We often imagine famous authors writing away at their desk, day and night, with no interruption.
Perhaps just a break for a glass of whiskey or scotch? Or a cigarette break? After all, as Hemingway once (supposedly) said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” While there’s some truth to this statement in that writers do grapple with various challenges, writers also need a break. Hemingway, for instance, spent hours fishing and hunting. Emily Dickinson was an avid baker while Mark Twain enjoyed inventing. Haruki Murakami is a huge fan of jazz; Zadie Smith is enchanted by musicals.
As writers, we attempt to learn from the best, namely our favorite writers. We study their style, diction, and ideas. But I do think that there’s so much more we can learn from them by looking at the ways in which they engage(d) in activities that actually made/make them better, more productive writers. From jogging to coloring, those activities may take various forms for each writer–and although I’m not a yogi, I’ve accidentally come to the realization that yoga is mine.
I may not be a yogi. I am, however, a writer whose yoga practice has had her back for years.
I started doing yoga ten years ago in an effort to explore and learn to live with my generalized anxiety disorder, which has taken various shapes and forms over the years. I don’t identify as a yogi who wishes to train in India or plans to do a pilgrimage in Varanasi. I view my yoga practice as an invaluable tool that reminds me to move and think mindfully. It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, when I was introduced to the concept of mindful writing that I became cognizant that: the more regularly I practiced yoga, the more regularly I wrote; the more frequently I did yoga, the more open and motivated I felt. When I was experiencing writer’s block, for instance, I found it difficult to show up on my mat as well.
This, I realized, wasn’t a coincidence.
As Amber Burke from Yoga International writes,
“Writers are being given good reason to appreciate yoga. Research shows that it not only has the power to keep our bodies strong and supple, but also has positive effects on the brain. Yoga has been shown to have long-term neuroprotective benefits, as well as to increase gray matter in parts of the brain associated with attention, visualization, and stress regulation. Writers beset by criticism, from within or without, or beleaguered by the ups and downs of the writing process, might also be heartened to hear that yoga can help boost moods even more than walking. ”
Besides its undeniable physical benefits, yoga, like writing, is a reflective, explorative, and cathartic process that can allow us to tap into our creativity. As I explore in my first post for “How to Become a Better Writer Series,” intentions, being present, and accepting what works and what doesn’t are an integral part of the writing process–well, of yoga too. Perhaps more importantly, both yoga and writing can teach us how to create meaning –out of repetition, rituals, and movement. As Susanne Harwood Rubin, a yoga instructor and an artists, writes:
“Writing can be a purging, a meditation, a creative investigation in the same way that our asana practice can burn off what isn’t serving us, draw us into contemplation, or ignite our creativity. The process can feel hesitant or fluid, peaceful or driven, playful or gut wrenching. There are as many different types of writing experiences as there are ways in which to combine words. It’s a strange compulsion, but an essential one to those who feel compelled, and it can heal you, save you, giving words to the choked longing, dense blockage, or unarticulated self. Like offering movement to the tight muscles in our bodies, giving words to the dense tangle of stuff that sits inside of us can release what is held, offering us the experience of freedom.”
She explains further:
“Sometimes we realize that at a certain point a practice became a ritual, characterized by its pattern and by its effect upon us, a container and conveyor of meaning: meeting a friend for coffee every day, listening to a particular type of music when we cook, touching our hand to our heart at the end of our asana practice. At other times, we create an intentional ritual in order to shape our world in a particular way. This is ritual used as a tool to create meaning: deciding to do five sun salutes every morning or sitting to meditate when we get out of bed, writing and writing until something changes, shifts, and clarifies. We engage in the ritual until the meaning emerges.
“There is a yoga to this, Harwood Rubin continues, “An act of connection. A reordering and realigning. Like meditation and yoga asana, writing has the capacity to create and shape the space of our bodies and minds. Writing can heal us. And writing can offer us ourselves.” Writing and yoga can indeed be interconnected. Through the practice of yoga, I have learnt the importance of remaining curious and connected in my writing. My writing practice has taught me not to force my yoga practice and to stay patient; that yoga, just like writing, is a process.
As a writing instructor, too, I have been using one of the most instructive tenets of yoga, “finding freedom within the form,” as a way to teach my students how to find their voices as writers while composing formulaic papers. Not surprisingly then, I do believe that practicing yoga can help us become better writers who are mindful of intentions, goals, choices, as well as the writing process.
So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite yoga practices that provide a much-needed break and strengthen my writing practice. Whether you’re an advanced yogi or you have never tried it before, give these free practices a try when you need a break from your writing routine and/or before you start your writing day!
1. Yoga for Writers with Adriene
Let me start by saying that I’m positively biased when it comes to Yoga with Adriene. For me, before yoga studios, there was Adriene.
When I first started following her Youtube channel, she had around a thousand followers. Now, millions of people around the globe start and deepen their yoga practice with her, which makes my heart utterly happy. Over the past few years, she’s also been creating yoga practices for writers and artists, and I’m a huge fan. “Yoga for Writers,” for instance, allows you to open up and create more space on the mat so that you can carry the healthy flow of energy off the mat, right onto your writing desk.
2. Creativity Practice with Adriene
Adriene’s “Creativity Practice” is a bit more fast-paced than “Yoga for Writers” so if you’re looking for an energizing practice, this is it. The goal here is the same: to remain curious and explore, to find your flow, and to awaken your creative energy.
3. Yinspired Yoga for Upper Back & Shoulders with Aprille Walker
I don’t even remember how many times I’ve rewarded myself with Aprille Walker’s Yinspired flows after a long day of writing. This practice for upper back and shoulders in particular is the perfect flow that will counteract the amount of hours you spend hunching over your laptop and/or desk.
4. Yoga at Your Desk with Adriene
Adriene comes to our rescue once again.
If you’re having a particularly busy day and don’t have enough time for a full-length yoga session, try this 5-minute practice without having to leave your desk. Just take a deep breath and enjoy not doing anything for five minutes. It may not sound like five minutes wouldn’t make any difference, but a little stretching goes a long way.
5. Yoga for Creativity with Adriene
I know this list is starting to look like ” My Favorite Yoga with Adriene practices,” but Adriene’s practices are inspiring and motivating. In addition, I know that you know there’s no explanation needed if you practice with her.
About this session: this practice allows you to find your center so that you can remain focused on and off the mat. And you can see Benji snoozing throughout the entire session–always a bonus.
6. Get Creative Yoga with Lesley Fightmaster
Fighmaster Yoga’s special practice on creative energy is one of my all the favorites. This practice is part of a longer series “Hatha Yoga Happiness” where Lesley Fightmaster encourages you each day to focus on different aspects of life that contribute to true happiness. “Get Creative” underlines the close link between creativity and happiness, helping you let go of that which is no longer serving you.
7. “I Create” with Adriene
If you can’t get enough of Adriene’s practices that focus on creativity, “I Create” from Yoga Camp gives you the opportunity to have a full-length yoga experience. This is a longer practice which can challenge you in a positive way, taking your mind off any worries and anxieties and redirecting your energy on the mantra, “I create.”
8- Yoga for Wrist Pain
Since we spend a lot of time at the computer or at desk writing away, it becomes ever more important to take the time to tend to the wrists and hands. Adriene’s 20-minute practice offers you a restorative sequence for healthy wrists.
9- Yoga for Writers with Natalia Leigh
In this practice, fellow writer and editor Natalia Leigh guides you through the best yoga moves that help release pain and tension along neck and shoulders. This slow practice is perfect for beginners especially.
10- Yoga for When You are Stuck with Adriene
This practice is my go-to if I’m having a writer’s block, or if I’m feeling mentally and emotionally stuck for no apparent reason.
It is a grounding practice that reminds you that your yoga mat has your back, and Adriene does a wonderful job of supporting you. In fact, the video description reads: “This therapeutic standing yoga practice will bring a healthy flow of energy to the body to aid the mind and heart so that you can find forward movement. This is a hands-free practice that can be done without a yoga mat too! Use this 15 min practice to get out of a low situation, flush low energy, and gently stimulate your core. Come as you are, welcome balance back in.”
And it delivers. I promise.
BONUS: Yoga to Let Go of Guilt with Melissa West
It is puzzling to me how Melissa West is not yet a household name for those who enjoy yoga. On her channel, Yoga with Melissa, she offers full-length yoga classes with different angles and focuses. This restorative practice that targets guilt and shame is one of my favorites.
Writer’s guilt, anyone? Give this practice a try.
And this brings me to the end of this month’s post on “How to Become a Better Writer.”
Of course, the list is by no means comprehensive–but it is a start if you’re interested in trying yoga to boost your writing practice. If you try any of these practices, please let me know what you think.
If you have any recommendations, leave them in the comment section below–I’d love to try new practices!
–Happy Sunday, and have a wonderful week!