What Yoga Taught Me about Writing, and Writing about Yoga

Yoga has seen me through various injuries and a years-long bout of chronic pain, but I don’t maintain nearly as regular a practice as I’d like. The same holds true for writing. I’m writing more now, and more often, but there will be times when I simply hit a wall. I’ve always tried the “one book at a time” approach for fear that allowing something else in would eliminate forward momentum completely. (Yeah, don’t probe that too deeply for logic.) Lately I’ve discovered that I really enjoy having a second project to switch to when I come speeding up to that wall. It’s temporary avoidance, but it gives me space to think without feeling like I’m standing still.

St_Thomas2008Aug 198

A leaf bends in the wind and floats in the air. It goes, unprotesting, with the flow.

If one thing isn’t working in my writing, I no longer beat my head against it. I shift gears.

Lately after a yoga practice, I experience pain flare-ups from an issue I’ve dealt with—and beaten back—for years. The current fix is to change my practice and make it different from what I prefer. I don’t want to do that. I have it in my head what my yoga practice will be, what it should be, and damn it, that’s what I want to do. Except I hurt later, and I am so very over that. I found myself avoiding yoga to avoid the hurt, ending up in less pain but still unhappy because I wasn’t getting all the other benefits of my practice. The solution, I realized, was to shift gears.

It’s time to stop fighting. I need to set aside my idea of what my yoga practice should be and let it be what my body is demanding it become. The sooner I do that, the sooner I’ll feel better. The sooner I’ll get over the honestly unnecessary angst and move on. My body may feel some discomfort, but the true suffering is in my head. Just like when you get to that scene you’ve been waiting the whole book to write and it’s not working. It’s falling flat. Now that you’ve written everything that comes before, it doesn’t fit the way you envisioned. But this is the way you want it! No way are you going to end this book without cramming that scene in The Way It’s Supposed To Be.

Much hair pulling and teeth gnashing later, and possibly a wise writer-friend giving you a verbal slap upside the head, you realize the futility of your resistance. That scene has changed. Your vision carried you right up to it, and then it took flight, altered into something different, something that’s more than a spur to keep going. It’s now a vital, necessary part of the whole. And you’d have realized it a lot sooner if you’d just stopped insisting that what you wanted was still the same thing as what was needed.

There are times when we need that slap to wake us up. And there are times of quiet revelation. However we receive them, we should remember that their lessons can be recycled. Maybe we’ll benefit more from them in the future.

Advertisements

Handwriting versus Typewriting

It was brought to my attention via Twitter a few weeks ago that the Common Core education standards don’t place much emphasis on legible handwriting. The wave of the future, as you might guess and The New York Times reports, is the keyboard. Kind of obvious, right? But the decline in handwriting isn’t something to write off as a sign of our technological times. The article states:

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.”

KnowledgeIf schools teach students how to write the alphabet and make a signature, but then focus more exclusively on keyboarding skills, what might we be losing beyond the physical act of handwriting? I love to write. Books, letters, lists, doodles. (I have an earlier post on letter-writing.) If there is paper and pen, I want it in my hands, so this article got me thinking that “what if?” The relationship between hand, pen, and paper—and the way the hand, eye, and brain engage in that format—is different from hand, keyboard, and screen. I don’t even need to see the keyboard to use it.

With a keyboard, I can type more quickly and scroll all the way back to the beginning and correct something before I ever reach The End. Despite that, this format always feels more official and formal to me. In contrast, writing by hand is a subtle sign to my brain that I’m allowing myself to be messy. It’s okay to scribble things out, to take the whole thing less seriously. I can always tear off the page and throw it away.

I’ve identified some consistent reasons behind when I switch to paper:

  • Screen fatigue
  • A difficult or emotional scene
  • I’m stuck and my perceived formality of the file on the screen feels too constraining

Whatever the motivation that gets me to switch from keyboard to pen and paper, these handwritten scenes are always my better ones. I’m finding the computer and keyboard fine for originating words on setting and structure and all those little in between details. For action and emotional resonance, I want to pour it onto paper. On paper, it becomes more about the story and less about the producing of the story and how many words I’m getting out. (Because who doesn’t like to check their total word count at the end of a writing session?)

Given everything I feel I gain from handwriting, I wonder what younger generations may lose if they’re less inclined to pick up a pen. What value does handwriting have to you? (Does it?) When do you turn to it?

Perspective

Mount Everest as your first mountain climb?

Apparently this is a thing people do. They want to climb a mountain, so they buy the gear and fly to Kathmandu or somewhere thereabouts, and hire a company to take them up Mount Everest. Whether or not they have skills to climb it is not necessarily something they worry about. And some climbing companies also don’t concern themselves overmuch with the experience of those handing them tens of thousands of dollars. Sherpas carry the climbers’ packs. The food. The oxygen tanks. Sherpas run lines up the mountain for climbers to clip into and follow. Up. To the top. Over 29,000 feet up. Covered in snow and ice and at risk of avalanche. Sherpas lead the way and assist the climbers in every way they might need. (That’s not to say that there aren’t experienced mountaineers climbing Everest.) Check out this traffic jam at the summit.

Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air recounts the 1996 tragedy that claimed a dozen lives. Ten people died in 2012. Most recently, an avalanche killed sixteen climbers in April 2014 – all of them Sherpa guides. I attended a discussion at National Geographic this past week on Mount Everest, climbing, and Sherpa culture. I learned that when tragedy strikes on Mount Everest, the Sherpa guides are the ones who most often pay the price. The Nepali government offers $400 to the families of those who die on Everest, which doesn’t even cover the cost of a funeral. According to Lakpa Rita, the Sherpa speaking at National Geographic, the families of those killed in April still have not received that money.

Obviously, climbing Everest is a risky job. So why do it? To feed their families, educate their children, and hope that their kids won’t have to climb the mountain one day to do the same. It’s not a fun job to them. It’s livelihood. It’s a necessary risk to give their children a chance at better. Other work is scarce and not nearly as lucrative. Lakpa Rita confirmed this at the National Geographic Live! event. Yet The Atlantic reports, “Being a Sherpa on Everest these days is far more dangerous than, say, being a soldier in Iraq from 2003 to 2007.”

Think about that.

It kind of puts my hard week at the office in perspective.

National Geographic sent photographer Aaron Huey to Everest as part of its story on Sherpas. He spoke at the National Geographic Live! event and you can see some of his fantastic photos on his website.