Two of my passions in life are writing and yoga. I never considered a connection between the two until I attended a workshop with literary agent Donald Maass at the DFW writers’ conference last May. Mr. Maass began the four-hour workshop with…
The conference room held a hundred of us writers, all of whom hoped to gain some knowledge from this giant of the agency world. But then we were asked to put our pens down, close our eyes, and breathe. Slightly stunned, we all obliged him, trusting in his expertise. Trusting in his methods. He kept the room silent for a minute or so (which seemed like a lifetime) and then said in a gentle voice: “Nothing happens without breath. In yoga, it’s called Prana.”
If I weren’t a huge fan of Donald Maass before, I certainly became one then.
I believe I can speak for all of us in the room when I say we were more receptive and relaxed when Mr. Maass began the actual workshop, which was based on his highly-acclaimed book Writing the Breakout Novel. I got busy with my pen and took pages of notes for the remaining hours, but held on to that Zen feeling for the rest of the weekend.
And it got me thinking: there must be a connection between these two passions of mine.
In The Lego Movie, there is a scene in which we gain access into the mind of Emmett, who has stumbled into a hero’s role called the Special. But what they all find in his mind—nothing—casts some doubt. How can he save the Lego world if there is nothing in his mind?
Ah, but then we hear the final word from Morgan Freeman’s authoritative voice (as Vitruvius) and we are all convinced Emmett is in fact special if not the Special. It went something like this: “Most of us have to work hard to clear our minds. Some of us never are able to. But Emmett, you have something so rare—a complete blank slate. A totally empty mind.”
Vitruvius goes on to tell Emmett that he just needs to try; it’s his belief in himself that makes him the Special.
It’s true that sometimes I’m unable to carry on a simple conversation because my mind is playing out the next scene in my latest work-in-progress. There are times in the day when I feel like if I fit in another data-byte, my internal hard drive will crash.
It’s also true that I’m not able to write unless I have some of Emmett-brain. Sometimes I’m most productive when insomnia hits and my mind is cloudy from lack of sleep. Somehow, my characters come to life and my story unfolds as if it’s a movie playing in my mind.
Sometimes, my most productive writing sessions happen after a good hour of yoga practice.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
When I first started practicing yoga, in my twenties, I never appreciated meditative benefit. Since becoming certified—and turning 40—I’m embracing the Zen of yoga. At first, it was hard for me. I’d never been a good student of meditation. I used to shrug off the final Shavasana, skeptical of its benefit. I inherited my parents’ productivity gene and feel whole when I’m busy and getting things done. But now that I’m an instructor and will face a diverse class from varying student-journey pitstops, I know I will need to provide an environment that allows for spiritual healing as well as strengthening and physical healing.
One of my all-time favorite yoga classes was in Hawaii, in a small, mirror-less room facing a wall of palm trees through a floor-to-ceiling window. The pot-bellied, dread-locked instructor sat behind us in bright white tube socks, doling out instructions — in a voice like melted butter — on how to manipulate our bodies as if he were explaining to kindergarteners how to tie a shoe.
I don’t do yoga in front of a mirror anymore.
There are some poses I still cannot “do.” There are some poses I will never be able to “do.”
I focus on relaxing the muscles in my face as much as my breathing.
I begin class with the hope of finding or achieving something; but I end class by recalling a specific blessing in my life.
I now understand why the final Shavasana is the most important pose of the class.
It’s one of the only ways I can achieve an Emmett-brain. And then I can get some serious writing done.