I left my job as theater critic for the San Diego Union Tribune five years ago, and soon became hooked on Yoga as a physical practice which had amazing health benefits to body, mind and spirit. But when Deep Yoga founders Bhava Ram and Laura Plumb became my main teachers, I began to discover the deeper aspects of this mind-body science. My life became more integrated, my writing flowed, my heart opened, and soon I was seriously exploring the relationship between the ancient wisdom of Yoga and creative expression.
Eventually I developed an approach to writing called SWAY: Saraswati Writing and Yoga, and I now lead workshops that emphasize the qualities of mind and heart, as well as the practical techniques and tools, that Yoga can bring to writers. My goal is for each participant to establish a writing practice centered in the deep, calm focus that opens the creative channel and makes artistic discovery possible. Deep creative work is a spiritual practice that we can aptly call Sadhana, whether it includes the physical practice of Yoga postures or not.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the discoveries I’ve made and experienced with my students and clients. Today, we’ll look at a few of the parallels between a serious Yoga practice and the writing process.
Union and Presence
Yoga, a philosophy and a science, means yoking or union—of body, mind, and soul within the individual as well as union with the larger soul, or universal energy, or all that is. By mastering the breath we begin to master the mind and thus achieve stillness, the prelude to union, the bliss of pure being. Yoga emphasizes being in the NOW (“the past is history, the future a mystery,” as one guru likes to say). It is about being present, mindful, fully awake in this moment.
Creative writing requires a similar yoking—of feeling, imagination, knowledge and skill igniting the creative act in the now. Creative work also requires smooth sequencing and balancing of right brain and left brain activities, so the shaming internal critic does not take over and interrupt that flow of inspiration in the now. We can learn this openness to the universal flow and other ways of staying present on the mat, in meditation or by chanting mantras — and then take these skills into our lives and our creative work.
Mindfulness and Focus
Yoga, including meditation (dhyana) and mantra, cultivates mindfulness and focus (dharana), the ability to go deep into the self and to stay there for long periods of time, dissolving limitations and boundaries to plunge into the creative source, or in Western terms, the unconscious. Yogis then become co-creators with that source, channeling powerful feelings, vivid memories and/or inchoate thoughts into expressive form. Focus facilitates flow.
Yoga cultivates stillness. The physical postures are both a metaphor and technique for stilling the fluctuations of the mind, which is how the founding texts, including The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, define Yoga: “restraint of the fluctuations of the mindstuff.”
Writing requires mental stillness amidst imaginative agility and flow – or as Wordsworth described poetry: “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Keats described this quality slightly differently in his famous negative capability letter, describing the tranquil creative state as one in which the artist can “be in uncertainties, doubts, mysteries without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.” The true artist, he writes, “takes as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen— for they both lead to contemplation.”
In daily life, Yogis cultivate this prasadanam or undisturbed calmness by maintaining an attitude of friendliness toward the happy, delight towards the virtuous and disregard for the wicked in “real” life, even as we may choose to write about all kinds of people on the page. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way offers similar insights into how writers, especially “recovering creatives,” need to nurture their art by exercising discretion. She cautions creative people to ignore the wet blankets who negate or block their flow, to avoid spending time with people whose dramas are toxic. They make good stories, not good companions.
Many more Yoga-derived ideas animate The Saraswati Way. I’ll be discussing several of those in the next post. If you’re wondering about the strange name: My method honors Saraswati, the Indian goddess of sacred and secular wisdom, language, and the arts. In the Vedic texts and Tantric tradition, when Saraswati’s consort Brahman wished to create the material world, he did not know how to give form to the formlessness in his mind. So this powerful river goddess whispered to him the seminal sacred sound, AUM (also spelled OM). Saraswati’s name means “the flowing one.” May your inspiration flow.