Writings From The Mat
by Elizabeth Solar
Last month, the number of attendees in my yoga class doubled from the usual 20 devotees. Swarms of earnest wannabees clutched smelly sticky mats, and aspirations for inner peace. Welcome to September, the time of year following those carefree days of summer, when we re-commit to the virtuous pursuits of hard work, achievement and re-invention.
Just as the would-be yogi comes to the mat in search of enlightenment and a fabulously toned core, the aspiring writer sits in front of a laptop, armed with three-years worth of doodles, and a dream of birthing the next great novel. Pledging to write for two or three hours every day, ideas take flight, fingers flutter over the keyboard. Then, as November rolls in, the urge to sprawl out on the sofa to binge watch ’Jessica Jones' overtakes the desire to sit cross-legged on a mat.
How’s that novel coming along? Priorities have shifted. That hilarious yodeling kitty video on YouTube requires another viewing. I’ve gotta clean that pesky lint trap – again. And you know, Oscar-bait movie-going. Besides, I’m always writing my novel, even when I’m not writing it.
What happened? Now, not only do our chakras remain pitifully misaligned, but our prose reads something like ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’
As both writer and yogi, I’ve discovered the two disciplines share many similarities. As yesteryear’s “Sex and the City’s” fashion goddess Carrie Bradshaw might posit: “If the flow of writing is similar to the flow of yoga, how do we reach that seemingly untenable Zen state whether on the mat, or at our laptop? Do we rise up on our mat, arms outreached to the heavens, and transcend earthly distractions? Or should we remain prostrate on our bellies, and admit defeat? I couldn’t help but wonder: When it comes to continuous flow in our writing practice, how do we get there from here?”
The point is, both yoga and writing involve practice. Yeah, I said it. The ‘P’ word. Just like piano lessons, and conjugating French verbs, there’s no getting around this mundane activity.
I mean, who lands a perfect tree pose first time out? Sure, there’s always that buff showoff in the front row. For the rest of us, it takes weeks, months, nay years of practice, if ever -- to find this balance.
The writing life involves practice, too. We stare at the large white space before us on the screen and form a few wobbly sentences, a few more, then repeat. It’s not going to be pretty. Forget landing the perfect pose, or writing the perfect prose: It’s about the practice, or the journey. Be bold. Try that pose, and wobble on one leg like an elm in a strong wind. Even if you end up in a corner, a leg wedged behind your neck, crunching on a bag of Doritos, hey, you tried.
Bent out of shape cause you haven’t completed that novel you started this week? Take a deep breath. Pace yourself. Grab a bag of chips and write on. Don’t let false starts, unconnected scenes, and unintentionally inserted grocery lists sideline you. You’re on your way. Practice, my friend.
As is customary to begin a yoga practice by setting an intention, set a goal for your writing. A motivated writing partner used to start our sessions with ‘So, what do you want to accomplish today?’ On my most resistant days, setting, and sharing a goal keeps me writing, and productive. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but throw in a little action, and you at least keep your fingers moving over the keypad.
Not so crazy with the quality of your prose? That stank rising from the pages is called the first draft. It’s like coming into crow pose for the first time: lots of tipping over, or falling forward. Every time you revisit the pose, or the page, the practice feels easier, more purposeful, and enjoyable. Soon it even looks pretty.
Perfectionism and self-judgment are the enemies of both writer and yogi. Do the pose; hold it as long as your breath can sustain it. When it’s over, let it go. Likewise, write it down, forget about it, and know you have another day, many more drafts and plenty of computer ram before you. I once whined to an editor friend that I was writing crap. His advice? ‘Keep writing crap.” Better to have less than perfect prose on the page, than nothing at all, and better to tip sideways in crow than regret you didn’t attempt it.
Continuous practice, AKA ‘flow’ frees your mind to release whatever self-defeating tale you tell yourself that has prevented you from holding a pose, or telling your story.
Even if your writing practice falteres as the calendar drifts into holiday season, begin again. Like all good practices, it takes time to arrive at your destination, which like a wobbly airplane pose, or rambling essay, provides a joyful journey.