PART 1: THREE POSES
Each time she said “yoga,” I substituted “writing.”
“Don’t do it with great willpower, but with great affection.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
“I don’t know what happened to my grit,” she said.
My coaching client was referring to the passion and will she remembered having as a much younger woman. She’s been working on a children’s book on and off for years now. But after a health scare last summer, she shelved it completely for reasons that didn’t even make sense to her. What those are don’t matter; we were talking now, because she wanted to get back to the writing. Back to some semblance of discipline and grit, but in ways that reflect who she is now at 50, not who she was then, at, say, 20.
This woman, whose writing and being I adore, is also a mom and a yoga teacher.
I asked her about her yoga practice. What gets her back to the mat after a hiatus? She thought about this and then responded: “I know what I need to do.”
As an aside: These are words that make a coach jump out of her seat to do a happy dance before further inquiry.
Then I asked her to tell me more. And she talked about how B.K.S. Iyengar, whose tradition of yoga she follows, instructed his students to do just three poses. Three poses constitutes a practice. I mentioned Mani’s “rule,” which it to simply “get on the mat” once a day.
Once there, anything goes; even if she rolls it right back up, if she gets on the mat once a day, she can know that she showed up. Most times, of course, once you’re on the mat, you might as well move around a bit. Three poses often opens to a longer practice, because the body is so hungry for breath and length and movement, and the spirit for the sheer relief of not having to be anywhere else.
So, I asked her, what “three poses” are your writing equivalent? In other words, what is the bare minimum you must commit to in order to know that you’re showing up to your practice and your intention of returning to this book?
She considered this for a few minutes.
Number one, she said: “Take your seat.”
Sound easy enough, but I would argue that this may in fact be the hardest part of writing. Just sitting down. You can circle the wagons all damn day, or you can take your seat. You can open and close the fridge door 20 times, or you can take your seat. You can text your BFF, run errands, watch Netflix, obsess about the news for good reason, or just scroll on Facebook, or you can take your seat.
I do all of the above — the avoidance, the fridge the circling like a dog trying to find that absolute most perfect spot. It’s fine. As long as you eventually TAKE YOUR SEAT.
Number two, she said: “Write one scene.”
Mind you, we talked about what this means. Will she measure a “scene” by word count or number of pages or because she has a predetermined list of scenes that remain unwritten? Yes. In other words, she is building in freedom to the plan. “Scene” is flexible. The important thing at this stage is to write one, whether it’s a paragraph or five pages.
And last but not least, number three, which addresses what to do on days when number two isn’t happening.
In other words, what about when she takes her seat but doesn’t know what to write? We all know that these moments are like surprise parties for our inner critics, with ribbons and balloons and pizza and cake. Every inner critic I’ve ever met will happily waltz through that door, get on her soapbox, and proceed to give a speech we’ve heard a thousand times. You know the one? About how we don’t really know what we’re doing, and this book probably isn’t even going anywhere, and every time you try some great new plan (like “three poses”), the whole thing unravels, and who do you think you are anyway?
STOP. That is NOT how this is going to go, sister.
Nope. Instead, step three, or “pose” three, is this: Come up with a reminder, an affirmation if you will. For example: “Don’t panic. The story always finds you.”
You have permission not always to know what’s next. Explore. Meander. Set a timer and freewrite without stopping for 10 minutes. Everything counts, and sometimes it’s from staying inside of these “not knowing” times that something new comes through. It requires faith and patience. And, come to think of it, grit.
I emailed her a few days later to say hi, and to ask her permission to write about our conversation. I also asked if she’d started the new routine yet. Here’s what she wrote:
“And yes, the ship has set sail. Friday I created a ‘not etched in stone’ weekly schedule that encompasses everything: writing, yoga, meditation, walking dogs, cleaning toilets. Lots of flexibility built into it, so I can shuffle things around when needed. But writing… writing comes first.”
Just for fun: What are your three poses?
If you’re looking for your grit or can’t get yourself to sit and write on a regular basis, take a look around. What works in some other area of your life? How can you transpose that and come up with something to try? If you practice yoga, what do you know about your time on the mat that might in fact relate to your time with your notebook (or wherever you face down the unknown)?
PART 2: Props / Prompts
Some people see yoga props and writing prompts as the tools of novices.
“The fewer our demands on life, the greater our ability to see its bounty.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
Saturday morning. Mani and I got up at our usual 6:30am time. When her alarm went off, I could barely open my eyes. In a weird role reversal, she was chipper and wide awake and greeted me with a kiss. “Good morning! Shabbat Shalom, darling!”
“It’s Shabbat,” I groaned, covering my head with the pillow. A nice way of saying, WTF why are we awake? But then I took a long, hot shower while she prepped our Very Strong Coffee, and I joined her in the kitchen somewhat more awake.
Sitting at the table with our morning coffee has been one of the biggest rewards of our new daily schedule. Even though I work at home and we see each other all day long, there’s something special about intentionally beginning the day together this way, and we tend to have interested, meandering conversations.
This one somehow went in the direction of yoga. Mani mentioned that when she couldn’t fall asleep right away the night before, she’d “pinned” a bunch of Iyengar quotes to her Yoga Life board on Pinterest.
“That’s so crazy,” I told her, mentioning the Iyengar reference during a coaching call last week. And from there, somehow we were off and running. We got to talking about props, and because I am a word dork, I lit up at realizing that the word “prop” fits neatly inside the word “prompt.”
Some people see yoga props and writing prompts as the tools of novices. I think of these rather as useful tools to help the practitioner meet the blank page or enter a pose, supports to use for gradually growing stronger and going deeper.
“Until one day…” a beloved yoga teacher of mine used to say, before showing us the “full expression” of the pose (if she herself had mastered it). I can still hear her soothing, steady voice in my ear. “Until one day your practice is so steady and strong that you don’t use a prop/prompt.”
I always loved that “one day” thing. So different from the elusive “someday,” it implies something more concrete and even inevitable. A faith, a confidence. One day you will do this, whether that day is next month or not in this lifetime.
Mani started reading me Iyengar quote after Iyengar quote. Each time she said “yoga,” I substituted “writing.” Then I started scribbling quotes and notes like crazy on unlined paper. We finished our coffee. A new writing group was born.
Part 3: The Republic of the Body: A New Writing Group, May 1-26
“Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body. This love must radiate from you to others.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
It doesn’t matter how sporadic and erratic my practice gets. The mat forgives me every time. So does the blank page.