Find Your Chair Pose: How Yoga Helps Me Write

Often I feel like I’m stealing time from everything else I should be doing to write. Or else, I’m living the nightmare of an “I’d rather be fishing” bumper sticker. In this metaphor fishing = writing. It’s a constant trade-off between all the stuff that pays my bills, makes my loved ones happy, or simply keeps the normalcy of adult life – meals, chores, sleep – humming along versus the love, care, and feeding a novel manuscript demands.

The negotiation of how I spend my minutes takes its own toll. Merely shifting focus back to the page eats up time. University of California Irvine found it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds after being interrupted to get back to the original task. The ultimate distraction is nearly always within an arm’s reach. Cognitive capacity is significantly reduced in the presence of your mobile phone.

Other writers have extolled the virtues of retreats and when I’m able to get away and truly unplug for days, it’s glorious. But what about maintaining a daily habit amid all the other mental and emotional demands (not to mention unwatched cat videos)?

William Wordsworth took walks, Ruth Ozeki meditates, and Haruki Murakami runs long distances in order to clear their heads for writing. My recent refuge has been the 75-minute yoga class I attend directly after my work day. (I’m by no means the first to say that yoga works for writing — or better yet, hilariously parody that fact.)

But wait – what happened to measuring my minutes? How can I give up that much time to an exercise class when I’m fretting about how to tackle an overlong to-do list and should be racing home to put in time at the keyboard?

For me yoga is not about productive procrastination or the (much needed) exercise. It is also not about active brainstorming. Yoga asks me to focus on an entirely different set of concerns – rather than mentally triage work fires, making shopping lists, or uncovering the right motivation of a secondary character – I’m twisted around, bent in half and balancing on one leg in a sweaty room. There is no: let your mind wander or obsess, there is only my animal brain tensing all the right muscles at once to stretch and clench what needs to be stretched or clenched in order to stay upright (or upside down depending on the pose).

Truth is, I’m not the best yoga student. Yoga done right pairs mind and body through a focus on breath. Everything gives way to simple and singular breathe out, breath in rhythm. My goal in yoga class is not to join two disparate parts together. My goal is to draw a distinct line between my creative work and the rest of my day. It’s a ritual of transition.

Ask a yoga novice and he or she will confess that the best part of yoga class is the Shavasana, a final pose that comes at the end of class. Lying on your back, the aim is to identify and then release any and all tension in your body. It’s the perfect segue to a creative mindset – exhausted and clutter-free, it’s time to slowly reintroduce the questions about plot points and character flaws.

Not every transition ritual requires incense or chanting in Sanskrit – but it should involve the purposeful separation between what concerns you as a person and what concerns you as an author. And – if you’re lucky – whatever form that shift in mindset takes, will help you bend and twist in ways you never thought possible.

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1 comment

  1. Michael Nolan

    I’d be bragging if I said I was any kind of a yoga aficionado. But my wife is very good and she practices 3x a week. I am a yoga klutz and consequently she is embarrassed to be seen with me at the local yoga center. But I do like the meditation part. Your piece has inspired me to pledge at least fifteen minutes to meditation a day. It helps to get rid of the needless vexations of the day.

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