I lay down my yoga mat, sit and set my writing intention for today. Next I begin the sequence I’ve created to help prepare my body, mind and consciousness to write. My left knee cracks when I kneel, a reminder of injuries sustained before yoga changed my writing forever.
Twenty minutes later, focused and ready, I finish in child’s pose. I thank all my teachers: the yogis and writers who helped me find this way and who keep inspiring me.
It wasn’t always like this.
Ten years ago, I would have rolled out of bed, stumbled to the kitchen to make the first of far too many cups of coffee, sat down at my desk and started to write without preparing for what was going to happen next. Chances are I would have been hungover and trembling, unable to remember what I did the night before and sporting a fresh war wound.
But I would force myself to keep going until I’d finished, even if what I’d written was crap. I’d grab a cold beer from the fridge and take it back to bed with me or head straight for the bar.
Nine years ago, yoga changed my life and my writing.
Born again out of a hairy blanket
I came to yoga after going on a spiritual retreat. I was in the running to ghostwrite the memoir of Zulma who was taking the retreat. She said I had to experience her work to understand who she was. I believe now that she saw how sick I was and wanted to help.
All I wanted out of the retreat was to find enough balance to drink sensibly - what every drunk wants. I’d always been a heavy drinker but the death of my partner two years before had given me the excuse to start drowning in earnest. I didn’t want to stop because I couldn’t imagine myself as someone who didn’t drink.
Ten days later, after being reborn out of a hairy blanket in an out of season hotel on the shore of a wide bay at the eastern end of Mallorca, I walked out of the retreat pretty sure I was never going to take a drink again.
The problem with getting sober after thirty years of drinking was that I couldn’t stand being in my own head. Something or other put Kundalini yoga in my way first. It got me high, took me way out of myself. More to the point, I was amazed by the effect practicing Kundalini had on my writing, which had, since I’d got sober, been pretty moribund.
Almost as soon as the class started, ideas would pop into my head. Plots for short stories, headlines for advertising campaigns I was working on – I’m also a copywriter – song lyrics, snatches of poetry, anything. No matter how strange, it always had its own logic.
I finished with Kundalini at the right time, when I no longer needed such an intense natural high. Vinyasa, to which I gravitated next, was extremely challenging physically. But it also made the inspiration flow.
Bukowski never did this
The studio where I practiced was about as far away from the lowlife bars I’d haunted as you could get. I couldn’t imagine any of the boozy writers I’d adored – Bukowski, Kerouac, Fante – surrounded by women with scissor legs, serene in postures that made me drip with sweat and pant like a dog.
It took me some time to get used to the sheer niceness of the women who became my teachers. Later, when they saw how determined I was to stick with yoga and we became friends, they told me they’d been a little scared by the big grunting hairy guy with tattoos and mystified as to why I stuck with yoga.
I was simply hooked. I loved how yoga made me feel but it was the effect it had on my creativity that kept me coming back. It got so I had to keep a notebook and pen beside me when I practiced. My yoga teachers were amused but also fascinated. By the time I got to the relaxation at the end of the class, the ideas were coming thick and fast. It was worse than having itching feet.
All writers are curious and I’m no different. It wasn’t long before I started to wonder why this was happening to me.
The journey to understanding
I read how yoga triggers neurotransmitters that relax us and open us up to the effects of meditation. I’d always seen the creative aspect of writing as a form of meditation so that made sense. I learned how specific poses affect our nervous systems and organs as well as our bodies. I began to put together my own sequence of poses.
Because, no matter how many wonderful teachers we have, we practice and create in our own unique way.
The best thing another writer ever said to me is that when you discover you can write you also realise that no-one else sees the world the same way you do. It isn’t about good or bad.
The same is true of yoga. Although the postures are hundreds of years old and have a specific, scientific effect, no-one practices quite like you.
When I found myself in yoga, I also strengthened the connection to where my writing comes from. There are technical aspects of both to follow and master. But their real value is as a way to help us to come as close as we ever will in this life to expressing who we are. When we choose to share our self-knowledge we help other people feel less alone.
This is the insight I teach.
The sequence I practice prepares my body for sitting, focuses my mind and helps give me the discipline to work at my writing. It’s made up of the simplest of yoga poses but each is there for a reason.
For example, after I’ve set my writing intention I do Alternate Nostril Breathing. Yogis believe breathing in through the left nostril enables us to access the right hemisphere of our brain – where feeling lives. The right nostril is connected to thinking. Breathing equally through each nostril activates our whole brain and helps balance the emotions and intellect. It also makes me feel great.
Downward Dog gets the blood moving, stretches my legs and spine, warms up my arms and shoulders. This frees me to focus on my breathing and my writing intention.
I do Low and High Cobra to strengthen my back and arm muscles, vital to help a writer avoid stiffness. According to my yoga teacher friend Mirjam who continues to inspire me ‘each of these back bends will stimulate the Kidney Meridian, guaranteeing a high quality of Chi or life energy in all the other organs’.
After practicing my sequence I’m always able to write.
The rough draft of this piece flowed and flew. The distance from my brain to my fingertips to my screen felt like no space at all. I polished the writing, of course, but what I knew I needed to communicate was there from the very beginning.
Yoga can help with your writing in precisely the same way.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of yoga for writers, please explore this website.