Yoga and men: a little welcome and a big lesson

The yoga teacher was another David. He was a performer but one of the best teachers I’d had in the year or so I’d been practicing. After class the willowy women clustered round him as he plucked at his guitar. I had changed and was almost out the door when he called out to me.

‘Can I have a word?’ David said, trotting across the yoga studio.

He stood very close to me and looked me directly in the eyes. His own were bright and almost perfectly round, making him look perpetually awestruck. He was deeply tanned. His curls were good vibe antennae.

‘Great class, David.’ I said. ‘Thank you.’

‘No, thank you, man,’ he said. He paused, then said ‘Um, one thing, David. I need to talk to you mano a mano.’

‘Sure,’ I said. I didn’t have a clue what he might want to talk to me about.

David stepped even closer to me and lowered his voice. ‘I noticed an, um, well, I noticed a little welcome in class.’

I was baffled.

He saw the confusion on my face. ‘Yeah,’ he curled his finger and pointed down towards my crotch, then made air quotes. ‘A little welcome.’

I didn’t know what to say. And I still didn’t know what he meant.

David blushed under his tan. ‘You need to wear tighter fitting underwear in class, man.’

‘Ah-hah, I see,’ I said, feeling myself blush. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Not a problem, dude. Have a hot shower when you get home and drink lots of water.’

‘I will. And thank you.’

Even now, when I think of the ‘little welcome’ I giggle. Those poor women. No wonder they didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. I’ll always be grateful to David for putting me straight.

The story of the ‘little welcome’ is funny, I hope, but I tell it to make a serious point. Yoga is different for men than women.

I’ve now been practicing yoga for around nine years. It’s a major part of my life and I teach yoga for writers. I stuck with yoga because for some reason I still don’t quite understand I needed it. But many men try a class and give up. I think that’s a shame.

In the past few months I’ve had to take on rather more responsibility than I bargained for at this stage of my life. At the same time, the world has suddenly become a gloomier place thanks to the temper tantrums of big baby bully men who compensate for their fundamental impotence with greed, fear and hatred.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a decent man and how yoga might help. So when I saw that David Lurey, the guy with the balls to tell me to conceal my own, was offering Introduction to Yoga for Men workshops I thought it was a good time to ask him why now.

When did you get into yoga yourself and why, David?

It was back in 1995. I was a stressed-out food and beverages manager working in the hotel industry in San Francisco and partying hard. All that late night stuff. But one of my employees was training to be a yoga teacher and needed a guinea pig. I volunteered.

Back then yoga was the new hip thing. I was curious and wanted to experiment. I liked it enough to go deeper.

My first actual class was with a guy named Jamie Lindsay. Cliché as it sounds, I got the point of yoga in savasana, the guided relaxation, when I realized that the practice worked for me on all levels, not just physical. I’d already been exploring the psychological and spiritual parts of life through following the Grateful Dead, taking recreational drugs and so on. You could say I was ready.

I trained as a yoga teacher but really found my calling at Burning Man in 1998.

I was going to do a class at Elvis Yoga – you ain’t nothing but a Down Dog. I was there at 10AM. By 10.15 the teacher still hadn’t shown up. I thought, I’ve been practicing yoga for a couple of years, I’ll take the class. I started with five people and ended up with thirty. In savasana, I sang one of my own little songs.

After the class, this hippy guy in his mid-sixties with long, flowing silver hair and these really piercing eyes came up to me and said ‘Where did you learn to teach like that, man?’

‘This is the first class I ever taught,’ I said.

‘Don’t ever stop, man,’ he said. I can still remember those piercing eyes.

Great story. Were there really far fewer men practicing than there are today?

Back in the mid-nineties at It’s Yoga, where I was practicing and taking my first training, a third of the studio was men. They really liked power yoga. But yoga got dominated by women. It became a trend, like music does, or a certain kind of food.

Why did you start offering an introduction to yoga for men?

It’s been a slow-burning thing. I joined a men’s circle in San Francisco in 2000, based on David Deida’s teaching – The Way of the Superior Man . Through the men’s circle I was introduced to Jungian archetypes. I started to think that it would be really interesting to bring these into yoga. I began to teach archetypes in yoga back in 2003, offering it as one of my workshops in my travelling teaching days.

The problem was that I could only dabble because I needed to make a living. I’d offer a workshop for men and get two or three. But if I offered an arm balance workshop, I’d have thirty women. It was a no-brainer.

Then, in October 2015, my wife Mirjam and I were teaching an advanced teacher training in Brazil. We had sixteen students, all women. The chefs and cleaners were all women. I went for two weeks with barely any exposure to men. That was the tipping point. I came home to Mallorca and started doing work with a men’s circle here.

I knew I had to bring my personal passion for connecting with men and helping with our evolution into my work as a yoga teacher. I wanted, and want, to show men how to step into a layer of deeper communication. I know that yoga could bring so much positivity into their lives, emotionally and spiritually.

Encouraging men to do yoga obviously adds up to a great marketing opportunity as the world of yoga becomes more and more saturated with different options and permutations. I thought I’d come up with ‘Broga’ but there’s already a studio called this. How would you counter a degree of cynicism?

I’ve learned that marketing yoga has to come in the form of an invitation rather than trying to sell something, hook people. No-one is going to do anything until they’re ready for it. We need to issue a direct invitation to men, rather than attempt to sell the benefits of yoga generically.

Men need yoga now because women are evolving quicker than we are in the emotional and spiritual realms. If men want to be loving, supporting and compassionate partners to our women we better to do the work to keep up with them.

I feel we’re at a turning point at the evolution of consciousness and yoga is a very accessible gateway to bring body, emotion and spirit together.

Right now, we’re being bombarded with all the immature masculine qualities on a global scale. Men who come to yoga can become ambassadors and really help bring us males into a more mature state so we can counter the negative masculine traits of warmongering, greed and misogyny – all the poisonous archetypes.

Increasingly, I’m seeing yoga as as a place where peaceful resistance to what we disagree with in the outside world. It’s not about facing hate with hate. Love really is the only thing with the potential to resolve fear and hate that we have right now. My emotions are triggered when I read the headlines. I get angry. But we have to find a way to resist that doesn’t provoke more anger, hatred and violence.

Yoga is a great way of recycling our emotions internally. We can process them and go into a calmer, more compassionate realm. Conversations with like minds also help us figure out a way forward.

Do you think the benefits of practising yoga are fundamentally the same for men and women?

The emotional, mental and spiritual benefits are the same but the physical benefits are different. The male body has much more muscle tension in the shoulders and arms. So the object of yoga should be to create more motion, improve circulation and open up the chest. The physical stretching of muscle allows energy to flow. Opening up the chest also opens the heart centre, freeing up emotional energy.

Yoga is also good for male sexuality. As a broad generalisation, men have tension around the hips and pelvis. Increasing flexibility and stimulating the flow of energy in that area means it’s very likely that the sexual experience will become enhanced because of greater sensitivity.

Also, men often associate physical practices with performance and goal orientation. Including sex. Practicing yoga helps us increase empathy and emotional connection so we focus more on mutual pleasure. Which has to be a good thing, right?

Absolutely. How do you think practising yoga has changed you as a man?

I believe it’s established a deeper connection to my emotional sensitivity and to my spirit. In my body, it has given me strength and flexibility equally. My breath is much deeper, which has enhanced my singing voice.

Yoga has also enabled me to have a very deep loving connection with my wife and to be surrounded by lovely women. But, as we said before, this makes me hunger for a deeper connection with men.

As for my creativity, yoga has stimulated me to find ways of sharing a certain philosophy in a digestible way. I offer sixty to seventy workshops and I can see my creativity expressed in the titles of these. My workshops offer a vehicle, if you like. Which is where the ones for men come in.

What do you think is the future of yoga for men?

I hope that the future of yoga for men is an explosive, expansive, deeply connecting practice that touches the bodies, minds and souls of all of us. Because I also see the future of yoga for men as expanding off the mat and into our lives.

Namaste, David. Let’s hope it happens.

David has resources for Men in Yoga on his website hereFind out more about his teaching here.  

David and I are also planning a workshop provisionally called ‘Yoga, storytelling and masculinity’ in Palma on 25/26 November. It’s a long way off but we’ll keep you posted as and when things develop.

Meanwhile, my next Introduction to Yoga for Writers online course starts on 6 March. I would love to see more men sign up for the course as I believe men who write could benefit enormously from yoga – emotionally, mentally and physically.

Find out more here.

Download a song by David Lurey free.

 

Abramovic, John of God and the space in between experience and memory

Twelve years ago I arrived back in Palma de Mallorca after a month in Abadiania, Brazil. I had been to see the healer and psychic surgeon John of God for the second time with my then partner. She died on 9 February 2005. I will always believe that whatever John of God did prolonged her life, gave her some sort of peace and helped prepare me for the awful grief that followed.

But I couldn't tell you how. I thought The Space in Between: Marina Abramovic and Brazil, which starts at what we called the Casa, John of God's compound in Abadiania might give me some answers. 

The film, described as 'a hardcore journey through spiritual Brazil' showed what John of God does as a psychic surgeon in unflinching detail, bringing back memories of just how bloody and raw things get in Abadiania. He's shown scraping a cornea, ramming a metal rod up someone's nose and jabbing into a woman's abdomen with the kind of knife you'd cut onions with, before sowing her up with what looks like fishing line.

'Contemporary art icon' Abramovic presented this as proof that there's no trickery in what JOG, as we ended up calling him, does. But that's to miss the point entirely.

I think it was the Amazing Randi who attacked JOG for being a fraud who pointed out that there are no nerve endings on the surface of the eye so it is possible to scrape away without causing the person any pain. Sticking a metal rod up the nose is an old circus trick, apparently. As long as you get the angle right it's possible to push it down through the sinus cavity and into the throat. Something like that.

This is why JOG allows himself to be filmed in such gory close-up. It's trickery but it's not. I believe that what JOG does, if it works, triggers his patients to heal themselves.

But then that's still only part of the story. There's something going on in Abadiania that simply can't be explained. On our first visit, an Irish filmmaker showed us a film he was making about JOG and healing. He'd been allowed to film the same stuff as Abramovic and her crew. But the really remarkable thing was when a psychologist from one of the American Ivy League universities, in Abadiania to study healing. started spontaneously to bleed and the Irish guy caught it on camera.

When the bleeding started it looked like the psychologist had been shot in the heart. He lifted up his t-shirt and hadn't a mark on him. Yet still he bled. And bled.

Either the Irish filmmaker had faked this - highly unlikely because the psychologist was a serious researcher and, in any case, he was in the middle of a crowd in broad daylight. Or something really happened. 

I still have no idea. But I would say if you or someone you know is seriously physically or mentally ill, go to Abadiania if you can. Go because you have nothing to lose and who knows what might happen. Go also if you want to be in a strange and marvellous place that quite simply brings out the best in people. 

Abramovic doesn't mention this aspect of Abadiania at all. She talks in a monotone about the hope in people's faces - duh! But, perhaps because, as she says, she's primarily an artist fascinated with ritual but not especially interested in true faith,  she comes across as profoundly unsympathetic to the suffering and ecstasy she's witnessing. Her self-absorbtion and the impossibility of showing what is happening inside her, even on a vile-looking ayahausca trip, also makes this a film of surfaces.

I haven't ruled out the possibility that Abramovic might be acting, sort of satirising spiritual tourism and ragbag faith-hopping. I think it's highly unlikely, though. In which case the reason she gives for going to Abadiania - that she'd had her heart broken by a true love and couldn't move forward - is pretty pathetic. It sounds like the kind of thing you'd invent just to have something to say.

Going to John of God in Abadiania brings out the best in people who are staring at death, and in the people who love them facing up to the possibility of loss. So I can't help but see what Abramovic was saying about her emotional pain as an insult to those like my partner who suffered terribly through no fault of her own.

But the The Space Between did help me remember how extraordinary the work of John of God and Abadiania are, even if it didn't bring me any closer to understanding what I experienced.  One of the reasons we went to Abadiania was because we watched a TV programme that claimed John of God was the real thing. Whatever Abromovic's reasons for making her film, if it inspires you to go to Abadiania, that's great.

Getting to Abadiania

If you do decide to go to Abadiania or want to suggest to someone else that they do, you'll find everything you need to know here.

 

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Only connect: yoga and writing are just the start

As my yoga for writers online course enters its third week, I'm no longer as amazed by the willingness of the people taking part to communicate openly and support each other as I first was. But I am still surprised by the nice little warm buzz it gives me. I'm also grateful for the reminder that the connection between screenworld and the other one doesn't always have to be faulty.

I'm someone who, for my sins, works mostly online. I also have Bookface on permanently so that when tippy-tapping slows to a stagger I can be refreshed by the sight of cartwheeling kittens or Putin fisting Trump. 99% of what I see and read stirs me to feelings of impotent irritation with myself and my friends. While I'm tempted to weigh in with my oh so profound thoughts I know it would have no impact whatsoever. Likes and shares don't bring down walls - or prevent them being built - action does.

This feeling of impotency extends to the positive aspect of what screenworld enables. If I do a Gurgle search for any kind of advice I'm overwhelmed by options. Worse, ads for anything I look at start popping up like electronic carbuncles on what seconds before were unblemished websites. 

The solution to not being part of the problem is, of course, to preserve one's capacity to stand a little apart for at least some of the time and attempt to not be swept away or give in to despair. But that's a lonely business. In any case, it's not possible to be outside of society.

Seeing the people on my yoga for writers course open up and help each other, even though they haven't met physically and may never has given me so much hope for the future. I'm thrilled that they're experiencing all the benefits of yoga for writing that I did. But it's just as important to me that they're connecting.

Watching a small community form is reminding me that our desire to help each other is just as strong, if not stronger, than the fear that leads to hatred that leads to building walls. And there's safety in numbers, as long as they're small.

The next Yoga for Writers course begins on 6 March. If you'd like to be part of a community of goodwill, sharing and calm in these Trumpulent times, find out more here.

 

Learning writing and yoga online: small steps and giant leaps

My Introduction to Yoga for Writers course kicks off tomorrow. Big namaste to the online Professional Writing Academy (PWA) for making it happen. It's another step on my journey to enlighten as many people as possible to the benefits of yoga for writing. But it was also a giant leap into the world of online learning for me.

I now understand that the PWA's approach is perfect for yoga and writing. It offers a nurturing environment, a carefully designed structure to work within, guidance from a living, breathing, committed tutor (moi) and the opportunity to learn and develop in small, intimate groups.

Today, small is beautiful if not necessary. Online courses like mine offered by visionaries such as the PWA, aligned with the principles of closed mastermind groups or Seth Godin's remarkable altMBA, that are intimate and carefully structured seem to me to be the only real alternative to offline learning.

And there's the humungous added advantage that anyone, anywhere in the world, who wants to go deeper into writing and yoga can do so in their own time(zone). I'm currently in Hungary, the PWA is in the UK and people will be doing my course in countries that include the USA, UK, France and Spain.

We should never get blasé about the Internet and always remember it's ours. The Googles of this world are our servants not our masters.

So many of us struggle to find a way to fit practices like writing or yoga into lives we're led to believe are busier than ever before. Designing the course with the experts at the PWA has reminded me that the Internet really can be hugely beneficial.

Online learning, as developed by the PWA, creates a space for us to retreat into that has the power to transform our real, offline lives. I'm on a mission to share what I've learned about yoga and writing so I'm truly grateful.

It's not too late

If you want to sign up for my Introduction to Yoga for Writers course, you still can. And the kind folks at the PWA have reduced the cost so it's even more affordable.

Find out more here.

Retreating online to write and practice yoga

If writing is the one thing you feel you were put on this planet to do but you don't know where to start, I'd suggest yoga. And, if you don't mind, I'd like to recommend my online Introduction to Yoga for Writers course as a good place to start.

Apart from all its other benefits, yoga taught me to approach writing as a practice. We never fully master yoga but that's not the point. Yoga offers a way to live, one day at a time. Writing is the same. All of us who write seriously would like fame and fortune. But writing's true purpose is to help us decipher the letter we all carry inside and, if the gods of writing smile upon us, share what's written there with others.

The problem is that we often don't know where to start with either yoga or writing.

It takes cojones to walk into a yoga studio as an absolute beginner. Believe me, I know. I started yoga at the age of 47 after way too many years of treating my body like a bar rather than a temple. You couldn't have been more unprepared to take up yoga than I was.

If you're trying to find your own way into writing the problem is that it's so easy to become baffled and overwhelmed by the amount of advice on offer that you give up. 

When you sign up for my Introduction to Yoga for Writers course, you're not just offered a way to begin or continue your journey into yoga and writing. You're also invited into a welcoming, safe space filled with people who are probably rather a lot like you. 

My Introduction to Yoga for Writers course is offered by the Professional Writing Academy, the teaching institution that's helping to liberate the potential of online learning. They've learned that people benefit most when they're in small groups taught by real people who understand what they're hoping to achieve.

You have a place to retreat online for four weeks in which you can retreat, practice and grow without disrupting your life. One which, and I trust you'll forgive me the blatant sales pitch, costs a fraction of a month-long yoga or writing retreat.

I'd love it if you took the time to find out a little more.

 

 

 

 

Embrace your Lizard Brain in 2017

The lizard brain is the primitive part of our brain responsible for fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up and fornication. For many of us, it rears its pointed little head every January. 

While there are good reasons to be grateful for our lizard brain, being afraid and frozen can add up to a level of resistance to change that makes it impossible for us to move forwards. At this time of year, when the changes we want to make to our lives usually involve becoming healthier or more creatively fulfilled, our resisting lizard brain often causes incredible frustration. So much so that we simply give up, which makes us even more disappointed in ourselves.

I've lost count of how many times I lost the battle with my lizard brain. Even now, I don't want to think about the writing projects I abandoned because my level of internal resistance was so strong it was impossible to see a way forwards. But when I took up yoga I found out how to use the power of my lizard brain for good.

Practice and resistance

Incorporating any practice, mental or physical, into our lives is all about making it a matter of habit. Every time I unroll my mat or sit down to write I'm reinforcing habitual behaviour. Now it's worse for me if I don't practice yoga or write. The fear that I might never do two of the things that give me the most satisfaction in the world ever again - and become a monstrously fat brain-dead moron - far outweighs any resistance.

When I learned to treat yoga and writing as simply part of my everyday life, rather than something I was doing with an end point, an outcome somehow separate from who I was, I found a way to manage my lizard brain. 

The edge

In yoga, our edge is the point where we're able to practice while remaining calm and in control of our minds and bodies. If we go beyond this we become so physically and mentally uncomfortable our practice suffers.

For me, the edge is where I engage with my fear. If I build up to a pose like headstand that makes me nervous step by step, moving my edge a little onwards every time, I'm able to fill my conscious mind with sweet little reasons why I needn't be afraid. But it's the fear oozing from my lizard brain that drives me to understand myself.

If I wasn't afraid I wouldn't get anywhere.

It's the same with my writing. If I want to be the writer I believe I have the potential to be, I have to push my edge constantly, do stuff that make me nervous. Writing about something that's particularly painful or attempting a form I'm not convinced I'll ever master, let's say. 

Without the fear I wouldn't have anything to master.

Feeding fulfilment

It sounds corny but to truly enjoy either yoga or writing, the practice has to be its own reward.

Simply because no matter how adept you become at yoga, there will always be something you struggle with that someone else does effortlessly. You can sculpt your body to perfection but you won't get taller. 

It's highly unlikely that anything you write purely to make money will be as satisfying as the work that you do for pleasure. Even if you become a bestselling author.

We all have a natural appetite for fulfilment and we know it doesn't come from gorging ourselves on the sweet stuff or settling for going through the motions in our yoga or writing. By offering us fear and resistance our lizard brain makes us realise that a goal is worth pursuing and we can achieve it if we manage how we change.

So embrace your inner lizard in 2017. Actually, you don't have much choice.

Introducing yoga for writers

My online Introduction to Yoga for Writers course which starts on 16 January is designed to help you discover how to integrate and balance your body, mind and consciousness for true creative fulfilment.  

Find out how you can join me here.

 

 

 

 

Lia Ditton: rowing the Pacific single-handedly and writing to inspire and bring joy

Lia Ditton is the only interesting person I’ve ever met on a plane who I didn’t already know. She took the seat next to mine on a flight from Mallorca to the UK. It turned out that we both practiced yoga and wrote. We also had friends in common.

Actually, ‘interesting’ doesn’t do Lia justice. She’s an extraordinary person.

This is how she describes herself: ‘I am a professional sailor, writer and adventurer. Now 36, I have sailed the equivalent of 8 laps of the planet and am the 53rd woman to row the Atlantic. A licensed captain, I have spent 73 days in a row naked, eaten 2 years’ worth of astronaut food, gone a month without a shower and sailed a boat over 40mph.’

In June of this year, I began working with Susy Marriott of the Professional Writing Academy to develop my online Introduction to Yoga for Writers course. Something made me ask Susy if she knew Lia.

It turned out that Susy taught Lia on her MA in writing, and advised her on her first book 50 Water Adventures To Do Before You Die, published by Bloomsbury. Lia told me, ‘I wrote the book to inspire others on the premise that if you were to row – for example – only once in your life, where would be the ultimate place to do it and how would you go about having the experience.’

The answer is Venice. To help preserve the historic tradition of the city, Viva Voga Veneta offer a 2-hour lesson to teach you to row your own gondola.

Susy says, ‘Lia was an amazing student, who worked really hard, applied the lessons we taught and negotiated herself a great publishing deal. She’s an inspiring example for everyone studying writing. I’m waiting for her memoir!’

Now Lia is training to be the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the USA. She’ll leave from Choshi, a peninsula 130km east of Tokyo, and arrive in San Francisco. It’s a journey of around 5,500 nautical miles which Lia expects will take between 4 to 6 months to complete.

I can’t begin to imagine what rowing single-handedly across the Pacific will be like for Lia. Nor can I understand why she wants to do it. But I was compelled to try and find out.

For the past few months Lia has been training in San Francisco. She found time in her regime to answer my questions.

Why are you rowing single-handedly across the Pacific, Lia? (Is there a 'why?', I wonder.)

I’ve boiled my answer down to five reasons.

I love being out in the ocean. I think of my time at sea as communing with my inner mermaid.

As a licensed captain, the challenge of rowing from Japan to San Francisco tickles my brain. The navigation is really interesting. In a nutshell, the North Pacific Ocean is divided into an east and west basin by a mountain range called the Emperor Seamount, which continues up from Hawaii but underwater. Off the backside of this mountain range is a swirling mass of counter currents. How you plot a path through these currents could mean the difference between a 4 and 6-month crossing. There may be weeks at this stage, where I row forwards but actually track backwards.

I don’t actively seek solitude, but I am fascinated by it. Being alone is like holding up a mirror and staring into your own eyes. Discovery is inevitable.

There are very few world firsts remaining. To be the first woman to row across the North Pacific Ocean would be unbelievably special, but it’s not my primary motivator.

The row is a tool to reach others. I often give keynote talks and after these talks, it’s always women who ask ‘How do I get your courage to do the things I want to do?’ The row is a means of inspiring millions of men and women, to pursue their own big dream. I think this is my real mission in life. The true ‘why’ if you like.

What part does yoga play in your life?

I discovered Pilates in 2009 and practised everyday for 4 years. It was only a matter of time before yoga drew me in and what better place to learn than Palma de Mallorca in Spain! Most of my personal practice was on the roof terrace in the early morning sun. Lush.

Yoga breathing has become a powerful addition to my life. Outside of yoga practice, I’ve used pranayama to calm my mind and body and switch off so I can sleep. It’s also helped me divert my mind in moments of physical pain.

I can't imagine what the physical aspect of your adventure ahead will be like. Will you use yoga to help and, if so, how?

Every morning I do a series of stretches a friend of mine calls ‘yoga in motion’ and my personal trainer calls ‘the inch-worm’.

I walk my hands out in front of my body; duck down into chaturanga, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, walk the feet forward and repeat across the room. It’s the only successful way I’ve found to stretch out my hamstrings before lifting weights. A couple of times per week, I’ll go to a yoga class – I’m trying hot yoga for the first time tomorrow and before bed I’ll do a series of poses, which are mostly seated. I would like to come up with a routine I can do on my ocean rowing boat. This may take some practice!

Do you plan to keep a journal?

Sharing the experience through writing everyday is as important to me as succeeding in the row. Writing is part of my daily routine. It brings me joy to know that others can follow what I’ll be experiencing and that my experience on the ocean may positively influence other people’s lives.

When I rowed across the Atlantic in 2010, I didn’t know if I could manage to maintain a blog. The reality was that I had a lot of time to think – 12 hours per day on the oars! The content became well-formed and just spilt onto the page, 93 pages by the end. ‘A day at sea without writing is a day lost,’ I said to myself. If I didn’t write, each day risked blurring into the next.

From Lia's 2010 blog:

'The silver-penny moon was still up and glowing progressively more golden. Sitting regally on a cloud, only a single star henchman remained by his side. On the opposite side of the horizon, the sun was rising, swathed in a scarlet veil with all her glory reflecting on the ambient clouds. I watched the moon and then the sun, in their game of Russian roulette, as the moon slowly conceded and the sun edged up.

About a quarter of the way up the sky, there seemed to be a standoff, neither the moon nor the sun moved as they stared each other in the face. Minutes later the moon was gone and the sun rose triumphantly building in intensity.'

I seem to remember your first single-handed sailing trip was an art project (and also that you were forbidden to mention you were at sea or something similar) so is this adventure giving you a reason to write a book? Would you undertake it if you didn't want to write about it?

Well remembered! My first single-handed crossing of the Atlantic was while I was at art school. The crossing was actually a race and my university said I could go, but on one condition.

They wanted me to write ‘articles of reflection.’ My professor didn’t understand sailing, so he asked me not to mention the sailing. I laughed at the time, but he was clever. Sailing is a niche sport, but adventure isn’t. What I ended up writing about were my emotions and the beauty of my environment and everyone can relate to that. My ‘articles of reflection’ were quickly picked up by magazines, published all over the place and so began my career as a writer.

In 2015 I wrote a substantial part of a memoir under the working title ‘Naked Ocean.’ I feel this upcoming experience will be important, not only in my life, but in providing the conclusion to that book.

How is the training going?

The physical training – 5 to 6 hours of weight lifting alone per week - has been a gruelling experience, which has made me uncharacteristically introverted. About a month ago, the preparation – physical, financial and logistical – just became overwhelming. I finally made the decision to postpone my departure to 2018. Now I’m enjoying the journey again and gearing up for my first rough weather training week – a 150-mile row back from outside the Golden Gate Bridge in January.

Thanks Lia. I’ll leave you to it. Good luck.

I’d imagine that Lia would raise an eyebrow at me calling her ‘extraordinary’. Wanting to become the first woman to row single-handedly across the Pacific probably seems completely logical to her. So perhaps it’s the similarities between Lia and the rest of us that are most interesting, especially if we write.

I’m sure Lia would agree with me that the hardest thing in life is finding what we want to do with our lives and work. But there’s nothing stopping us. And, whatever we decide, writing is always an adventure in itself.

And I'm thrilled that Lia has decided to join me on my Introduction to Yoga for Writers course. Welcome aboard, Lia.

 Photo by Jenn Heflin

 Follow Lia's progress and support her as she trains for her wave-breaking journey here

Robin Rinaldi, yoga and writing

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Discovering yoga and developing a regular practice changed my life and my writing so I’m always keen to talk to any writer who’s had a similar experience. I was fortunate enough to interview author and journalist Robin Rinaldi who combines writing with teaching yoga.

Robin is the author of The Wild Oats Project: One Woman’s Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost. Her book, which has been translated into several languages, has been described as, among other things, brave, forthright, brutally honest and a ‘true page-turner’. She’s currently the consulting editor for Together.guide, an online magazine about relationships. Robin did her yoga teacher training at the White Lotus Foundation and teaches private classes in Los Angeles, where she lives.

When, how and why did yoga come into your life, Robin? 

I started doing yoga way back in the '90s. As a former dance teacher, it was just one more kind of movement I was interested in. I started with Rodney Yee's videos, which, in retrospect, taught me excellent alignment and provided a great foundation for more advanced classes later. I also took a kundalini yoga class back then as I was trying to find a way into meditation, which I've never been good at. It was about 12 of us sitting in a circle on the floor of the teacher's Victorian house in Sacramento doing breathing exercises that made me super-dizzy. 

What kind of yoga do you do now? 

Mostly a variety of basic vinyasa classes. Some stress the core, some are slower, some are sweaty, but mostly they’re your down-to-earth vinyasa class centred around Surya Namaskar A and B, standing poses, a few balances, twists, hip openers, and an inversion or two.

Do you have a regular practice and, if so, do you also self-practice? 

I do a little yoga here and there at home but not what you'd call a true self-practice. I live in LA and have a favorite studio (Yogala) a few miles from home. I work in my house all day long and use my little trip to Yogala to get out of the house and into a studio with other people. Both yoga and meditation are somehow better for me when done in a group, which is a little ironic given that I love to teach privates. I practice about four times a week.

Do you believe there is a connection between yoga and creativity in general? 

For me there's a connection between yoga and everything, including creativity. I'm not sure how or why, but yoga tends to both calm and re-align my physical and emotional energy, and that leads to better health, better moods, more inspiration and more creativity. It's an indirect but strong link. So much of our time is spent up in our heads: working, typing, thinking, worrying. Yoga takes all that anxious heady energy and moves it through and out the body in a very gentle, grounded, ritualized way. I love that.

Is yoga connected to your writing and, if so, in what ways? 

If I'm stuck on something, or feeling I "should" write but don't have the energy, a yoga class will generally help create a little opening. It's not a surefire thing but it's one thing that helps.

Would you recommend yoga to writers? 

Yes, for sure. The trouble I see is that a lot of people who want to try yoga are intimidated by the super-athletic teachers they see in magazines and on websites and by the twisty flying poses they can all do. They don't realize that 95% of yoga isn't like that. They don't realize how gentle and self-accepting yoga was meant to be, what great practice it is for accepting your body and emotions exactly as they are.

Could you recommend a particular pose that works for you as a writer? 

Even though I don't have a full-on home practice, I find myself going into a couple of particular poses throughout the day on breaks: downward dog, child's pose, and reclined simple twist. I probably do all of these a couple of times a day, first to wake up in the morning and then to loosen my hips and shoulders and back after sitting. And if I need a shot of energy or focus, I find going into headstand for a few minutes really helps.

Are you working on something now and, if so, could you give me a rough idea of what? 

I've been writing essays and working on a second book idea, but it's too new and vague at the moment for me to describe it yet. Hopefully soon!

Good luck, Robin. And thanks for an illuminating interview. I completely agree with you that going into downward dog a few times a day is a great way to stretch and wake up your body.

Find out more about how yoga can benefit your writing practice or even get you started as a writer here.

Read an extract from The Wild Oats Project here.

 

 

 

Using drishti to focus on writing

Writing takes commitment. Some days we may be inspired, others not. But we know we have to keep going. And we do this because we have a vision for our writing that is purely ours. Whenever mine begins to drift a little out of focus, I practice drishti.

What is drishti?

Drishti means view or gaze. It's the point we fix on when we meditate or hold a yoga pose. If we gaze at a single point our minds are less likely to wander. We become calm and focused.

You can practice drishti gazing at a point outside yourself or inwardly by focusing on your breath or third eye. 

In yoga there are eight different drishtis that relate to specific poses. For me, drishti is most useful when I'm in a balancing pose like Tree. I focus on a point on the wall or floor for instance, and it keeps me physically balanced. Even better, drishti helps me tune into whatever is underneath my thinking. If I do give in to thoughts of distraction, my gaze is affected and I wobble. 

Physical balance follows mental balance follows inner calm and resolution.

Applying drishti to writing

In bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, drishti becomes the gaze a devotee focuses on their idea of the divine.  Ultimately, this becomes surrender to the divine as your inner self.

When your deepest sense of your inner self is as a writer, using drishti is an excellent way to stay balanced and focus on the writing that fulfils you in the present. It also helps you see through whatever challenges you face on the page to your ultimate goal for your writing project. And it reminds you to relax and remember that you'll always write.

If you're like me, you may well be considering how to stay true to your inner vision of yourself as a writer in 2017. Or, if you've yet to find yourself as a writer, you're looking for a way to get there. 

Join me and practice DRISHTI for writing

Starting 16 January 2017, I'll be sharing my knowledge of how yoga benefits writers in probably the world's first online yoga for writers course, developed with the Professional Writing Academy.  I'd love it if you joined me.

Find out more here.

Time to find your way into writing through yoga

Now that we're counting to the end of 2016, many of us who write - or want to - are hoping that 2017 will be the year we really get serious about our writing. Personally, I want to take my writing to a whole other level in 2017. I have no idea yet what this will be but I do know how I'll get there. By practicing yoga before I write.

Unless we're extremely fortunate, all writers struggle at the beginning of every writing session. No matter how much planning we do in advance, we're also often daunted by the size of our ambition. Especially if we're looking to writing to help change our lives. Many of us are so overwhelmed we just give up.

But then we live with a private wormy little feeling of failure. I write partly because I can't bear the feeling that creeps up on me when I don't write.

Practicing yoga prepares me to write

My yoga practice helps because it enables me to take the baby steps in my writing that, with luck, will lead me to take a giant leap and soar. Very flowery, I know, but you get the picture.

Before I practice yoga I set my intention for the writing session to follow. I've learned to make this something I have faith that I can achieve, even if it takes me a out of my comfort zone. I keep my writing intention in mind throughout my practice, which is usually not much longer than 20 minutes. By the time I've finished my yoga, I'm itching to write.

Yoga makes me feel relaxed but prepared. Concentrating my mind on a single writing task means I'm not paralysed and waiting for almighty divine inspiration to strike. My head isn't spinning because of the enormity of my ambition. I'm confident I can achieve my writing goal for that day. The only day that matters.

Because tomorrow is another day, another yoga practice, another writing session, another moment of blissful inner peace when I sit back from my keyboard and give thanks. 

If you'd like to know more about how you can get started with both yoga and writing in 2017 or take your practice to another deeply fulfilling level go here

 

 

 

 

Turning turmoil into words using yoga as a channel

Yesterday I got some bad news. You don't need to know what it was but it has nothing to do with my own physical, emotional or mental health. I am, however, a little bit in shock. So, when I was woken up at 3 AM this morning by a torrent of words running through my brain, I knew why.

At times like these, the song lyrics, poems and story ideas rising up from my deepest self are a sign that my unconscious, if you want to call it that, is disturbed. Sometimes what comes through makes immediate sense, often it doesn't. Understanding may come later if it's meant to.  

The question is: what do I do with the words I'm being given? For me, and perhaps you, yoga helps me find the answer

When I practice yoga after a night like last night and before I start writing, I'm far more able to make sense of the messages I receive. I can use my own judgement to decide if I use what came across the border between non-sense and sense. I have the concentration and patience to move step by step, even if this is sometimes backwards or sideways.

Yoga helps me not to forget.

Opening the letter inside

The poet Rilke wrote something like 'We are all born with a letter inside us and only if we are true to ourselves will we be allowed to read it before we die.'

I believe the stories, poems and lyrics that cross the border into our conscious minds come from the letter inside us. Even if they don't appear to make sense, they're telling us something. Which is why we have to write them down. 

But if we want to become writers and not just people who write, we need to find a way to channel the messages we're receiving and turn them into something we, and other people perhaps, can use. This takes discipline and hard work. So why should we bother?

Because being able to write, at any level, is literally a blessing. And we don't honour this, we'll regret it. Which all sounds wonderfully romantic but where do we start? Yoga is my channel. If you're serious about writing, or just curious, it could become yours.

Yoga, writing and telling your story: it's not magic

There’s always a moment of resistance.  It’s early in the morning, only just light outside. My bed is warm. The person beside me is even warmer. I’m not sure what I’m going to write yet. But I swing my legs out of bed, tiptoe to the place where I practice yoga and write, unroll my mat and begin my sequence.

What possesses me?

The answer is simple. I practice first thing in the morning when I need to focus on my writing. Without yoga, I find both so much harder, if not impossible.

By the time I’ve finished my yoga sequence, I’m able to sit down and begin writing. Actually, I’m usually itching to start by about midway but I’ve learned that it’s better to wait. The final pose in the sequence is Child’s pose and it’s here that I give thanks to the gods of yoga and all my teachers for helping me discover its benefits for my writing.

One of these is understanding that it's best to only concentrate on my writing task for that day. Yoga enables me to hone in on a specific intention and ignore all the impulses to spin off at tangents.

Most of us, when we start writing, have grand visions about what we want to achieve. It’s often these that defeat us. Because we’ve only ever written when we’ve felt inspired, we assume the writing will come pouring out every time. It probably won’t.

The big picture is simply too big for us to grasp.

If we bite off more than we can chew, we’re also far more likely to listen to our fears, all those lovely self-doubts that burble up from our Lizard Brain.

But, think about it: a typical novel is around 100,000 words. If you write every day for a year, that works out as just 274 words a session. It's not magic

I've established a daily routine that includes yoga. I set a time when I write and define the minimum I want to achieve. I’ve also discovered that focusing on one thing at a time – a single plot twist, for instance – is the best way to keep moving steadily forward.

(Should a wild digression pop into my head, I write it down but put it to one side. If it’s worth including, it’ll inevitably find its way into whatever I’m writing at some point.)

Taking my writing one day at a time and practicing yoga also enables me to drown out the fearful mutterings from my Lizard Brain with the clatter of my keyboard tip-tapping.

It also helps me avoid the temptations of Facebook, making endless unnecessary cups of coffee and other displacement activity.

If you’ve always wanted to write but don’t know where to start, being able to focus is invaluable. Yoga is the perfect way to concentrate the mind, and the body, on the immediate writing task in front of you. If you take things step by step, writing every day if you can, you can’t not end up with something.

And the result will be magical.

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Discover how yoga can kickstart your writing with me

My yoga for writers online course, offered by the wonderful people at the Professional Writing Academy is designed to help anyone who writes use the power of yoga to get started, get better and become more disciplined in your writing. Find out more here.

Yoga and writing beyond right and wrong

Last week, we were filming the yoga for writers sequence I developed to help my own writing which I’ll be teaching online in January 2017 with the Professional Writing Academy. As my friend and teacher Mirjam demonstrated the poses, it dawned on me that she was doing some of them in a slightly different way to how I would.  

We were at Earth Yoga in Palma de Mallorca, where I’d fallen in love with yoga and my life and my writing had been changed forever. Painted on the studio wall is a quote from Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, Islamic dervish and Sufi mystic beloved of yogis.  

The quote reads: ‘Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.’

The write way?

When we’re starting out, we inevitably look to other writers to teach and guide us. Of course, there are skills and disciplines we need to learn. And when we’re finding our way, there’s nothing wrong with imitation. The gonzo American journalist and writer Hunter S. Thompson copy typed the whole of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to understand how great writing worked.

But to grow as writers we need to trust our own judgement. This has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or bad.

Because right or wrong don’t come into writing. It’s usually the subjects that feel the most wrong which are most worth writing about. When we have the courage to write about what makes us uncomfortable we're most likely to offer our readers something they can really connect with, that makes them feel less alone.

Incidentally, Hunter S. Thompson claimed to have found his true voice as a writer by accident. He wrote a letter to Jann Wenner, his editor at Rolling Stone magazine, to explain why he hadn’t written the article Wenner had commissioned him to write. Wenner printed the letter and Hunter had his voice.

Trusting my body

After my partner died eleven years ago, writing was all I had. Or, to be more accurate, my belief that I was a writer was all I had.

I clung to this even in the darkest days of my drinking. No matter how hungover I was, I would sit down and write. Drunk out of my mind in miserably overlit Spanish bars, I would scribble in my notebook. The next morning it looked like a spider had fallen into an inkwell and died on the page.

I kept at it but, as with everything else in my life, my writing was going nowhere. Because I didn’t know who I was as a writer, or as a human being. Quitting drinking saved my life but it left me even more confused than ever.

Yoga changed all that. I believe it was because I had to learn to live in my own body and trust it to support me when I attempted poses like tripod headstands that made me tremble with fear. I had to be honest about what I could do physically and what was beyond me.

Without consciously doing so, I applied this honesty to my writing. I finally understood that I had to write as me, to accept what I was and wasn’t. Whatever shape my writing was going to take, I had one thing all of us have. I could be honest, if I was brave enough.

Once I’d finally grasped that this was what writing was all about for me, I applied all the skills and techniques I’d learned over the years to something that was my own.

Watching Mirjam demonstrate the poses in the sequence with such grace and control in her own way brought me full circle. I was reminded that I fell in love with yoga because I discovered I could apply it to the thing – not person -  that matters most to me in the world: writing. Everyone who practices yoga needs to learn things like alignment and breathing but only to realise all the benefits of yoga for ourselves, as ourselves. It’s the same with writing. The tools are only there to enable us to be us.

There is no right or wrong. There’s only the garden where we grow into the best understanding we’ll ever have of who we are.

Last week, Earth Yoga was my garden again.

Find out more about the course I'll be teaching here. I'd love it if you joined me.

Finding your writing voice through yoga

One of the biggest challenges any writer faces is finding his or her voice. That is, making your writing read like you.

If you’re writing purely for yourself, pouring your heart out into your journal or poetry let’s say, this problem doesn’t arise. You’re expressing yourself through your writing, putting words down on paper or tapping away at your keyboard as self-expression or therapy. Which is, of course, fair enough.

But if you want to share your writing with other people it needs to be yours.

With fiction, this could be arriving at a style of writing that sets you apart from other people working in the genre you’ve chosen. For memoir, autobiography or other forms of personal writing like blogging, it’s about writing in a way that’s recognisably you.

This is usually much harder than it sounds. And it will probably involve lots of hard work and soul searching.

Who was Raymond Carver?

Ray Carver was a tremendous American poet, short story writer and novelist. If you’ve never read him, I’d suggest you start with Where I’m Calling From, his 1988 short story collection. Carver’s writing was marked by a particular kind of ‘brevity and intensity’. But it turned out that this had a lot to do with his editor Gordon Lish, who advised him to use as few words as possible. After Carver broke with Lish, his writing became far more expansive and lyrical.

The voice that had made Carver so successful wasn’t really his.

My own writing is more about memoir than anything else and finding who ‘I’ am was and is a real struggle. I’m fortunate to know writers, editors and critics who have been happy to read my writing. When it comes to the technical stuff, they’re a godsend. The problem comes when they decide what in my writing is actually ‘Me’ and what isn’t.

One person will say that the funny stuff is really ‘Me’. Another will say it’s the mystical pondering. And so on. Because I respect their opinions, I used to try and write like the ‘Me’ each of my friends thought they'd identified. I developed a multiple personality in my writing.

I was trying to accommodate all their different ideas of what ‘Me’ was. Often, what I thought was most ‘Me’ was the stuff they liked least – which is interesting.

This became so frustrating that, for a time, I stopped showing my writing to anyone. Worse than that, I began to second guess myself when I wrote, constantly asking ‘Does this sound like me?’ It got so bad that I gave up my own writing for a time.

Yoga and ‘Me’

One of the unexpected and thrilling side effects of taking up yoga was discovering how it connected me to the source of my writing without me trying. The urge to write would often come while I was practicing. By the time I lay down for Savasana, the guided relaxation at the end of the class, ideas could be coming so thick and fast that I was desperate to get to my notebook.

Like most of us who write, I’d experienced this compulsion to write many times before but never with such intensity and regularity. But it didn’t stop there.

A lesson from the Yoga Commando

The Yoga Commando was one of my first teachers. He was and probably still is an especially knowledgeable and kind teacher. I signed up for a week of private classes with him. One morning we started with Sun Salutations. After 25 minutes of him effortlessly saluting the sun while I poured with sweat and became more and more wobbly he stopped and said ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘Because you are,’ I said.

‘Why?’

And then I understood. The Yoga Commando led me to one of the great insights of my life. I’ve applied it to my yoga practice and my writing ever since. I had to make both yoga and writing mine, not follow anyone else blindly.

Now, when I show drafts of my writing to people I ask them to look only at things like grammar, spelling and style. Good or bad, my voice is my own. No matter how much I rewrite, I preserve my 'Me'.

Although we need our teachers, there’s no point practicing yoga unless we make it ours. It’s the same with writing, whether you’re writing just for yourself or you want to become a professional writer. Once I realised this, I’ve listened to my self.

As should you.

Discover yoga and writing with me

Starting in January 2017, I’ll be teaching a yoga for writers online class with the highly regarded Professional Writing Academy. I’ll share my sequence with you and help you develop a regular yoga-writing practice. You’ll work on both together with me and a community of like minds.

I’d love for you to discover the benefits of yoga and writing with me. Find out more here.

How yoga changed my writing life forever

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.

Kundalini high

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. This 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.

My way

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.

Discover yoga and writing with me

Starting in January 2017, I’ll be teaching a yoga for writers online class with the Professional Writing Academy. I’ll share my sequence and help you develop a regular yoga-writing practice. You’ll work on both together with me and a community of like minds.

I’d love for you to discover the benefits of yoga and writing with me. Find out more here.

GABA GABA OM!

Forty years ago the Ramones first album was released. I was 15 and fell in love. Not just with the music but with the whole joyously nihilistic New York vibe that oozed out of da bruddahs.

The Ramones chant 'Gabba Gabba Hey' on the song 'Pinhead' off 1977's Leave Home, the follow-up to the first album. It's a mangled version of 'Gobble Gobble, we accept her, we accept her, one of us' from Freaks, the 1932 Todd Browning movie, notorious for using real, ahem, freaks.

I swallowed the dark and dangerous New York shtick hook, line and sinker. While I was too scared to go the whole Jim Carroll/Johnny Thunders hog into smack, I did do my best to look pale and wasted. Large quantities of booze helped.

If an alcoholic is defined as someone who is powerless over booze, that was me from my first drink. It didn't help that I knew from an early age I was some sort of writer and picked Hemingway, Kerouac and Bukowski as my wobbly gods and role models. 

I was foolish enough to believe that boozing was romantic and (which makes me wince) stupid enough to believe intelligent people possessed some sort of highly evolved liver that couldn't be damaged by drink. 

After I quit drinking nine years ago, I struggled with having to exist inside my own head, in what I had no choice but to assume was the real world. But when I began practicing Kundalini yoga, I was astonished at how naturally stoned it got me. I became obsessed and practiced every day. I've since found out that many recovering addicts do Kundalini.

From Kundalini I moved to Hatha. Since then I've tried pretty much every style of yoga except for Bikram and Acroyoga. Whatever the style, the effects have been variations on a theme. While I've never gone as high as I did with Kundalini, my practice always leaves me beautifully relaxed. 

Curiosity is a quality anyone who writes needs to possess. So it was inevitable that I would start to wonder why yoga did what it did to me. I discovered that it was all about the GABA.

GABA what?

Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, calming us down. Alcohol mimics the effects of GABA, making us relaxed and sleepy. Studies have shown that practicing yoga increases the amount of GABA in the brain. 

Which explains why yoga makes us feel so mellow and also why I took to yoga like a drunk to lager. I was addicted to the belief that my brain was swimming in GABA. And, perhaps, it's the reason why so many writers are alcoholic

Even if I wanted to, I can never drink again. But there's no doubt that it's an effective way of putting some distance between oneself and reality. It also helps the creative juices flow. The only problem is that it becomes a depressant in itself and, unfortunately, ruins your life.

But yoga doesn't. I took to yoga because it got me naturally high. Then I discovered that it opened the door to wherever inspiration for my writing comes from far more effectively than booze ever did, without killing me. So:

GABA GABA OM!

 

 

Los Rolingas: For whom the Stones still roll

'Rolingas' is the given name for Argentina's obsessive Rolling Stones fans. Apparently, as a result of the Falklands/Malvinas set-to, Argentina's military dictatorship banned English music. A subculture of fans and bands ferociously devoted to the Stones evolved underground and it's only now allowed to speak its love.

The phenomenon of 'rolingas', and the fierce devotion the Stones inspire throughout Latin America is one of the reasons we're being treated to two new documentaries in a matter of weeks. As someone who's been daft enough to buy various of the Stones' concert movies over the years, I won't be rushing out to see The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America or Havana Moon (nice to see the band still tipping their hat to Chuck Berry). Stones concert movies are the briefest of rock and roll sugar rushes and the carefully orchestrated 'interviews', always Mick to Keith to Charlie to Ronnie, long ago stopped being remotely revealing.

'Twas only ever rock and roll

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and `70s, the Stones were always a mix of the best rock and roll had to offer and the deeply disappointing. We're the ones weaned on them, who carried our secret love through punk and beyond, as the fire seemed to go out of their music, on record at least.

Mind you, I'm constantly being surprised by how good some of the music from their supposedly crap mid-70s to late ´80s period actually is. Listening to one of my Stones spotify playlists the other day, I was rocked by 'Dance Little Sister' off It's Only Rock and Roll. '100 Years Ago' on Goats Head Soup, with its preposterous attempt by Jagger to be William Blake and Don Covay at the same time, is a peculiar gem.

More recently, Paul Trynka's Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones and Joel Selvin's Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day, both excellent and required reading for Stones obsessives, remind us that Jagger and Richards, though not the other boyz, were nasty little shits back then.

Today, when Jagger comes across as an affable buzzard and Keith as chuckling Uncle Keef, we can perhaps assume that their horrible treatment of Brian and indifference to the havoc they left in their wake at Altamont was simply because they weren't far off being callow youths. They'd also been well and truly stiffed by their olders and supposed betters - philosophically, financially but at least not sexually.

But, of course, it's a mistake to think that the Mick 'n' Keef persona, perfected over decades, has anything to do with who they truly are today as men in their early 70s. So, what do us lifelong fans have left?

We have the music and, on a good night, the Stones are still as good as it gets live. We have an entire online shopping mall of graceless merchandise. We have 'Exhibitionism', the career-spanning, let's outdo Bowie travelling exhibition of the Stones' sanctified toenail clippings. And we have the Stones app.

I confess to downloading the Stones app and peering at it a few times. It hipped me to how phenomenally popular the Stones are in Latin America and with the kind of American fan prepared to buy a lolling tongue romper suit for their great-great-great granddaughter. The app is for what whoever is in charging of populating it with clickbait like 'Vote for your favourite video from the Dirty Work album' no doubt calls the Stones family of fans.

But, while it's mildly heartwarming to think that rock and roll in the form of the Stones still matters to Latin American fans like the 'rolingas', those of us who loved them back when they were dangerous have only our old records to turn to. So be it.

Coda: Havana Moon - Berry's bitter calypso

Like so many of Chuck Berry's greatest songs, 'Havana Moon' is not quite what it appears. It was recorded in 1956 in what history tells us were the glory days of rock and roll. But even then, Berry - ever the businessman - had an ear cocked to the whispers that rock and roll had shot its bolt. 1956 was the year of the calypso craze inspired by Harry Belafonte and Berry had no qualms about mamboing onto the bandwagon.

Unlike the lyrics of Berry's rock and roll records, aimed firmly at whitebread teens, 'Havana Moon' tells the relatively adult story of a poor Cubano guy who meets an American girl on holiday in Cuba. She promises to come back to the island to take him to New York ('De buildings high', Berry sings) and keeps her word. But the Cubano guy drinks a jug of rum and falls asleep. The girl's boat docks, she looks for him but can't find him.

As with so many great Chuck Berry songs, 'Havana Moon' is far more than an attempt to cash in on a fad or a simple tale of boy meets girl, loses girl. You could argue, admittedly at the risk of being pretentious, that the song is really about how the unassailable gulf between Yankee and Latin American cultures.

Which lends a nice degree of irony to the Stones choosing it for the title of the movie documenting their triumph in Cuba. It's never only rock and roll. Thank Elvis.

 

 

FoMO is a MoFO

FoMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out and it can be a bitch. I first heard the term at Burning Man two years ago, used by my fellow BEEple to describe a kind of mania that overtook us all as we scuttled to fit in all the surreal naughty naked neon delights a week on the Playa had to offer. Recently, as I followed the conversations electronically unfurling in my inbox in the build-up to the Burn and afterwards, as BEEple posted images on BookFace and wrote quivering emails about what a heartfuck the experience had been for them, FoMO popped back into my head.

Today, in Screenworld, it's hard not to be a victim of FoMO. Capitalism works by stimulating desire. Marketing is all about making sure our craving for stuff is never quite fulfilled so we keep on wanting more. This also applies to the feel-good psychotechnology that aims to colonise our mental real estate. Now that we blithely market ourselves on BookFace and other social media platforms - photographing our food and feet in sunny locations and smoothing the rough edges off our messy real lives - we've added a whole new dimension to FoMO.

The power of the gloatagraph

I'm a freelance writer who mostly works at home so I'm constantly tip-tapping into social media. Not so long ago I noticed that a hard day at the BookFace left me filled with a mild irritation at having my envy button pushed by yet another photograph of, I don't know, two pairs of feet either side of an ice-cream tower being licked by a kitten on a deserted beach.

Naturally, I conveniently forgot how my own gloatagraphs (copyright moi) might be viewed by all my many millions of true friends on BookFace. I'm just as guilty of marketing my life as shiny and happy as anyone else.

Smiley revisionism

I sympathise with the feelings of the people who were pissed off by Zuckerberg wanting to edit that heartbreaking image of the little naked, napalmed Vietnamese girl out of history. It is, of course, historical revisionism with a smiley face. But I really don't want to be slapped in the eyes when I'm grazing on BookFace. The medium is designed to tickle my fancy, to stimulate my desire for a better life, for all that heaven will allow.

All life may be suffering but I don't want to be reminded of that noble truth when I'm in the mood to LMAO.

Envy and empathy

There's an argument that indulging our capacity for envy, accompanied by shadenfreude, reduces our ability to empathise. ('Shadenfreude', if you've never come across it, is a fantastic German word that means delighting in other people's misfortune.) I don't agree.

Novelist Martin Amis wrote that 'Envy is empathy in the wrong place at the wrong time' and he's bang on the money. BookFace works by stimulating our natural curiosity about each other. All the time. Because we can't escape the fact that we live in a capitalist society and social media only exists to make money, this healthy curiosity can easily curdle into envy.

We - I - need to remember the third noble truth: to stop suffering, cease to desire.

And the next time we feel envy we should take a deep breath, close our eyes and turn the negative into a positive. We should be delighted that our friends have the opportunity to sit on sandy beaches eating ice-cream with kuddly kittens.