Balancing Effort & Ease in Writing.

Effort & Ease

One of the more well-known Yoga Sutras states: “sthira sukham asanam.”

Translated it means: the posture is steady and comfortable. Sthira means steady, firm, resolute; sukham means comfortable, easy, gentle. Applying this to our asana practice, we try to strike that balance of exerting enough effort to be steady and strong in the pose, and enough ease to remain comfortable.

We balance our more active, strong yang practice with a softer, more restorative yin practice.

I’ve been noticing that when a teacher gives a cue, I go there 110 percent. Why? I don’t know. I like being a “good” student, so if she says do something I am going to do it. Lately, I’ve been easing up. I stop just when I feel the muscles engage, pausing, checking in to see if I actually need to go deeper for my body, or if my ego just wants to prove how awesome I am at yoga.

I enjoy exploring that balance between effort and ease in each pose, in my practice and in my life off the mat.

My writing practice is rich with the opportunity to practice “sthira  and sukham.” If I push too hard, trying to force a character to do what I think is needed for the plot, I usually end up writing myself into a corner, or not writing anything at all. When I step back and allow the character to go where she needs to, the writing begins to flow again.

Alternately, if I am too soft in my writing practice, only showing up for stream-of-consciousness (brain drain) morning pages, the work suffers. I need to put the effort in to writing my characters, the setting, and writing my way into each scene so that the story emerges.

Here are eight ways I strive to balance effort and ease in my writing practice:

(Read the full article here.)

Five on Friday

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1. My latest on “elephant journal.” I cried when I wrote it, cried when I read it.

2. Excellent piece by David Ebenbach on trusting yourself.

3. Love all of these 21 things by Robin Black. Seriously. Can’t even choose a favorite. I need to print it and hang it over my desk. 

4. Intriguing take on the eclipses coming this month.

5. To practice yoga you only need one thing.

Five on Friday

1. Incredibly moving photos taken by a husband of his wife. (May need to grab a tissue for this one.)

2. 32 Unusual Benefits of Yoga.

3. A writer shares what she’s learned about the craft and process of writing over the years.

4. Ways to get more done in your mornings.

5. As much as I love going to the studio, I feel the desire to really fall in love with my home practice as well.

Immersed on a New Path

So….. it’s been a while. Usually when there is this much silence on my blog, I am in a darkish place. Disconnected. Discontent. Discouraged. Happily, I can report that it’s not the case at all this time. I am connected, content and encouraged. The silence has been a retreat of sorts as I journey down this new path, Teacher Training for Yoga. It kind of took me by surprise. I’ve been dipping my toe into a yoga practice for many years now. I started off using DVD’s at home. A couple of years ago I took a few classes at a local studio, took a long break then bought a Groupon for classes at another local studio. Loved it but still didn’t commit to a regular practice. Another year passed and I received an email for a free yoga class for my birthday. This was in July. I went. Loved it. The studio moved to a larger space and as part of the Grand Opening, they offered a week’s worth of free unlimited classes. I took advantage of that and tried different styles, different teachers and bought a package of classes. Used them. Bought another package and began to feel I was being stingy with my classes, not wanting to use them up too fast. So, I decided that on January 1, I would commit to a three-month unlimited package to really immerse myself, see if I could commit to a regular practice, see if I got my money’s worth. Boy, did I. The middle of a dreary, midwest winter was the perfect time to try this. It got me out of the house, out of my head, into my body and into a supportive, nurturing community.

Then I read about a Yoga Immersion program as part of the Teacher Training. You didn’t have to want to be a teacher to take it. It was being offered to anyone who wanted to deepen their practice. That really called to me, but the cost gave me pause. We have one daughter in college and another on her way in a couple of years. Could or should we spend that kind of money on me? I continued taking six to eight classes a week and kept being drawn back to the description on yoga immersion. I’d read about it on my computer, a little wistful but always managed to talk myself out of it, telling myself that some day I’d do it, but not now. Then on my way home from class one day it struck me that it wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it. I was choosing not to spend money on it. On me. I figured out a payment plan, ran it by my always incredibly supportive husband and  committed to it.

© Angie68 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Angie68 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

It’s not an exaggeration to say it has been life-changing. Learning and doing the poses is the least important part of the practice. I began this thinking that I’d finally get into a real meditation practice, gain some strength and flexibility and maybe get a yoga butt if I was lucky. What I am learning is that, as Joel Kramer writes, “At its core, yoga is a process that involves confronting your limits and transcending them.” The first night we met as a class, I think I looked a little shell-shocked by the end at all the information thrown at us and once I realized all that would be required of us. This was about way more than getting a yoga butt. I got a little shook up, a little scared. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe this wasn’t the right time. But as I read the material I shook my head at myself. Are you kidding? This is exactly what you’ve been looking for. A way to be healthy and whole; to let go of the past, of bad habits, or mental, emotional and spiritual baggage that’s been weighing me down. A way to get unstuck. I can’t tell you how many books I have with the words “stuck” or unstuck” in them. I can’t imagine how many times that word appears on my blog or in my journals. Way too many.

So, I took a deep breath, trusted my instincts and dove in. Fears of my life being capsized still haunt me but I have to have faith. Kramer touches on this fear perfectly when he writes, “You might think that changing deeply could make you so different that you’d lose touch with those you love and even yourself. Actually, the transformation that yoga brings makes you more yourself, and opens you up to loving with greater depth.” Most of the changes have been coming from the inside, where all authenticity is born. Sure, I’ve toned up, gotten stronger, more flexible. I sleep better without needing to take anything. No allergies this spring. Aches that have hounded me are disappearing or at least easing. But it’s been more than that. For the first time, I am feeling at home in my own skin. I no longer feel I am at the mercy of my mind, of my emotions. I feel lighter, energized. Lit up. Instead of yoga being a tidal wave that ripped me out of life, it has slowly been seeping into all the nooks and crannies of my life, lifting me up to meet the life I am meant to be living, to be the person I am meant to be.

Five on Friday

1. This is a great idea! I’ve had a similar idea for years that I called it my Self-guided MFA. But she takes it to a whole new incredible level that reaches so many people.

2. Such a great interview with Cheryl Strayed. Here’s just one of many lines I loved: “(email…)  is a real problem for me, a huge distraction not only from my writing, but from everything else I love to do, too. When it comes to getting to work, my trick is to conjure my inner-nun-with-a-ruler-in-hand and simply force myself to begin. Beginning is about three-quarters of the battle for me.”

3. Max Sebald’s Writing Tips. Such good advice like “Read books that have nothing to do with literature.”

4. Dani Shapiro on taking risks.

5. Free yoga video for writers.

Quotable Tuesday

“It’s vital to establish some rituals–automatic but decisive patterns of behavior–at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”

– Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit”

It’s summer and I’ve let my writing rituals melt away with the lazy days and heat. But once school starts back up, I will find my way back to those rituals that ground my writing practice. It usually involves yoga, meditation, lighting of a candle, morning pages then into my work. Some days it means taking myself out to the bookstore to write in the cafe with a cup of tea. Sometimes I include reading poetry out loud, getting the music of language in the space around me. Writing at the same time everyday is helpful. It becomes almost Pavlovian. Sitting here, at this time means it is time to write. It’s important to keep the ritual simple, otherwise the time is spent on the preparation rather than the actual writing.

What about you? Do you have any writing rituals? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Please share in the comments.