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Practice (Not Posture) Makes Perfect

Acro_Yoga

In last week’s post, I focused on what yoga has taught me as a writer: in short, that my practice doesn’t end when I leave the mat. (Let me also acknowledge the influence of Alexander Technique, a great bridge between yoga and daily life, to which I’ll circle back in a later post.)

Writing this post is the reminder I need to reposition myself at the edge of my seat, so as to place both feet fully on the floor, enabling me to feel my whole body as one unit.

When I feel (or imagine I feel) the energy moving up from the ground through my body and onto the page, it gives me the awareness I need to release unnecessary tension that would otherwise erode my progress or arrest it altogether.

Since I’m a fidgeter, the trick becomes to maintain awareness and release as I travel through my own spontaneous series of would-rather-be-moving-around-than-seated-writing poses.

Of course, that flow is exactly what makes the act of writing a physical practice and not a held posture.

Hangle_Dangle

Writing for Yoga Practitioners

In the past I would have thought of myself as needing a reminder to “sit up straight,” the moment-to-moment equivalent of a counter pose to slouching.

Likewise in yoga class, I wished for a mirror so I might more effectively emulate the “correctness” of my instructor’s posture in the pose of the moment and hold for the duration.

No more — the best part of getting older, knowing better!

Perhaps because it’s normally performed in solitude, and because there is no actual performance, it’s easier to recognize the internal aspects of a writing practice.

It still took me more than a decade to take that knowledge to my yoga practice, and to grasp in my teacher’s demonstration of each pose the equivalent of a writing prompt, a jumping-off point.

The most important relationship in any yoga class turns out to be not the one between my teacher and myself but the one between the different parts of the body, a relationship that differs with every pose.

When I practice Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, for instance, a version of which appears in the above picture, it’s essential that I remain focused on the internal reality of my limbs radiating out from a strong center, the strength of which I need to maintain with sufficient flexibility, release, breath, and continually moving energy.

That directive to “turn inward,” which previously seemed vague and esoteric, now seems much more concrete: whether writing or doing yoga, I need to keep practicing in order to hear the subtle messages of my body, to extend further out from even deeper within.

The Writer’s Body

Of course, some will argue that it’s necessary for writers to turn inwards to the degree that we lose all awareness of our bodies, our surroundings, the present moment.

And they’re not wrong. There’s no reason to berate ourselves when we do experience those blissful moments of inspired oblivion — even if we’re “slouching towards Bethlehem,” as the poet said.

But how often does this really happen? (Cue: Collective sigh.)

Most of the time, physical discomfort actively hinders my efforts to access that writing samadhi.

The more I practice writing, the more I think of it as a physical act, not a way of being, but a way of moving through space, seeking to connect with readers in the way an acroyogi connects with a partner.

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Yoga for Writers

Utkatasana-Pose

Yoga has been a part of my life for more than 13 years now, but only in this last year did I begin to see how I might bring my yoga and writing practices into alignment.

Perhaps that’s one reason I’ll finally be taking a yoga teacher training this summer in DC.

In a previous post, I wrote about discovering the way five stages evoking the “classic arc” of a vinyasa yoga class also mirror the five stages presented in The Creative Compass.

The transit we make through a yoga class resembles the one we make as writers (or artists) through a project: as we move away from beginnings, we undertake the pathway to our own peaks, surmounting obstacles along the way, ultimately (read: ideally) coming at once to our journey’s conclusion and the realization that it has transformed us.

(And yes, if your yoga class doesn’t make you feel this way, then you may need to try a different one.)

Basic Writer’s Asana

First the fundamentals: Both yoga and writing ask us to spend long periods in challenging positions.

As anyone who practices yoga will tell you, however, it’s not about freezing in place but dynamic stillness, rooting into the ground and moving deeper into each stretch with every breath, sending that continuous flow of energy into an arm or body balance.

Eka_Pada_koundinyasana

To that end, yoga has something essential to teach us as writers.

Yoga asanas (or postures) can certainly be difficult but they’re designed to protect and promote our health, progressively building strength, stamina, and flexibility as we inhabit them.

Whereas our own primary desk-bound “writer’s asana” can easily and habitually turn into a spine-compressing, shoulder-rounding, leg-entangled crunch — more “oof!” than “Om.”

But all we have to do is sit up straight or use a standing desk, right?

If only it were so easy. Everything you’ve heard about “correct posture”? At the least, it bears a second look.

Come back next week for the concluding post in this two-part series: Practice (Not Posture) Makes Perfect.

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On Doing What Works

The Zeigarnik effect!

This past weekend, I stumbled upon scientific support for the method that helped me to draft The Creative Compass. In an earlier post (on drafting), I wrote:

At first, I aimed to complete one chapter per day, but I quickly fell back on an older strategy: In two to six hours of daily writing, I aimed to produce only the first 300 words of that day’s chapter, knowing that it would be easier to pick up from where I’d left off as I completed each draft the following day, producing about 1,000 words total [end of one chapter, beginning of the next] for the day.

This strategy worked for me, and it turns out to have a psychological basis in the Zeigarnik effect, which I read about on The Bulletproof Musician (via Harmonious Bodies).

Ph.D. performance psychologist Noa Kageyama describes how study participants who successfully completed a difficult puzzle in the given time “were far less likely to resume working on [any of] the puzzles in their free time than those who did not complete the puzzle.”

The bottom line:

[W]hen interrupted in the middle of a task, not only were participants more motivated to resume working on that task, but they also continued working on it for much longer.

Kagayama draws upon these studies to make some great suggestions for getting started — and his thoughts prompted a personal revelation.

Sometimes it’s easy to miss obvious connections — only now do I realize that it might help me to consciously draw on the Zeigarnik effect in each of my projects, whether practicing singing or guitar or even my daily workout. I’ve always thought I craved a sense of completion in each day’s work, but maybe I actually need the sense of a task undone to bring me back to it the following day (or sooner). More on this once I’ve tried it. (Or perhaps you already have? Let me know by email or twitter.)

In this case, I know this strategy works because it has already worked for me: it helped me to produce a published book. As I continue to document my own adventures in screenwriting, however, I’m going to be writing about untested strategies — and when I say untested I don’t mean that I won’t try them out myself and report back, but that it may be a while before I see the success that generally confers a halo upon any work that led up to it.

So, in the meantime, why should you try out any of these strategies? It’s a fair question.

My answer: You should do so only if the strategy intrigues you, and you should keep doing so only if it actually works for you. By ‘works’ I mean: Does it produce results? Does it make you want to keep going? Does it lead to new discoveries? Does it synthesize with other tested knowledge? If it doesn’t work for you, then that’s really all that matters — not whether it worked for Mozart or Michael Jordan or Meryl Streep. Or me.

Psst! It’s going to take me one more week to return to the question I raised here. Thanks for your patience.

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