In June last year, I began taking yoga once a week at 7 o’clock on Monday nights.
The classroom faces West. Throughout the year, I’ve watched the light change. Moving slowly between Warrior I, Locust and Child’s pose, we pause long enough to watch the seasons come and go.
In June it still feels like late afternoon when we begin. When class ends, we step out into twilight, air buzzing with cicadas and the first sign of fireflies. Toward the end of summer, the class itself feels like a sunset ritual. Daylight leaves us during that quiet hour and by Shavasana—final relaxation pose—it is fully gone. It is mid-September now. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashanah. At sundown, the blowing of the shofar will signal a new year. With its sound we dedicate ourselves to ten days of introspection. A month from now, it will be fully dark again before we even begin, the Himalayan salt lamps and candles twinkling in the windows to welcome us in.
During these months, I’ve thought about the influence yoga has had on my writing practice, the way it helps me focus and leads me inward.
Writing helps with yoga, too. Journaling helps me commit to practicing yoga, gives me a space to consider the way I stretch myself on the page and on the mat, increasing flexibility in both places.
Both practices allow me the pause I need to figure out where I am in the swirl of days.
Coming to the mat. Facing the blank page. Yoga and writing. As I continued my own writing practice, and tried incorporating yoga poses into my day here and there on my own, I kept thinking I had to do something to bring these two practices together in a more structured way. Maybe a book?
I reached out to my friend Kajal to pitch my idea. We had become close friends in college and worked on papers side by side, dreaming our writing dreams in a little coffee shop in Hanover called Rosey Jekes. Kajal is a trained yoga teacher and also a writer by trade. “What do you think about doing a project about using yoga to activate your writing?” I asked her. She loved the idea. Emailing back and forth, we put together our Author Bios. Drafted a Sell Sheet. Talked about what yoga could help writers do: release tension, find clarity, harness creativity.
Using yoga as a tool for writing seemed a great way to position the book, to “market” it and convince others of its worth. It lent itself to an effective elevator pitch, unlike many of my more nebulous book ideas. But as I sketched notes in a Google doc I began to feel the “pitch” was limiting. Framing yoga simply as a tool for writing devalued it. I wanted a way to explore the relationship between yoga and writing with energy and light and insight flowing in both directions.
But the problem was I didn’t know enough about yoga. Although Kajal is a super-successful corporate communications executive, she has not focused as much attention as I have on a personal writing practice. So perhaps it is fair to say, outside of a professional context, she did not know enough about writing. Her personal writing practice—in terms of time—looks more like my yoga practice. Where I’ve committed to the page, she’s committed to the mat. That meant we had complimentary skills, but it also meant that we perhaps could not write a book on how each practice enhanced the other until we both went deeper into the merged experience ourselves.
I am a daily writer trying to make yoga a daily practice. Kajal is a daily yogi trying to make her personal writing a daily practice. We are going in opposite directions (toward each other?).
Trying to write a book guiding others was getting ahead of ourselves. We were both experts and beginners, but neither of us had the expertise to lead with authority in the places where these fields overlapped.
This felt like a big obstacle. An “ugh.” The advice from a wet-blanket friend who points out all the ways your latest idea will fail. I wrote about it. I tried to meditate on it. Other thoughts pushed their way in. I tried to push them out. This is not meditating! I berated myself. Well that isn’t either! came another voice, just as strident.
And then, all at once, with a candle lit and incense going and Snatam Kaur music playing as I looked outside—not trying to meditate, not trying to do anything—I realized the wonderful Zen saying, “The obstacle is the path” had proved to be true once again.
It is not an obstacle to avoid that I am a beginner when it comes to yoga. That too is the path. It is not an obstacle that Kajal is a beginner when it comes to writing daily outside of work. That is the path.
We needed only to see the path opening up right in front of us. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
We have many possibilities, beginners that we are, and one is to acknowledge, accept and even embrace that beginning. That beginning gives us everything we need.
I can, starting now, commit to trying to develop my yoga practice, building on my writing practice. Kajal can do the same, the other way around. We can begin where we are. We can be where we are.
When I presented the idea to Kajal, she answered full to the brim with the happy openness and joy I hoped she might. She too agreed this was a better way to approach the idea.
We would blog about it, we decided, alternating days.
Here is the first day, today.
Mid-September of 2017. Here is where we begin.