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Writing Lessons I Learned from Yoga

I have been practicing yoga for over eight years, and I often find that lessons I learn on the mat can be transferred to other parts of my life, including my writing. Here are a few truths about yoga and writing (and probably about life in general).

It is not a competitive sport.

I am in yoga class, sitting with my legs spread wide. I look at a woman across the studio with her hands on her toes and her nose to the floor, and I feel a momentary squirm of jealousy. I have to remind myself that everyone’s bodies are different, and everyone is coming to practice from a completely different place.

There is no “failing” in yoga, and the same goes for writing. I might feel jealous of a writer who is ten years younger than me and has a best-selling novel, but comparing myself to others is not a productive activity. I have to simply do my best and feel proud of what I accomplish, no matter what people around me are doing.

Natural ability will only take you so far. The rest is diligent practice.

I used to be able to touch my nose to the ground, like that woman on the other side of the studio, but lately I’ve begun to realize that my natural stretchiness has actually been impeding my progress as I try to deepen my yoga practice. When muscles are over-stretched and under-strengthened, it puts pressure on the ligaments. In fact, I injured myself badly a few years ago by stretching too far, too fast. Since then, I’ve been focusing on building muscle and improving my balance. I’ve become more humble as I try to get rid of bad habits and relearn poses.

In the same way, I was always praised for my creative writing in school, but perhaps this reliance on natural ability has impeded my progress as I try to take my writing to the next level. I’ve dashed out a few novels, but they haven’t been very structured or very good. I am now learning to write with more strength, balance, and control. I’ve had to grow humble and get rid of bad habits as I retrain myself to become a stronger writer.

It’s a lot of work to sit still.

Our next seated pose is dandasana, which doesn’t look very hard, but there is a lot going on internally. I’m tightening my core, engaging my back and leg muscles, practicing my breathing, and attempting to clear my mind.

Some days it might not look like I am making any progress with my writing. But there is a lot going on beneath the surface. I am gathering experiences and processing ideas. I am reading books and observing the world. That takes a lot of work. When it is time to sit down and write, it is sometimes hard to stay put. I think about all the other tasks I need to do. I start to wonder if I have what it takes to be a writer. That is when I must fight the urge to give up. I have to stay seated in front of my computer and do my best to thoroughly engage my mind.

You can always do more.

We have moved on from seated postures to arm balances. We are doing side crow—a pose I just learned a few months ago. “Once you have figured out how to balance here,” the instructor says, “you can try scissoring out your legs. Once you’ve gotten that, you can work on transitioning from side crow to plank. If you get there, you can try doing it all with your eyes closed to further challenge your balance.” She smiles serenely.

I suppose the journey never ends, and there is always more to learn. And the way to learn is through practice. If I am starting to feel comfortable with my writing, maybe it’s time to try something new. Stretch myself, so to speak. Never give up, never stop working.

Find a balance between effort and ease.

I am standing in warrior two pose when the instructor says, “Find a balance in this position between effort and ease. In every pose, we should be challenging ourselves, but we should also be finding a sense of relaxation. A way to rest in the pose.”

I know I need to push myself to write (sitting on the couch watching Netflix won’t get my novel written), but on the other hand, if I push too hard I’ll get stressed, frustrated, discouraged, depressed. And I don’t want to live my life filled with those feelings.

It’s a balance. Push too hard, too fast, and I’ll end up hurting myself, but if I don’t push at all, I’ll never make gains. The trick is to challenge myself, but to find ease in the work. Take a day off from writing every now and again. Spend a week just brainstorming ideas. Writing should be a challenge, but it should also be a source of joy.

Be kind to yourself.

I am lying in shivasana (“corpse pose”) at the end of class. I am tired, and I feel as if I’m melting into the mat. “Take a moment,” the instructor says, “to thank your body for all the hard work it does for you every day.”

All my life I have been fighting against my body, focusing on its flaws and trying to change it. I never stop to appreciate it. While I have been berating my body, it has quietly continued pumping blood into my veins and breathing air into my lungs, without me even having to ask.

It’s easy to be hard on myself. I think my writing is bad or that I’m not writing enough. Instead of engaging with these negative thoughts, however, I should appreciate the hard work I do each day. I need to feel proud of all I have accomplished so far and feel secure in the thought that I have many more successes to come.