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.