Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Assume the position: on writing and yoga poses

Yesterday I returned to yoga class after a 10-month absence.

I secretly hoped it would be like riding a bike. Well, not exactly like riding a bike. I didn’t want my butt to hurt.

But I did hope everything would come rushing back – the poses, the breathing, the vocabulary, the flexibility.

After all, I had a steep learning curve when I first started. I fondly remember my initial attempt at “crow pose.”

For those unfamiliar, this is what it looks like when done correctly:
Crow Pose - Bakasana
© Barry Stone
Obviously that’s not me in the photo, because as I mentioned, it’s being done correctly.

The first time I tried it, I balanced precariously with my knees on my elbows, hovered for two seconds, and tipped forward. My head hit the floor with a THUD. Everyone in class turned to stare.

Not very zenlike.

Determined to get it right, I went home and practiced in front of Pythagoras. In addition to a degree in exercise physiology, my husband possesses infinitely more athletic prowess than I do. I demonstrated the pose for him. This time, I held it for three seconds before my head hit the floor.

Pythagoras nodded wisely. “Maybe you should wear a helmet to class.”

I’m nothing if not determined, so I practiced and practiced, enduring several mild concussions and a one-week period where I thought my name was Eduardo.

The day I finally got it, I squealed with joy.

And promptly fell on my head.

So you’ll understand the terror I felt yesterday when, 15 minutes into class, the instructor ordered us to assume the pose.

It was a bit like the times I’ve taken breaks from writing fiction. On several occasions – operating under the misguided belief that I shouldn’t waste time writing something new until I heard back from a prospective agent or editor – I simply stopped writing.

Sure, my day-jobs have typically involved writing in one form or another. But there’s a big difference between crafting a press release and creating characters and plot arcs out of thin air.

After every hiatus, there’s a moment of white-knuckle fear. Will I remember how to do this? Will I have to re-learn everything? Will everyone stare when my head hits the floor with a THUD?

And then, there’s that moment of elation. The instant I realize I haven’t forgotten anything at all.

That’s one valuable lesson I learned along my bumpy road to publication. Even if you take a break, you don’t forget the things you’ve already figured out. The skills you gain, the lessons you learn – you get to keep those.

I’m not suggesting you should take long breaks from writing. On the contrary, I’ve kicked myself each time I’ve done it. But if you do stray from your muse for a little while, rest assured you won’t start over from “see spot run.”

Oh, and you’ll be happy to hear I successfully assumed “crow pose” in class yesterday. I did not, however, manage to get my ankles behind my head.

We’ll save that for next time.

24 comments :

Keri Stevens said...

If I put my class in crow 15 minutes in, there's be a most un-zenlike mutiny in which no one practiced the principle of non-harming.

I wanna come to your class.

middle child said...

Hey Eduardo! That's too funny. I laughed out loud in my quiet house. Thanks for cheering me up. Peace.

Linda G. said...

Whew! For a second there I was sure you were going to tell me I better put on a helmet before I pick up my WIP again. ;)

Cynthia Reese said...

For a moment there, I thought you were going to say that Pythagoras actually did it, the first time that you demonstrated it to him.

I don't attempt the crow pose. No, no. Downward Dog is enough of a challenge for this ol' girl.

I do wish that we had a yoga class around here ... alas, I practice it (quarter-heartedly) in the privacy of my own bedroom.

Karla Nellenbach said...

ahahah...at first I thought you were going to tell us that wearing a helmet while writing was how you snag an agent AND a three book deal. Imagine my relief when I find that that is not the case! whew... :)

mumfusa said...

now this is all sorts of interesting because i'm pretty much the opposite of you.

(1) i can't touch my toes, so no yoga for this gal.

(2) i (very weirdly) learn the most when i take a break from my writing and allow ideas and comments and concerns to brew. it also helps me to take in a heavy dose of reading.

(3) i've never thought i was an eduardo. if i was going to, it would have been last week when i felt down the stairs while carrying my bike. perhaps it was the helmet that saved me.

maybe you're on to something. perhaps i should wear a helmet at all times. when writing. working. riding. walking. drinking. maybe that's the brand i'll create for myself.

hi, i'm helmet girl. nice to meet you.

Vicki Tremper said...

I just want to thank you for your posts. I don't always comment, but I read almost every day, because you just make me laugh. And we all need more laughter, whether attempting complicated yoga poses, or refining yet another manuscript.

Mother Hen said...

Always nice to read about a fellow yogi, at least you didn't eat it, crow that is. And I agree with you about the break with writing every now and then, because in all honesty, you were probably thinking about it at least...maybe, hopefully.
You are a funny girl!

danicaavet said...

You have effectively frightened me away from yoga class. Not that I intended to go to any. I'm more of a sitting still kind of girl. I keep planning to change that, but I always find another reason for me to sit still.

I've only been writing "seriously" for a year, but the longest break I took was maybe a month. I was between projects, waiting for this to be critiqued, waiting for my muse to return from la-la land, and generally unhappy. I don't feel great until I'm writing. I guess my brain doesn't like to keep still like my body does.

P.S. Congrats on getting your pose. You should probably take up breakdancing next!

Harley May said...

I'm impressed you could hold it, Tawna. I do all the kiddy yoga moves, but we make up different names for them. Okay, we just twirl around in circles, but you get the idea.

Great post.

Candyland said...

Man, you're more brave than I. And flexible.

Lani Woodland said...

Wow! I've always wanted to try yoga but I've been too afraid. I didn't know poses like that even existed. I'm even more impressed with you now!

Lucy Woodhull said...

Ha! This is the one yoga move I cannot master. I've been thinking of trying against a wall of some sort, as THUD is a common occurrence in my living room. My husband doesn't help me - he laughs.

And... is writing whilst wearing a helmet bad? My tin foil hat helps me hear the voices.

Patrick Alan said...

I spend a lot of my day trying to perfect Karnapidasana.

Tawna Fenske said...

Keri, hey, I didn't know you taught yoga! To the instructor's credit, it was probably closer to 25 or 30 minutes for the rest of the class since I accidentally read the schedule wrong and showed up 15 minutes late!

middle child, it's always funny to see which lines in this blog make people laugh. The Eduardo thing? Totally a last second addition.

Linda G, writing with a helmet does help, if for no other reason than it hurts less when you beat your head on the keyboard.

Cynthia, you know what? I'm trying to remember, but now that you mention it, I do think Pythagoras attempted it himself. Pretty sure he got it right away. Bastard.

Karla, well, see my comment to Linda G. above. The helmet does have its perks!

mumfusa, I'm disturbingly flexible in all areas EXCEPT my hamstrings, so like you, I have a tough time touching my toes. In that regard, you might enjoy yoga after all!

Vicki, welcome, and thanks for chiming in! I notice I get around 20-30 comments per blog post, but each day I have somewhere between 150 and 300 blog visitors. That means the majority of my visitors (like you!) don't comment at all.

Mother Hen, excellent point! I've found my brain is often working hard on a plot, even when the rest of me doesn't realize it!

danicaavet, I didn't really "get" yoga when I tried it in my 20s, but I've gotten hooked in my mid-30s. Plus, what's not to love about an exercise program that allows me to do it in the comfort of the same yoga pants I'd wear all day anyway?

Harley May, I've found lots of instructors make up cutesie names for the poses. My favorite is "diaper pose."

Candyland, flexible, yes. Brave? Maybe more like stupid :)

Lani, I really do enjoy yoga. The great thing is that you can always find new ways to make it challenging even after you've mastered certain poses. Kinda like writing, eh?

Lucy, you do look lovely in that foil hat!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Terry Stonecrop said...

I've tried the tree and downward dog or something. Strange names. I tend to prefer weight training. I like the plank though.I think that's yoga.

I've had to leave my ms for a time and it actually helped me when I got back to it. I think we're always writing or revising in our heads, even when we aren't writing. Good post.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Phew. This is great news considering I'm on a break from "serious" writing and yoga. I should get back to it ASAP. Thanks for the reminder, and reassurance that I haven't forgot everything I learned.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Great anaology here for the writer in us all. It's so easy to "take a break" from writing while you're in the querying stages. What we fail to realize is that you've got to juggle them all- writing, researching, editing, querying... I needed this post today becauase I've been dreading the "thud" for a bit now and it's time to start back up! Your humor makes it a little easier! Thanks so much :)

Marissa

Xuxana said...

I love how you can combine yoga experiences with writing advice. See? That's why you're the great published author that you are! :)

By the way, my last yoga instructor advised we bring a pillow to class. You know? For my head to land on. Hurts much less that way.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

Oh man, you just brought back memories of the Yoga tapes I used to do @ home (I only work out alone in the privacy of my own living room). This dude named Rodney Yee (or something like that) is wearing nothing but a teeny black speedo, and his business is just out there the whole time. Always made me giggle. I blamed that on not being able to hold the poses.

I've heard the best time to query an agent is when you have moved on and are working on something new, btw.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Your yoga story reminds me of going to the spa and trying to act like I know what I'm doing. I finally gave up. I still go, but I take a book to read while exercising that way I get involved with the novel and quit thinking of how awkward I look.

Jean Bauhaus said...

Oh, man, I remember doing that pose as a kid. I don't recall ever being able to hold it, mind, but I'm still impressed with myself for ever being able to get into that position. I'm even more impressed with you for holding it.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Long writing breaks can be awful, though, at least for me. I just finished an editing spree, and it took a long time for me to be able to actually sit down and write again. I hadn't forgotten anything (grammer, how to make sentences flow, when to use adverbs- sparingly) but it did feel a little alien. Still, it's encouraging to know that these things don't just fly away!

Tawna Fenske said...

Terry, I used to do a lot of weight training when I was younger, but seem to be gravitating more toward yoga these days. I agree, the brain somehow continues to chew on a story even when you aren't actually working on it!

Karen, good luck getting back into both pursuits (and try not to land on your head!)

Marissa, I agree, it's quite a juggling act. Hey, maybe that'd be a good workout...juggling. I've always wanted to learn!

Xuxana, a pillow, that's a great idea! Of course my risk would be the temptation to take a nap :)

Elizabeth, those tapes sound like all kinds of eeew.

Kathi, nothing like a good book to take your mind off the fact that you look silly :)

Jean, once you get your weight balanced in the right places, it's pretty easy to hold it. The trick is figuring out the balance (much like writing, I suppose!)

Bethany, it always feels weird for me, too, when I dive back in after a break. Sometimes it's good-weird though :)

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna