I would like to answer some frequently asked questions related to Yoga As Muse. I welcome your responses and questions.
WHAT IS YOGA?
I speak as a writer who came to yoga later but also as a writer who has completed two Yoga Teacher Trainings, traveled to South India to study with his primary teacher, who continues to study seminal yogic texts, and who has taught yoga in different venues. Yoga is a way to live more fully in this body, in this physical world; it is not an escape from nor abnegation of this world. This way includes a series of tools that when executed regularly and appropriately alter the patterns of mind, speech, and action. It hones concentration, awakens compassion, ignites imagination, builds discipline and discernment, and expands awareness. It is a practice of small liberations in this lifetime.
WHAT IS YOGA NOT?
It is not exercise although your body – especially if it’s aging like mine – will benefit. It is not a religion – although Hindus have appropriated some of its teachings and it can awaken that which you might call spiritual. It is not an excuse to feel pious or self-righteous or somehow better than people who do not practice yoga. Many of yoga’s tools, after all, aim to help us experience the break down of dualistic consciousness.
I am infinitely flawed and contradictory. I cuss at lunatic SUV drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike; I eat too much dark chocolate until my body crashes; and I have a gift not only for putting my foot behind my head but also squarely in my mouth. So, yoga is not about achieving moral or physical perfection.
WHAT IS YOGA AS MUSE?
Yoga as Muse is a term I use to describe the way I integrate yoga’s tools directly into my creative process. At the foundational level, I set writing intentions, engage the appropriate yogic tools for a writing intention, and write with a receptive, easeful state of mind and body.
I have learned what tools lasso my concentration, crack open my heart toward my characters, break my mind out of hard-edged conceptions, and lure images like fish to the surface. But the process is not mechanical.
I have taught literature and creative writing courses at high schools and colleges for years, but I was frustrated by a key problem in how creative writing is – and often must be – taught in academia: A teacher or professor can teach craft, can point students toward model texts, can critique students’ writings, and in essence try to describe what works in the student and what does not work. But few writing teachers or professors have academic permission to teach students the how. When it comes to process, most writing pedagogy gets no further than the “pre-write, draft, re-vision, edit” stage or a few “creative exercises” that might include playing music or putting on goofy hats and writing as a caterpillar.
Yoga, when approached in the way I’m describing, helps writers become more aware of how their imaginations, intellects, and emotions work for or against their writing. From that faculty awareness follows craft awareness.
WHAT ARE YOGA AS MUSE TOOLS?
Yoga as Muse tools are the same as yoga’s tools. Physical postures both shift physical energy as well as alter the mind’s point of awareness and degree of awareness. Yoga offers numerous breathing tools that can elevate alertness and energy, calm the nervous system, and stimulate the imagination and unconscious. Meditation tools increase writers’ awareness of their mind’s margins and percolating unconscious. Chanting tools can awaken writers’ inner ear for musicality, rhythm, and voice. Philosophy tools and daily practice tools help writers live the writing life – from drafting to publishing – without losing their center.
DOESN’T THIS HYBRIDIZATION CHEAPEN YOGA’S SACREDNESS & PURITY?
No. Here are three reasons why not.
#1: Yoga is adaptive and dynamic, not static. A quick study of yoga’s history of Yoga betrays that “Yoga” refers to numerous practices all aimed either toward liberation or peace. There is meditation yoga (raja yoga), the yoga of selfless service (karma yoga), the yoga of chanting (bhakti yoga), and the yoga of physical transformation and transmutation (hatha yoga) to name a few. Within hatha yoga alone, literally hundreds of traditions have sprouted, and the teachers for centuries have learned from one another and adapted their teachings accordingly. The teaching of yoga has always been adapted to and changed according to students’ time, place, and needs. Thousands of creative people in the 21st century need a clear way to embody their creative process.
#2: Yogis have drawn from their practices to write and to create for centuries. Numerous yogic texts are said to have been “revealed” to their authors. Without recourse to the reductive terms of Western psychology, how else would you describe that luminous state of awareness that yoga and meditation can bring a writer to? Bhakti yoginis such as Mirabai found direct inspiration for their poetry in their devotional practices. More contemporary yogis such as Sri Aurobindo felt that creativity was our evolutionary gift. In this sense, Yoga As Muse is as ancient as the first chant.
#3: “Tools” are a seminal aspect of almost all yogic and Buddhist traditions. Yoga and Buddhism attract contemporary Westerners in part because of the endless teaching tools these traditions’ teachers have at their disposal. These tools are called upaya in Sanskrit, which translates loosely to “skillful means.” Yoga As Muse draws upon many of these same tools with the aim of creative liberation (not perfection).
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE TWO HOURS OR $15 A DAY FOR A YOGA CLASS?
My teacher Sri TKV Desikachar liberated me from feeling obligated to practice yoga 90 minutes to two hours a day. “20 to 30 minutes a day,” he would say, “is much better than two hours once a week.” The same is true for writing. The body and mind need daily tending; so, too, does the imagination’s and unconscious’s bidding. Ideally, you can visit your yoga teacher once or more a week for guidance and deepening, but Yoga As Muse can be practiced at your own home and woven into your daily life’s fabric. I know numerous writers who have written books 20 minutes at a time.
That’s enough to pique your curiosity, I hope. Send some questions or responses.
The best in me reaching out to the best in you,
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I listened to an hour-long Yoga as Muse session with Jeffrey today and really enjoyed it…