Yoga Sutras to Writing

by Analyn Revilla

There are three principles in the practice of yoga that can apply to a writing practice.  These principles originate from the second chapter of the “bible” for yogis, called “The Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali.  It is an ancient collection of “sutras” (known as “threads” in Sanskrit) compiled into a book by the guru Patanjali around 200 C.E.

“Union in Action” is daily life lived in a clear and conscious way. – The Yoga Sutras.

As a sporadic writer, still aspiring to do something more ambitious than what I’ve been doing with my writing, I recognize that perhaps how I conduct my yoga practice could be useful to my writing life.  Having spent a lot of time reading books on creativity and writing; immersing in artistic milieus:  writing classes, acting classes, participating in LAFPI, attending plays… I continue to experiment and looks for ways to turn it around.

In my last blog,“Why Write?”, the fire within was ignited.  Do not quit.  I actually had stopped writing for about a two year plus period, because it was too painful, and too much heavy lifting to move my hands across the page, and draw sludge out of my veins, and what came forth was painful and ugly, and maybe even toxic.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped, because all those things I deemed “ugly” and “untouchable” were all parts of me I was denying. 

In the past, yoga has been a practice that has sustained me through times of hardships. When my husband died so suddenly, some people gave me journals and encouraged me to write.  I did for awhile, and I even started the entries as Day 14, Day 15 and so on.  There were days when I couldn’t write, but I kept track of the days… Day 218.  So I would say that writing has also been a companion that helped me through troubled times.

So, why not combine the two?  The elements of the the triage can elevate my writing life and sustain it so that I can be more consistent and revive the spirit of joy in my writing.  The triangle is known as the strongest structure in engineering and architectural structures.  So the same goes for the triage of the three elements listed below.  All three are required to have “Union in Action” for writing:

  1. Willful Practice or Refinement – Tapas
  2. Self-Study or Reflection – Svandhyaya
  3. Release and Surrender – Ishvara-Panidhara

(The italicized words are Sanskrit.)

Tapas translate to heat, and burning the impurities of the body and the mind and it leads to the refinement of the body, the mind and the spirit.  I show up at the mat on a regular basis in both my own practice and when I teach.  As a writer it’s required to show up in the writing space with the intent to write without false distractions (hunger, internet browsing, making and receiving phone calls, texting, walking the dog). 

Tapas in a practice generates heat in the body as the muscles, tendons, joints and bone move into a pose (asana) with mindful awareness.  From initiating the movement to holding the pose, the yogi expands his consciousness inward and outward.  Self-study of the micro-movements of the body and the micro-movements of the mind and the breath.  Svandhyaya in writing is conscious awareness of the process.  If hunger arises then examine if the is the hunger real or an excuse to step away from the writing.  In expression of the truth, are the thoughts expressed with the right intention? Is the truth being circumnavigated? Maybe the writer is not yet ready to juice the truth?  

Listen to your body in both practices.  On the mat, to be safe and to transform to higher states, the yogi listens to the body.  Is it tired? Is the yogi ready to scale up to more difficult asanas or to hold the pose longer with more edge?  As in writing, listen to the body. Is it fatigued? Is it tensed when writing something that releases trauma in the tissue.  In yoga therapy the belief is “your biography is your biology”, so it the same in writing.  It is a cathartic process that moves energy of a stored memory in the tissue to the outer sheaths beyond the muscles and skin.  

Finally, with Ishvara-Panidhara, there is release and surrender. Upon initiating the movement into an asana using proper breathing of knowing when to inhale and exhale, while conscious of the spine alignment, the yogi listens to the feedback from all parts of herself.  Where is the resistance?  Where is the flow?  How to adjust?  Is this the edge?  Allow and accept the edges (physical, emotional and mental) to be.  Do not allow the ego to dictate the practice.  Release expectations that push beyond unhealthy edges.  So it is the same in writing.  When forcing a release, sometimes there are means to help take off the edge.  It takes courage to look at a blank page and then dive off the cliff.  A little something can help give courage, but that some thing (be it alcohol, drugs, or eating sweets) can become addictive and unhealthy.  As I described earlier I stopped writing for awhile.  I just needed to be still.  

How can any writing happen in being still?  There are incubation periods and healing periods.  When an athlete or a dancer is hurt part of the recommended physical therapy is rest to allow the injury to heal.  So it is in writing, allow the heart to heal.  To prescribe “stop writing” is not for everyone, but for me it was better to stop for a little while.

I once asked a writing mentor if a writing life means writing all the time.  He had just finished describing a scenario that while waiting at an intersection for the light to turn green, he observed the driver of the car in front of him and it triggered an idea for a piece to write.  So he said that he is always writing though not physically putting words on a page.  The writing life is a way of being.  I recognize the surrender to a writing life of accepting where I am at – at an intersection of my writing life where the light is green and there are road signs saying “Caution”, “Road Under Construction”.  Surrender to what is in the now.  Trust that I am at the right place at the right time.  Let go of the results.  I cannot force a blossom to bloom beautifully when the mini-me gets in the way.  

Leave a Reply