Stillness and Balance – Yoga and Writing Go Together

yoga meditation 38677834_sMany of my Writing for Wellbeing workshops are at yoga studios. Why is it that yoga and expressive writing complement each other so well? As a practitioner of yoga for some decades, I find that yoga is a continuously evolving practice and I learn daily more of what yoga brings to me. But the primary foundation of yoga for me is balance and centredness. I don’t mean just the asanas where one balances on one foot (though that, too!) – I speak rather of how yoga helps me find the still point inside me, the centre where everything is always steady and okay, despite whatever winds of challenge and change buffet me externally.

It is, in great part, all about letting go of whatever we don’t need in any particular moment. There are times when I am doing a challenging asana, and I find myself struggling with my own body, trying so hard to get it right. Then I realize that all I need to do is let go of what I don’t need in this asana. I cease the struggle, release the tension, and let my body find its own balance and ease in the posture. Yoga is, of course, not merely the practice of physical asanas – it is meditation, kirtan, breathing, and a philosophy for finding your path through life.

So how does Writing for Wellbeing complement that? I think I am not alone in saying that I carry a lot of thoughts about in my mind that I don’t really need, which trouble me at the most inconvenient moments. Expressive writing activities go a long way in helping release these thoughts and inhibitions, because it taps your own intuition to help you find out what is really important to you. Effectively, you can get behind your thoughts to a wellspring of creativity which can flow out to affect all aspects of your life – writing, work, relationships, decision making, and how you feel about yourself. You come away knowing yourself better – that there is a lot more to you than all these thoughts whirling about in your mind. It helps you find that point of stillness inside you where you know that you are always okay.

But you don’t need to do yoga to come to one of my workshops at a yoga studio! Everyone is welcome. And you may find that the peaceful and nurturing atmosphere of yoga spaces fosters your own creative spirit.

‘You must write. It’s not enough to start by thinking. You become a writer by writing. It’s a yoga.’ — R.K. NARAYAN

Wonderful Workshop York Yoga Studio

Today a most inspiring group of people attended my Writing for Wellbeing workshop York Yoga Studio Signat York Yoga Studio. Everyone came with an openness and enthusiasm to try new ways of approaching wellness and writing. There was such positive energy in the room that we easily wrote our way through quite a number of activities, and it was most gratifying to hear that many people intended to continue practicing the activities at home to see what new ideas and insights they can find. At the end we all felt a little more mindful, a little more calm, and had spent good time together.

It is groups like this that make my work as a teacher of Writing for Wellbeing so worthwhile. I also learn something from every workshop, and it is a joy to meet people and come together in our journeys to wellbeing. I am most grateful to everyone who participated. There was such positive response to the idea of future workshops, we are planning to hold another one there in the early autumn. Watch this website for details, or follow my postings on Twitter @write4wellbeing.

I would also like to give a big thank you to Laurie at York Yoga Studio for providing the wonderful venue (and the tea and biscuits!), and for welcoming us all with her innate friendliness and energy.

The Worst Thing?

upset-characterEveryone of us has had difficult things happen in our lives, for some people very difficult things. And one of those things will live in our memory as being the worst thing that ever happened to us. But then, if you are like me, I remind myself that there are many other people all over the world in many situations who have had – and are having – much worse things happen. This can be a useful way to gain a bit of perspective but, at the same time, it can so easily result in beating yourself for being self-indulgent and self-pitying. The truth is, that if something at a particular time has taken all the strength you have just to bear it, then that is indeed the worst thing that has ever happened to you.

I am reminded of some lines in the poem ‘Things’ by Fleur Adcock:
‘There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these minor betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.’

But if I ask myself right now: ‘What is the worst thing that has happened to me?’, the only answer I can give is ‘I don’t know yet’. I don’t mean that I am anticipating even worse things in my future. What I mean is that I don’t yet know the outcome of all the events in my life. With every year, if I be truthful with myself instead of just replaying past griefs, I come to understand that some of the most difficult things that happened were the turning points to change. And out of that change something wonderful grew, and I became more than I had been before. Sometimes something has to end, or you have to be shocked out of your old way of being, in order for new opportunities to begin.

So it may be that I will find, after all, that whatever I had believed to be the ‘worst thing’ in my life, was actually the best thing of all.

The Importance of Downtime

crazy_clockIn this virtual computer-tech world we live in, the word ‘downtime’ often elicits groans of frustration. When our email or some other web server has an outage for maintenance or technical problems, we feel annoyed and stressed because we are losing time. How dare this technology waste our time!

This thought reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in his brilliant Screwtape Letters, that the idea of “My time is my own” is a curious assumption. “Nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.” Does that sound familiar? I know how often I feel this way, and not just in respect to IT difficulties.

C.S. Lewis goes on to say: “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.”

Thinking about this, I realize that downtime is a gift, and that there is more than one kind of downtime. From one perspective, a few minutes or hours of lack of access to websites gives us a chance to break our reliance on IT for a little while and remember what we used to do before computers. (And for those too young to remember this, they can imagine!) But it is also essential for us to schedule our own ‘downtime’ for personal maintenance of our emotional and spiritual selves. I’ve just spent a few days on a self-catering holiday on a farm in Yorkshire, with no computer, no television, no telephone – just books to read, my notebooks for writing, and the sound of sheep, goats and chickens. I went for long walks, found rural tearooms for a cuppa and cake, and spent time in lovely places without feeling that I should be doing something else. I found an ancient Saxon church, a haven of peace which reminded me of the depth of time before I was even born.Kirkdale church I stopped to touch the budding leaves of trees and listen to the birdsong, which reminded me of all the new life growing into the future. I made the farm dog the happiest creature in the world by finding a stick to throw for him to retrieve, which reminded me that the present moment is the only moment we have to enjoy.

In stepping out of the current of demands, in abandoning the technology for a few days, I found that TIME is a much bigger thing than I had been perceiving it to be when caught up in my own daily occupations. It encompasses every living thing and time passes without any help from me. But time includes me as well, and it is a fine thing to take a few moments of that time to rejoice in this gift that is freely given to us each and every day.

Quotations to Inspire

wordsSometimes I need to be reminded that I am not the only person who can find it difficult to do the writing I want to do. It’s too easy to feel blocked, or that there is something else I should be doing, or that I just don’t feel like it. At times like these, I find it helpful to read a few words by established authors who talk about their own writing process. So I have collected a few quotations which keep me inspired. I’d like to share a few with you:

‘And I must forget even that I want it to be good. Such things belong only in the planning stage. Once it starts, it should not have any intention save only to  be written.’ – John Steinbeck

‘It wasn’t the result but the experience that hooked me: it was the electricity. My transition from not being a writer to being one was instantaneous, like the change from docile bank clerk to fanged monster in “B” movies.’ – Margaret Atwood

‘You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’ – Jack London

‘Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.’ – Gloria Steinem

‘There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night: MUST I write?’ – Rainier Maria Rilke

‘When I create I am true, and I want to find the strength to build my life wholly upon this truth, upon this infinite simplicity and joy that is sometimes given me.’ – Rainier Maria Rilke

‘Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.’ – Ray Bradbury

‘You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.’ – Madeleine L’Engel

How to be Grateful

gratitudeDoes anybody have the same difficulty I do with that axiom that you should be grateful for what you have now, while, at the same time, setting intentions for what you want to change in your life? If we are so grateful in the here and now, why are we planning to change it?

Of course the simple answer is that life is all about growth and change, and to stay still is to stagnate. But there are times when I am so eager to manifest change, that I forget to be grateful for what I already have on this day. That’s mainly because I am lacking awareness of who I am and what is around me in this very moment. I think I am not alone in this, we all do that at least some of the time! And this is where I can use writing to help me become more mindful.

Have you ever tried writing a Gratitude List? It’s easy to do – take some paper and write the numbers 1 through 50 down the sides of the pages. Then write 50 things you are grateful for in your life right now. It doesn’t all have to be too deep – you can be grateful for that good cup of tea you had at breakfast, or for that flower you saw in the garden.  But you can also add bigger things to the list, like people who love you, or some personal talent or ability you possess. Don’t think too hard, just start writing the list and see what comes out.

But sometimes there are days – and I’ve had them, too – when things seem black and it is very hard to feel gratitude at all. That may be the day when writing a Gratitude List is most valuable. On days like that I start my Gratitude List like this:

(1) the air that I breathe

Think about it – air is a gift we are all freely given, every day of our lives, every moment of our lives. It gives us our very life. And there is no charge for it, we don’t have to earn it. It is something to be grateful for in every moment. When I write that down, I realize that there is always something to be grateful for, and I quickly find more things to write on the list.

Give it a try! And see how you may become just a bit more mindful of all that is good in your life at this very moment.

Is Writing a Blog Good for You?

writeThe most recent Poetry News from the Poetry Society arrived today and, aside from seeing that I had not won the National Poetry Competition (no surprise there – they had 13,170 entries!), there is an article suggesting that blogging is good for poets. A number of poets who blog shared their thoughts, and some said a few interesting things – blogging feeds the writing of their own poetry; other poets’ blogs have inspired them; and blogging provides a more solid alternative to social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Though this comes with the warning that blogging cannot be allowed to distract from the time spent writing actual poetry.

Perhaps this article suggests the plain truth that writing breeds more writing. The more time spent working expressively with words, the more creative we become. This reminds me of what I once heard Roger McGough say, during a reading of his poetry at Stephen Joseph Theatre: ‘The more I write —- the more I write!’.

Oh yes, and about those 13,170 entries to the National Poetry Competition. What brilliant evidence that poetry is not a dying art, but is intensely vibrant and well in the world.

It’s Not Fair!

frustrationIt’s not fair! Do you ever find yourself saying that? I know I do sometimes. The feeling that somehow life is treating me unfairly very often arises from a perceived notion that other people are somehow better off than I am. Perhaps they own more or better things than me, or seem to have great connections with other people, or wonderful jobs, or just seem to be so happy. Some people never seem to put a foot wrong and have all the luck.

But ‘seem’ is the operative word here. We are acutely aware of what we think we lack in our own lives, but we never fully know what challenges other people face, or what troubles they have had in their past. No one gets a free ride. We all need the courage to face any number of things in our daily lives – if not today, then tomorrow.

That’s why some of my favorite guided writing activities have to do with finding a new perspective. When your mind gets stuck in an accustomed pattern of thinking, perceiving lack and unfairness – what you need to do is step outside this circle of thoughts. There are a myriad of writing activities which allow you to take a different view of yourself or your circumstances – by, for example, writing from the perspective of another person or even from the perspective of an inanimate object. Perhaps you can introduce an unexpected element into a familiar situation through your writing, to make the familiar extraordinary. Stepping back from your customary way of thinking allows you to see things more objectively, and achieve greater empathy – both with other people and with yourself. You may find that you become more grateful for what you have, and achieve more balance in your daily life.

But I’ll leave gratitude as the topic for another post!

Why Do Writing for Wellbeing?

I came to practice Writing for Wellbeing in the way many therapists come to their practice – I was looking for something to help me through difficult times. Having experienced the bereavement of losing someone close to me, I started doing journal writing as an outlet for grief. At first, my journal was a catharsis – it was a safe place to tell my troubles, a private place where I could say anything I liked. My initial tentative entries were a few lines long, but soon my journal became my friend and I wrote more and more. pen and notebook onlyIt was a great way to offload. But after a while, I discovered that this wasn’t enough. I found that troubles were all I wrote about, and my journal concentrated on the perceived negatives in my life and few of the joys. I had become so accustomed to writing in this way, that I was unable to turn the negatives into positives. My journal had become a record of misery. I needed help, I needed direction. I needed a way out of this cycle.

There are many ways to break a cycle of misery, whatever the cause. Meditation and NLP helped turn me around, and it was then I came to understand more about how I could use my own creativity to help myself grow out of grief and into new possibilities. Through writing therapy workshops, I learned that guided activities in writing are powerful tools in gaining new perspective, greater self-understanding, and a whole new outlook on effecting change in one’s life. I conceived a passion to help others with what I had learned, and thus have become a practitioner of Writing for Wellbeing. We all of us have a wellspring of creativity in us, and sometimes all we need is a little guidance to help us use that creativity to open up our potential.

Welcome to my blog!

New blog coming soon

Sometimes I feel like this little guy when I sit down to write – it can seem so difficult to pick up that pen and get started. But I remember that even the longest novel was written one word at a time. And once a few words are on the page, anything wonderful might happen! So that’s what this blog is all about – exploring what happens when one sits down to write, some ideas that are generated, and how guided writing activities can inspire personal growth. Thanks for reading!