Writing is like Yoga: Relearning the Language of Love in the Studio and on the Page
I avert my eyes as I walk past a cluster of Lululemon clad women, and shift my generic yoga mat from the right side of my body to the left, in an attempt to disguise it amongst the sea of expensive Manduka’s. I’ve been coming to this yoga class religiously for the last two months, and the cheerful instructor working the front desk calls out, “Hi Skylar!” I don’t bother correcting her this time nor the three times before. Skye…it’s just Skye. I give her a half-smile and eye the colorful row of Yogitoes towels for sale behind the counter. The super-absorbent, flashy-colored, ultra-grippy, perfectly mat-sized towels hiding behind their sixty-two dollar price tags mock me, and I clutch my giant, blue-striped beach towel close to my chest.
In the quiet of the hot room I examine myself in the three walls of floor to ceiling mirrors. Thighs still touching in the middle, belly not flat enough, generic mat rolling up at the corners…not good enough. I listen to the perfectly toned and tanned and manicured women laughing and chattering through the thin walls. I want desperately to be one of them. I want to float into the studio and find my place amongst the giggles and the air kisses, picking up my gossip and stories from the day before as naturally as children picking up the same game recess after recess.
After class I scurry out of the room while everyone else relaxes in savasana; their mouths peacefully turned up at the corners and their eyes gently closed. I had spent the last hour forcing my body into painful postures, pushing myself past my “edge,” and driving myself mad in attempts to calculate the calories burned.
At home I stare at the blinking curser for some time before banging out a paragraph, deleting it, and grinding out another. Not good enough. These words haunt me even here, in the one place that is supposed to be safe and happy and free. One day, after hours of writing, deleting, and criticizing, I slammed my computer shut, told myself I had “Writer’s Block,” and ceased to write for three years.
During those three years I began to make small changes. One area where I really began noticing these changes was in the yoga room. I had been practicing yoga for about five years, but for the first time, I was actually discovering yoga. One day the instructor announced to the class that the studio would be having a yoga teacher training. I had never thought about becoming a yoga instructor before, but it was all I could think about for the rest of class. I felt a yearning only akin to the yearning I felt to write. A once familiar feeling began to stir; it was a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time: I can do this. I am good enough. I am worth it.
I didn’t necessarily want to be a yoga instructor, but I wanted to take yoga instructor training…I needed to take this training. The last time I felt a need this strong was when I began writing my memoir three years before. This need was so consuming I knew I had to do anything and everything in my power to make it happen. Even though I had convinced myself I couldn’t afford a $62 yoga towel, I eagerly handed over $3500 for the nine week, 200 hour course.
Yoga teacher training was so much more than how to teach yoga. It was an intensive dive into the whole of who I was, what I wanted out of life, and how to ultimately become who I knew I was meant to be. The instructor gave us thought provoking writing assignments like, “How the Yamas (how we interact with other living beings) and Niyamas (how we interact with and develop ourselves) affect my life,” and “What ‘Ahimsa (non-violence to all living things including Self)’ means to me.” We also started each day sharing out loud one thing we were grateful for, and one thing we liked about ourselves. There was so much power in hearing myself say those things out loud, and I started to notice a dramatic shift in my self-talk.
About half way through training I signed up for an hour long meditation class. Meditation had always been a challenge for me, and one of the things I had learned in training was that the physical postures- the asana practice- was meant to release excess energy and tire the body out enough so that one can calm the mind. So before the meditation, I took an hour long hot Hatha class, an hour long hot Vinyasa class, and took a nice long shower before settling down in the dimly lit meditation room.
The instructor guided us through a few breathing exercises, and then through some visual imagery. Her low, soothing voice coaxed me down a long hallway with rows of doors on either side. She said to enter any door we chose, but instead I kept walking farther down the dark hall. Ahead of me I noticed an outline of a person, and as I walked toward the figure I realized it was me. This “me” however, was dirty and skinny with twisted limbs and sad eyes. She was so frail and scared that I scooped her into my arms, and when I did so she began to die. I felt an overwhelming sadness, not because she was dying, but because she had lived in a way that brought her to this awful state. I held and comforted her through her death, and then she disappeared into the floor. When I looked up, there was an open door with brilliant light shining through. This door was not on the side walls like the others, but straight ahead at the end of the hall. The light was love, and the closer I got, the more my heart filled with peace. Just as I stepped through and let the warmth engulf my entire being, I woke from the meditation with tears streaming down my face.
I continued the daily practice of saying out loud what I was grateful for, and what I like about myself. After years of pointing out the negative, this challenge was at times a breath of fresh air, and at others, a tearful realization of how I was personally responsible for stealing my own joy. In the floor to ceiling mirrors I started to notice all of the amazing things my body was capable of; how it moved and stretched, and its increasing strength.
One day I opened my computer and the words poured out of my fingertips and onto my computer screen. Mistakes were made, and I loved my first drafts as much as the eleventh and the nine in between because I had created them. I thought back to when I was a child, when I felt strong and moved my body every which way just because I could; when breathing and sleeping were effortless, and story-telling wasn’t oppressed by the inner critic. Once I learned to reconnect to that person, whose natural state was joy and love, my yoga, my writing, and my life once again began to make sense.