Well, I don’t even know how to introduce this – it’s an amazing post, and I feel very lucky to have it on here.
Chang came to visit my class at Viable Paradise and teach us yoga. At that point I hadn’t slept for a couple of days, my writing was pissing me off, and the most I’d done in terms of actual movement was to migrate from one chair to another. Chang’s class brought me back into my body, settled me down, grounded me – all the things that yoga does – and reminded me why I love it. And – surprise! – my writing stopped feeling like a fight and started feeling like a flow.
Anyway, that’s not all that this is about, but really, I don’t know how to introduce this. Chang is Chang. He’s awesome, and a brilliant writer, and has a big-safe-warm-kind of energy. He’s a rare human. His website is here and he tweets away as @bigbadchang.
Taming the Wild Voices
“You’re a basket case, man.”
“When was the last time you wrote anything good?”
“When you do yoga it looks like a bad Dali painting.”
I hear these voices all the time. But what I know is this:
I’ve started this post three times so far and not even come close to saying what I want to.
I’ve written four novels so far and not even come close to writing what I know I’m capable of.
I’ve been doing yoga for 11 years and not even come close to the full potential of what my body can do.
I’ve been on and off anti-depressants, ritalin and xanax and yet nothing gives me the calm of a great yoga practice nor the satisfaction of writing.
I began writing at the age of 12, pursuing it on an off for the next twelve years before bailing because after several failed attempts at “mainstream fiction” I hated everything I wrote. Similarly, I’d exercised on and off for years before giving up and resigning myself to the fact that I was just going to get older and fatter. I figured I’d just have to keep seeing mental health professionals and occasionally drink myself to sleep in order to find peace.
Then one thing in particular changed everything.
Power Vinyasa Yoga.
The hot, sweaty stuff. Not Bikram. The other kind.
When I began doing yoga my life was a mess. I was unemployed, my marriage was under duress, I was stressed and becoming unstable. My wife began doing yoga and loved it. One night she begged me to come to class with her. Two weeks late I finally did. At first I thought I was going to die. Then I made it to the end and left feeling better than I had in… well… ever!
Within a month I was going 3-5 times a week. Soon I was volunteering at the studio. Then working there. After six years I opened my own studio. Since 2006 we’ve taught to over 10,000 people, seen their lives change before our eyes and grown an amazing community.
All this because I know that without my yoga I would be dead, divorced or worse.
My yoga practice has made my body stronger and my mind calmer. I think better than I used to, with greater clarity and focus (for a guy who couldn’t drive without 30mgs. of ritalin coursing through him that’s a pretty amazing change). People find this hard to believe but I’m completely serious when I say yoga helped me understand sequential logic, vital to such things as programming, algorithms and even math (back in the day I had the SAT scores of 750 verbal and 340 math. Couldn’t add my way out of a paper sack but damn if I could read!). The constant repetition of a set series of postures that can be arranged in a modular fashion to produce a certain end (work the hips, work the spine, work the heart, work the shoulders, etc.) all require a certain routine and path to achieve completion. This helped me to understand the order of operations in everything from modular synthesis to HTML – even jazz!
Yoga got me writing again. I missed the mental effort, the workout writing gave me but hated what I was writing because it was what I thought everyone wanted to read. When I finally gave in and began writing science fiction I felt liberated and I’m writing better than I ever was.
Yoga has especially helped me understand the craft of writing better. My yoga practice helped me realize that for me to have a strong functioning spine I would need to maintain consistency, practicing regularly and often. Our bodies are made to be moved physically and when we don’t do that we allow them to break down faster than they really should.
Through yoga I began to understand that the same thing happened with regards to writing. To write well, pretty much all the great writers have said the same thing: one must write regularly and often, and read often. It’s really only through a regular discipline that we can achieve mastery at anything. Stephen King says “Writing equals ass in chair.” I say to my students “Yoga equals ass on mat.” Not on a SUP board. Not while eating chocolate or watching TV. You’re either doing yoga or you’re not.
In writing we learn to keep only the essentials, remove the excess so that all there is on the page is what we need to say what we want, no more and no less. Similarly, in yoga we learn to weed out the extraneous, remove the excess and arrive at a place of simplicity; a clean and unadorned mind and body (tattoos and jewelry are okay, though).
Another parallel between yoga and writing is that there is no end state, no goal state. No one practices yoga to suddenly find themselves blissfully at the top of the highest mountain peak with no one there beside them, having achieved it all. There are peaks and valleys and plateaus upon which I as a writer land and occasionally lament. Eventually I find what I need to move beyond this plateau, either by pulling back from where I’m at or pushing myself slightly.
Same goes for writing. The best writers keep evolving, challenging themselves and writing new and different works. The human brain, of which I assume you the reader are in possession of, thrives on challenges to maintain its strength and growth. Without this, it will stagnate and often degrade sooner.
Yoga has brought me many things but the main thing it has brought me is a sense of calm and peace with myself. I still have challenges, I still have dark days, days when I’m pretty sure it would have been a better idea to stay in bed not just for that day but for the previous week.
Through yoga I’ve learned to accept these things as they come, not change them but to simply be with them. Sooner or later things change and the obstacles are gone and the path is clear once more.
Yoga may never get rid of the voices. It hasn’t, in fact. It’s added to them. Now instead of just voices I have that say, “You suck” and “Give up, loser-king” I hear ones that say, “Write shit and edit later” and “Get on your mat for an hour then the world will seem normal, possibly better.”
And those are the best kind of voices to hear.