Lit Fest Member Dispatch: Write Like a Yogini

By Kyra Scrimgeour

Although I take the occasional yoga class, I would never call myself a yogi. This is especially true when I take a class for the first time in months and forget how long my glutes will hurt afterward.

[caption id="attachment_6143" align="alignright" width="300"]This post's author in the Lit Fest yoga and writing class. Photo by Rob Clement | RCVisual Kyra in Tuesday's Lit Fest yoga and writing class. Photo by Rob Clement | RCVisual[/caption]

Wendy Wunder’s “Writing Class Asana” yoga practice was on Tuesday, but I still can’t sit down or stand up without wincing. That’s not to say I didn’t have a wonderful time—Wendy’s style of teaching is exactly how I like it—she did a little bit of showing, a little bit of telling, and helped with as many careful adjustments as were needed to get me into the right position. And let me tell you, I have been in the wrong position for downward-facing dog since the beginning. This is probably why my rear end is in so much pain.

Thankfully, I didn’t get any sore muscles from the writing portion of the class. Wendy told us that we were, in essence, her test group for a pre-writing Ashtanga vinyasa practice. She hadn’t tried it before, but was very interested in using a meditative practice to access the best state of mind for getting a story flowing.

As she began class, she quoted Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind, saying that she was using yoga "to get you down to a body level and out of your monkey mind.” She explained that the goal of any yoga practice is to enter a blank mental place you find in a final Savasana—which, even though it’s also called Corpse Pose, is essentially lying on the ground and loving how thoroughly relaxed you are. Savasana comes after working hard and sweating hard, when you become aware of every limb and muscle and give your mind the space to exist with only itself and the body. This, we discovered, is the perfect place to begin work on a piece.

Following the hour-long practice, we settled into a more normal seated position with pens and notebooks and wrote. The exercise was simple: write for ten minutes without lifting your pen. Stop, write the prompt “what I really want to say is…," and write for another ten minutes. Repeat twice.

[caption id="attachment_6145" align="alignleft" width="158"]Instructor Wendy Wunder hoped yoga before reading would focus the monkey mind. Photo by Rob Clement | RCVisual Instructor Wendy Wunder hoped yoga would focus the monkey mind. Photo by Rob Clement | RCVisual[/caption]

At the end of the exercise I had written three full pages—which is two and half pages more than I can usually manage in half an hour. It was because I was writing from a clean, relaxed mindspace.

In Wild Mind, Goldberg writes that “real writing comes from the whole body. You want to get in there and live from there, not in some idea of your future vacation in Hawaii, while your body is driving through a blizzard on I-94 in Saint Paul. Be where you are. The best writing comes out of that.”

That was exactly what we, as a group, experienced. Yoga gave our minds a chance to focus on the now rather than the external world, and then refocus that mindset into our writing.

One of the last things Wendy told us was that a yoga practice forces you to “put effort where it needs to be [on your body], and relax everything else.” The fluidity of this concept into artistic creation was exactly what she had hoped would happen with our class.

Although she herself hadn’t tried it, after our discussion and writing time, she promised that she would take on her own advice and do a quick vinyasa before she sat down to write again. I can only hope it works as well for her as it did for me, because I know I will, without doubt, be trying it again.