YOGA + CREATIVE EXPRESSION
by Janna Leyde
Yoga marries with just about anything quite nicely—running marathons, strength training, traveling, physical or mental therapies, the 9-5 work week, parenting, embracing life. When I want to make something a little better, to take it to that 150%, I add some yoga.
In grad school, my life was long hours of laborious journalism assignments paired with late nights out with friends. I was flailing myself at life, telling myself it was exhilarating and fun, the way you are supposed to live your twenties in New York City. I had zero balance, which is exactly what my mother will tell you, and she’s so infrequently wrong. So I hit the mat, sweating and stretching my ass off daily at a second story Bikram studio in SoHo. Yes Bikram, because that was who I was in my early twenties—intense. And it worked, because slowly the practice began to pull all the elements of my life back to the midline. I was sleeping harder and thinking clearer, and for the first time in a very long time I was able to exist at a slower pace. A few years later, in the aftermath of what felt like a debilitating relationship, my yoga practice saved me again.
“My craving had morphed from time spent on the mat to lose weight into time on my mat to gain sanity. My practice had moved from the physical body to the mental realm, but I didn’t care. I just needed.”
Yes, that was a few sentences from He Never Liked Cake, an unabashed book plug.
I started said book just days after finishing my teacher training. Four weeks of yoga morning, noon and night, and my body and brain felt … clean. Now it was time to write, write, write, write… No more snippets of stories and files and folders, but time for chapters and structure. Write your book: that was the only assignment I’d given myself for the next six months. At first, the writing came—dare I say it—easy. A few weeks in, the write, write, writing got harder. A month in, and I was creating pages of senseless, directionless story. I heard the wee e-crunch of the desktop trashcan more times than I wanted to. Garbage, figuratively and literally.
One day, I just gave up. Nothing was coming up. It was all stuck in my brain, the words I needed, the story I wanted to share. Rather than chucking my shiny new MacBook Air out the fourth floor window, I pushed the couch over, rolled up the carpet, and did at least two hours worth of impromptu asana on my bare living room floor—sans mat. I sweat, swore, panted, and cried. I chugged a glass of water. I took a shower. I made dinner out of avocados and tomatoes and dessert out of a mango, watched a terrible rom-com, and admitted to myself (the newly minted yoga teacher) that not practicing yoga for two weeks was a not a good idea. That night I slept happy as a kitten. The next day I wrote four chapters, good ones as far as rough draft chapters go.
Lesson had been learned: Getting stuck? Do yoga. The creativity-yoga marriage was not initially intuitive, but writing is what I do, and the practice serves to enhance just that—all the things that I do: walk, think, breathe, eat, love, play, write. This year I flipped the pair on its head. I got stuck with my practice, so I started writing about yoga, and the new discoveries poured forth on my mat like fresh sentences.
It only makes sense that each takes turns supporting the other. Isn’t that what a relationship is supposed be like anyway? Sometimes I get stuck on a sentence, so I do a headstand or a fold over my legs. Other times, I can’t figure out my feelings for a pose, so I write about it. Turns out I heart camel.
Given that I’ve discovered a thing or two about the relationship between yoga and writing, I’m inviting anyone who is the market for creating (whether it’s for fun or for your job—or both) to join me at Mala (Saturday, April 13th, from 4-6pm). I’ll share more of what I’ve experienced. We’ll chat. We’ll do some asana (nothing too crazy) to clear your brain and let the creativity flow. Then we’ll have free (and silent) time to write, compose, draw, anything you do directly after practicing. Then we’ll chat some more. So bring your creativity tools. My tool is that MacBook Air, but you can bring notebooks, pencils, computers, iPads, knitting needles… just don’t use the internet, because it’s not a time to communicate or connect externally. That being said, if your job is social networking, you might even play around with the clarity and wit you can come up in the tweets and posts composed post yoga. I have, and you will be surprised how easy it becomes to squeeze a thought into 140 characters!
And to all you Oscillations regulars, I won’t leave you standing in Tadasana for weeks on end, so check back in next Yoga Thursday.
Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn and the author of He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on her second book about yoga for brain injury. You can buy her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, here.