw this year, the Oscars aren’t exactly the best decider of merit.
4. If You Stop Breathing That Means You’re Dead, So Maybe Just Take Everything One Breath at a Time
Yes, I’m submitting this subheading to Panic! At the Disco for consideration for their next single title.
But I’m not wrong. Ever. Okay, maybe just about a few things. Anyways. Where was I?
Oh yes, breathing. Get back to it. I know you’re thinking, hey, this is an autonomous nervous function. I don’t have to think about it, why would I? Because I’m a stranger on the internet telling you that if you take things a breath at a time, you can do basically anything until Thanos snaps his fingers. If you don’t have a movie on the Marvel release slate by that point, we know you’re dead for real.
Stepping of the dead meme train, let me get real for a second.
When was the last time you took a full, deep breath? Like, you emptied out your lungs completely, and then luxuriated in filling them up all the way, maybe sipping in a bit more air before exhaling.
Maybe it’s been hours. Days. Longer. When we’re stressed, our breathing gets quick and inefficient. We don’t realize how we store tension, and it can build up if we don’t actively practice deep breathing.
When we control our breath using pranayama exercises or even just breathing long and deep, we actually control our parasympathetic nervous system and are able to calm it down.
Here’s a quick breathing exercise to try: inhale as deep as you can. Once you’ve filled up your lungs, purse your lips and act like there’s a tiny cocktail straw that’s definitely bad for the environment between them. Then, exhale through that make believe tiny straw, trying to make the exhale maybe even twice as long as the inhale. Do this five times: long slow inhales through your nose, and then exhales through pursed lips.
Now, how do you feel? If the answer is very relaxed — yes, of course you do. This is science. Basically. Now do this before your next pitch meeting (preferably before you’re around other people, but you do you) and see how you can actually control your nerves just by focusing on breath.
Another way I find this “live life one breath at a time” approach useful is during times of rejection or things not going as planned. For example, yesterday my script was passed on (which of course, happens all the time for everyone) at a company, and I was feeling a bit down about it. But I resolved to focus on taking life one breath at a time, so I did my yoga practice and started putting together a routine I’ll be teaching at an immersive theater retreat I’m attending.
As I finished up my yoga session, I got an email from the LA Times saying that they’d be purchasing a persona essay I’d submitted, and will be publishing it in June, which made my day. But it was also a reminder to stay true to my work and my vision, and not let external factors (both the rejections AND the wins) affect my work. Every day, I return to the page, every day, I return to my mat.
You never know what’s waiting for you — good or bad — so take it all in stride, on breath at a time.
Come to My Next Class
Now that I’ve imparted a decent amount of knowledge/detailed breakdown of how busy I’ve been this week upon you, why don’t you come join me for my next yoga class?
I also have a yoga instagram (because of course I do) that will have upcoming dates. I’m teaching a bunch of free classes as I test out my material on you (don’t worry, this isn’t yoga for standups), so come join me and let’s start a community of breath together. (Am I using Rumi references right yet?)
In all seriousness, though, yoga changed my life and is continuing to help me evolve my response to stress and anxiety and tap into a deeper sense of community and creativity — and I want to share that!