I live in my head. I live in stories and possibilities. I live in the moment. I don't like nostalgia, and I don't often listen to music from my youth, and I don't like dwelling on the past. Likewise, I can't see very far in the future and am all too aware of how many different twists the road could take. Therefore, I live right here, right now.
The downside of living in my head is that I often forget I have a body, at least until it defies me. I walk into doorknobs, hit my head on cabinets, and forget to do important things like drink water or take pills. The sad truth is that I often neglect my body until something goes horribly awry, and then I settle into it like a whiny child into a hard chair, unable to function because everything feels so wretched. I don't like exercise, I don't like sports, I hate running. My body is a glorified bread box.
You can see why this is not a healthy way to live. Much like a house, a body requires constant maintenance and tidying if it's not going to fall apart around you. For the last several years, my body's weekly maid service has been trail riding on my horse. When I'm riding, I'm in flow, in the moment, grounded in my body and working my muscles and seeing and smelling and hearing new things. My senses come alive and my thighs ache and I come home feeling that groggy, cool, kind deliriousness you feel when abject pain is relieved by narcotics. But when my horse came up lame after Thanksgiving, I no longer had a way to connect my wayward brain to my neglected body, and I started to stagnate. And that's when I started yoga.
On my mat, I found that same mind-body connection, that same buzz I used to find on horseback. I spend an hour being in my body, touching my own weaknesses, and working working working toward alignment. They call it "your practice" for a reason: It's all practice.
I felt the click as my instructor assisted me into a more true expression of each pose, and I read and studied and learned how many of my ongoing physical issues were also mental issues. I had breakdowns during hard poses as my hips opened up. I had breakthroughs during the final savasana that helped me process my father's death. I learned to use breathing to stall or reroute my panic attacks. Yoga became the open chat window for my body and mind to connect. I realized that I am not my thoughts-- I am so much more.
As writers, our brains are constantly hunting around for the worst case scenario, both so we can more effectively torture our characters and when looking at our own lives. If you give your thoughts too much power, they become magnified. Every mistake is a catastrophe. Every rejection is a death knell. Someone else's triumph is a condemnation. Your brain is powerful, but your brain can lie. Yoga-- or meditation, or running, or painting-- can get you out of your head and into perspective about what's real, what matters, and what can be let go. Yoga helps me defrag and recalibrate.
That's why this year, I decided to enroll in a YTT 200 Yoga Teacher Training program. And because I tend to be good at the new things I try, and because I'm fairly smart and have teaching experience in the arts and in writing, I thought I'd automatically be great.
And I'm not.
My first month of YTT left me feeling like a child in a new country where I don't speak the language. I was expected to read extensively, to write papers, to practice at home, to journal, and to stand up in front of people with vastly more yoga experience and attempt to teach them poses I am far from mastering. When I taught my first sequence, I could feel my heart beating in my temples and hear the question mark at the end of my every sentence. I fumbled for words, forgot to be assertive, didn't use non-violent communication. In short, I was a hot mess, and I felt like a complete fool.
I came home that first weekend and considered quitting.
I wasn't good at it. Not good at yoga, not good at teaching yoga. It was too much all at once. The other students were so much better at me, at the positions and the teaching. It was a waste of money. I couldn't see myself ever having the knowledge and competence and confidence to lead a class.
But I kept on. Kept going to as many yoga classes as I could as a student. Kept doing yoga at home, whether through online videos or by myself on the porch. I tried to teach my daughter. I helped my husband with some restorative poses. Kept reading. Kept stretching.
Still, every month, before YTT, my feelings plummet. I get scared. I should quit. I'm not good enough.
Every month, I still go.
And the simple truth is this: I'm getting better.
There have been little breakthroughs along the way. The first time I got into Crow Pose and literally felt like I was flying. The first time I adjusted my daughter and heard her say, “Oh!” when she was perfectly aligned, her face alight with understanding. When I adjusted my husband during a stretch and heard him sigh in relief. And, finally, this past weekend, when I made my first class playlist and realized that if I simply looked at each class like a short story, I could succeed.
Putting together a sequence was the hardest part for me. I simply didn't have the vocabulary to lead a flowing series of poses--it felt like being asked a prepare a twelve course meal when all I had were flour and butter. After three intense weekends of teaching, I finally feel empowered to find my voice. I start by making a playlist of songs geared toward the time limit, then I look at the songs and see what kind of feel or theme they have-- just like I do when making a book playlist. Then I consider what I want as the peak pose we work toward-- just like when I figure out what the climax of the book will be. Then I feel out the introduction/intention (beginning), the portion of the sequence where we build heat in the body (escalating action), the climax, the cooldown (denouement), and the closing (ending). See? It's a short story, told through the body and tied together with a theme and soundtrack.
Suddenly, it all clicked. I just had to find a way to apply what I'm best at (writing) to something that I found nearly impossible (teaching yoga). I found my voice and my purpose.
I want to write about this for several reasons. For one, if you think traditionally published authors have all their shit together, WE DO NOT. If you think that being great at one thing means you deserve to be automatically great at everything, IT'S NOT TRUE. If you're thinking about quitting something because it's hard, DON'T. You just have to find your way, your path, your voice. Succeeding at something that frightens or intimidates you is the only way to grow. Nobody levels up sitting at home being complacent.
Writing is wonderful, but don't let it be your everything. Get out. Be in your body. Take a shower and put on clothes that make you feel alive. Have new experiences. Take classes. Suck at stuff. Try harder. Get better. Level up. It will help your writing.
Repeat: IT WILL HELP YOUR WRITING.
Part of my goal in training to be a yoga teacher is to help writers. Not only to unhunch your shoulders and soothe your aching back and stretch out those typing fingers, but also to find the space you need to let in new ideas. Yoga helps me find that space. Yoga helps me say Yes. Yoga helps me open up, heart and mind, to possibility and to remember that there is light inside me.
If you're a writer, I highly recommend finding the right yoga studio and putting on those raggedy old leggings and getting on the mat. No one cares what you look like. No one cares if you know what you're doing. No one cares if you have trouble getting into poses. That's what's so great about yoga: everyone is so busy being in their own body that they're not looking at yours, much less judging you. It's pretty much the opposite of Twitter.
So there's your advice of the day: Writer, get out of your head.