One of my many teachers of writing or yoga or life, said to me, “You become what you practice.” I’ve never forgotten the phrase, and I believe it. There are several little disciplines I practice, and today I’ll talk about two of them.
Sit-ups and Push-ups:
I can’t remember when I began doing sit-ups and push-ups every day. It’s been decades. The only time I haven’t done them for any length of time was when I had surgery and radiation treatments for breast cancer eight years ago. Since radiation really saps your energy, it was months before I felt strong enough to consider starting them up again, or not. I recalled a conversation I’d had years before with a friend in her fifties, we were sharing a hotel room and she commented on my daily routine, saying she used to have a similar one, until she’d turned fifty…and then she gave it up. I also remembered thinking that I wouldn’t make the same choice. I’m okay with getting older, but I’m not so okay with getting weaker, to the extent that I have control over it. So, there I was – just turned fifty myself and a newly-minted cancer survivor – making a decision to keep or let go of a small, daily discipline that could help me maintain strength and fitness. I decided to keep it.
I don’t do a lot of them, and I don’t need to suit up to get them done, so on the days when I don’t make time to suit up and seriously sweat, I still move my body and clear my mind. The bonus is a strong core and arms ready to haul lines when I arrive on Kagán, my sailboat, each spring. This discipline provides a base of fitness for me to build on.
Yoga As Muse:
When I first wrote fiction, I had a difficult time writing technically and creatively on the same day – the rhythms of the work were so different. I needed time, lots of it, to wait for inspiration to arrive. Given that reporting on field jobs was a big part of my paying work, writing a novel was going to be really hard (and it isn’t easy, in any case), if I couldn’t create inspiration, rather than wait for it.
Then in 2007, I took the Yoga As Muse–Writing from the Center to the Page workshop with Jeffrey Davis at the UNM Taos Summer Writer’s Conference. The process Jeffrey taught, and I have practiced ever since, uses yoga to focus for writing. It goes something like this – you go to the mat and set intentions, the first intention is what you’re writing for (the big picture), and the second what you’re writing for that day. Depending on the intentions, you select a specific sequence of yoga poses to help you move toward them. That’s a rudimentary description, and if you’re interested in trying it, I highly recommend Jeffrey’s book The Journey from the Center to the Page, Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing (Revised and Updated), published by Monkfish in 2008. Since learning the process and incorporating it into my writing life, I can switch gears from technical prose to creative work in a matter of minutes on the mat. I’m pretty kinesthetic, and for me, this discipline helps to quiet the mental chatter that often gets in my way. Sometimes I feel ready to write after just closing my eyes and setting my intentions, which can vary from drafting a new scene, to finding my characters’ true voices in dialogue, to simply staying at my desk and writing for an hour. Other days, I need to move for several minutes to find my direction, but I can’t think of a time that Yoga As Muse hasn’t enhanced my writing sessions.
My disciplines help me be who I strive to be – in these cases, someone who can lift her own weight and a writer – indeed, I have become what I practice. Maybe the little things aren’t so little at all.
What are your disciplines, little or big?
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