Quail Bell Magazine was so sweet to make this announcement that I’m teaching writing workshops this summer in France on the Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France (Aug 7-20, 2014. I’m so honored to be teaching alongside Cambridge Writers’ Workshop superstars Elissa Joi Lewis, Rita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai (recently one of VIDA’s “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading”). They are all so talented, smart, and divinely sweet. And I’m wildly excited that I’m teaching “Yearning & Character Motivation” and “Magic & Trauma– Writing from the Unconscious,” and there are a bunch more awesome writing workshops on the schedule including writing workshops, craft talks, art classes, adventures to Paris & Chantilly, and yoga twice a day. In France. A couple of spots have opened so apply ASAP or by July 15th.
If you’re an artist or writer and you’re feeling a little tapped out, check out this Quail Bell Magazine essay/interview “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop” about the benefits of practicing yoga alongside your writing practice and the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France. Although the CWW has marked the retreat application deadline as May 15th, admissions are rolling until filled and there are still a few spaces. Apply A.S.A.P.
Some quotes from “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing“–
Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller Series, argues that ritual is the key to creating art. In From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction, he explains that you must prepare for writing by entering a trance and focusing on the breath in a quiet space, much like the centering meditation of a yoga class. Once you’re there and centered, you must stay present with sensation and allow yourself to create directly and organically from that “dream space.” Like in yoga, you set an intention to stay open to all experience and at the same time, remain unattached to ideas, hence the popular mantra, “I am not my mind.” Butler writes that the best art comes from this “moment to moment sensual experience,” and “non-art” is full of summarized or intellectualized reported experience.
Those “moment to moment sensory experience[s]” are much more nuanced than you’d think—all the available senses are involved. In my Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu, I learned that the body holds memories, a phenomenon addressed in the study of somatics, a branch of psychology that examines the mind-body connection. In certain poses, you may feel spontaneously happy, sad, angry, frightened, blissful—you may be flooded with memories, sensations, and epiphanies. You may weep or laugh without knowing why (or knowing all too well why). Stay with present if you can: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow (or BRFWA). Your body is releasing trapped energy, memories, and emotions—parts of your past that you have been carrying unconsciously, perhaps as tension, shortness of breath, pain, or anxiety. What does the experience feel like, smell like, look like, sound like, and taste like? The information you need to have a cathartic experience is the same information you need to create one on the page. Butler argues that in order to make art, we have to dive into the unconscious mind, confront whatever pain dwells there, and use that intense awareness to write from the “white hot center.” This is just another way to access the unconscious.
Jessica: What are some of your favorite yoga poses, breathing exercises, and/or meditations for stimulating (or sustaining) creativity?
Elissa: To increase creativity and flow, hip-openers like Pigeon pose and Lizard pose (Uttan Pristhasana) are my favorite. When you release tension in your hips, you also release the emotions that come bubbling up. The hips and pelvis are related to the Svadisthana chakra and the water element which governs the area of creation and creativity. These postures help clear writer’s block by encouraging creative energy to flow without over-efforting.
Also, Nadi Shodana pranayama (also called alternate nostril breathing) is a wonderful breathing technique to begin or complete your practice and is appropriate for anyone. It stimulates a daydream-like state, where our senses draw in (called pratyahara) and we can disengage from the external world. It helps us develop the focus and concentration needed in meditation. I think any meditation that works for you is excellent. Meditation is the key to open the mind to inspired creative thought. It brings you back to yourself, to moments of truth, without mind chatter, self-criticism and self-consciousness.
Jessica: How does community support your yoga practice and/or artistic practice?
Norma: The image of the solitary writer is deeply rooted in the romanticized myth of the lone, genius writer. In truth, most great writers were part of communities comprised of other writers, intellectuals, and artists that inspired each other. Many great literary movements and unforgettable manifestos came out of the collaboration of such communities of writers….In addition to encouragement, support, and critical feedback, I think one of the most powerful things a community can offer a writer is accountability. If you know that people are counting on you, then you are more likely to follow through. Whether your goals are short term or long term, a community can hold you to your word.
Of course, the same principles apply to a community supporting one’s yoga practice.
For the rest of the essay/interview: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-real/essay-the-symbiotic-magic-of-yoga-and-writing
If you want to read more about the importance of cultivating a community, check out Rita and Norma’s interview with VIDA & HERKIND “Community as Catharsis: A Conversation with Rita Banerjee & Diana Norma Szokolyai”
Surya Namaskar, The Sun Salutation, is a series or flow of asana (yoga poses) that energizes, builds strength, and increases flexibility. This flow is particularly good for the legs, back, and wrists–areas of the body that suffer from staying hunched over in the writing cave and feverishly typing. I also find that just five rounds or so of Surya Namaskar makes me feel like I’ve actually done something– I feel stretched and worked, and there’s a eat or energy that rises in my body from my feet to the crown of my head. The symbolic and literal salute to the sun feels like an ode to and a channel for solar energy, representing action, manifestation, and direction. That’s a nice way to shake off writer’s fatigue and shake-up your writerly, academic (sedentary) lifestyle.
Yoga teacher Elissa Joi Lewis practices a variation of Surya Namaskar in the video above, at The Cambridge Writer’s Workshop Yoga and Writing Retreat in Verderonne, France. Practicing yoga twice a day with Elissa blossomed my writing practice and my yoga practice– by using the ritual of meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and asana, artists can approach their art with the same yogic reverence and mindfulness. And Elissa knows so much about meditation, breathwork, Sanskrit, and the physiological, energetic, and emotional benefits from the postures that we all ended up asking her for personal yoga-advice which she very generously gave. This year I’ll be teaching a Fiction workshop at the retreat (here’s the back-story plus pictures of last year’s retreat!). If you find that your yoga and writing practices support each other and you want to go deeper in the gorgeous French countryside, apply here. The deadline is May 15th.
Clearly, I’m getting really excited. Make sure to check out Elissa’s page for more Yoga! http://elissajoilewis.com
I first heard Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing” when I saw the film Chocolat as a kid, and though I haven’t seen it in years (so I won’t vouch for it one way or another), I remember at the time I loved it and it made very proud to be Romani, what with Johnny Depp being so outspoken and handsome on that steel-string guitar and drinking his hot chocolate. It also kicked off a deep love of Reinhardt, Lagrene, and other Manouche Jazz stars.
“Minor Swing,” one of Reinhardt’s most popular compositions and a Manouche jazz standard, just came up in the novel. It’s one of my favorite songs ever so I’m happy to “work” for my art (if work can be listening to a song on repeat for hours). Writing requires that I experience everything fully and presently in order to even come close to evoking a true essence. It’s like practicing yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. Ideally, I’d like to be in that state of compassionate awareness all the time, but for now, I will listen the hell out of this 3 minute song, only think a little bit about Johnny Depp, and then I’ll write a thing, and that’s wonderful.
Before I write, I have to journal for a few pages. It’s just what I have to do so I don’t write total crazy-in-a-bad-way bollocks for my work-writing. Usually journaling, combined with yoga and much tea, clears my head enough so that I start to figure things out.
Today I wrote in my journal, “I can’t control anything in the universe except myself, and even that is debatable.” I laughed and then I stared at it for a while. Upon literally minutes of examination, the extent to which I control myself is a complete and utter mystery. But I think self-control or self-awareness is the heart of Svadhyaya, or self study, from the Yamas and Niyamas, the 10 ethical principles or guidelines of Yoga. Compassionate study and practice lead to knowledge… and maybe self-control.
Our roommate said something like, “My mother tells me that good manners are meant to make the other person feel as comfortable as possible.” I absolutely love this idea, and I think the yogic practice of self-study probably has that in mind too. If we can accept and understand ourselves lovingly, we can act with love and love unconditionally. Right? (Right?)
I’m still not sure what it means to control one’s self, but it’s worth investigating in writing, and in all the other things, really. I’m thinking that it might even be a fun writing prompt when I’m stuck with a character, like, “What aspect of himself or his behavior can’t he control? Why? Who/what else is controlling him?” Or it could be real-talk like, “Why do I still find Guy Smiley from Sesame Street terrifying now that I’m a grown-up? Why can’t I control my reaction?”
Image source: muppet.wikia.com
I just hate his stupid face! He’s looking right at me. Put that away, Guy Smiley. You have no power here.