The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘yoga and writing

I’m winding down from a terrific and transformative week co-leading a workshop called ‘Opening the Writer’s Heart’ with the amazing Marjorie Hudson. We integrated yoga, mindfulness, breath work and prompt writing.

We were at the Table Rock Writers Workshop in the mountains. It’s held at the Wildacres Retreat Center. It’s a special place that encourages generosity of spirit, conviviality, and community. Loved connecting with our workshop participants, the many writers and creatives in attendance and the faculty. Gratitude to organizers Georgann Eubanks and Donna Campbell for saying yes to our proposal.

I’ve been to a number of writing retreats and residencies and this one is incredibly special and I totally understand why it is both beloved and kind of a secret!

The Prep

Showing off our blue toes as we get in the car to drive up to TR. We didn’t even plan on having the same color!

Marjorie teased me about how much stuff I was taking, but I reminded her that I was taking workshop materials, my own work, books to sell, clothes (didn’t know how cold it was going to be–turns out it wasn’t cold at all), and snacks!

Great stop in Little Switzerland for a bite to eat on the way up to Table Rock. I told Marjorie, I’d have to restrain myself if I went into the used book store. I have a ‘situation’ at home with books piling up behind the door in my office. It’s a fantastic bookstore though!

What Makes Table Rock Special?

I had heard about Table Rock for years, but knew little about before Marjorie and I pitched our workshop. It is a week-long retreat that many writers attend year after year. When we arrived everyone made us feel welcome and told us how much we would love the experience. People were pretty emphatic that we would love TR. I nodded, smiled and thought, OK, people are really into Table Rock. Not that I didn’t believe them, but I needed to just allow the experience to unfold. After just a few hours there, I felt a shift and by the end of the first full day, I knew what everyone was talking about!

Here are some things that struck me about Table Rock:

-The workshops are kept small, both in class size (no more than 12 people; we had 6 participants) and overall number of people. The size leads to an intimacy over meals and gatherings. It also contributes to community-building.

The wonderful dining hall where connections deepened over meals. And, what a gift to not have to cook for a week!

-there’s a daily social hour and people hang out and really get to know each other

-the faculty have been teaching there for many many years. These are people working at the top of their craft and teaching at an extraordinarily high level. Participants raved about their instructors, and many participants come back and take the same workshop with their favorite instructor. That’s high praise! They also enjoyed experiencing new teachers (such as myself and Marjorie). We were the new kids on the block. The faculty made us feel so welcomed (as did everyone)! They also shared tips about the writing life and their own journeys. We were so honored to be part of this group and add our own special sauce, so to speak. One of participants, Cyndy gave us the nickname M-squared!

This year’s Table Rock faculty (left to right): Philip Shabazz, Joseph Bathanti, Abigail DeWitt, me, Judy Goldman. Back row: John Claude Bemis, Dawn Shamp (editor in residence), Marjorie Hudson (photo credit: Judy Goldman)

-The Table Rock ethic is to support each other’s writing and to recognize we have a lot to learn from everyone in the room, not just faculty. It’s not about competition. Established writers and newbies get to mix it up at TR. People are interested in who you are, not just what (or where) you have published. People are encouraged to listen deeply to each other.

-Participants get to read their work and so do faculty. Folks in the audience are attentive and supportive.

-It’s a beautiful space that both inspires and restores.

A wonderful space to read, write and enjoy the natural beauty.

-It’s a creative hub. Not only are fiction, poetry and memoir writers at Table Rock, there are also a dozen or so songwriters attending their own workshop. Both groups get to hang out, cross-pollinate and the songwriters also perform for the community on Thursday eve.

A rocking concert by performers who had written and scored songs just that week!

Our Workshop!

Our participants were fabulous! They were a mix of emerging and experienced writers. All had prior yoga experience (though that was not a requirement). All opened their hearts to each other. We were blown away by the quality of their writing and how deep they went with the prompts we offered.

The table was set! The space we taught in was spacious and we had plenty of room for yoga. Flowers from Marjorie’s garden adorn our table.

Our sessions were from 9am-12pm and we opened with yoga and gentle movement, a brief meditation and then launched into writing exercises (people would write anywhere from 5-15 minutes). Folks would read aloud from what they wrote and the group would note what struck us and where they could go next if they wanted to develop the piece. Sometimes, Marjorie and I would read selections aloud from poetry or a novel in preparation for a prompt. We’d provide another prompt, take a stretch break midway through, do another exercise, read aloud some more and offer homework to continue with the prompt. They were always free to scrap the prompt and write something else.

Our themes for opening the writer’s heart and qualities you need on the writer’s path included:

-practicing courage

-practicing connection

-practicing gratitude

-practicing silence

We also allocated some time for ‘instant coaching’ about the writing and publishing life.

A prompt for you!

We spent time talking about what kinds of things open the heart (e.g. courage and dealing with fear) and what closes it (e.g. lies, secrets). This is one of the prompts I offered:

“I didn’t tell the truth for the first forty years of my life. I thought that reason I lied was that I thought I was protecting other people, but the truth is, it was to cover my own behind. I lied to my kids to get them to do what I needed them to do. I lied to my friends to get whatever it was that I needed. I lied to myself but I would never have known they were lies…This is what I realize: Being able to tell the truth makes being able to write the truth easier. And writing the truth is the beginning of healing the heart.” (emphasis in original) —
–Nancy Aronie

-Write about a lie you have told (5 minutes)

Then for homework, I suggested the following:

“Take a situation or topic or an event that you haven’t talked about honestly yet; something that is still stuck in your throat, like a tiny fishbone, small enough not to choke you to death but big enough to let you know it’s still there.

Work on it in small amounts. Truth is all you need to write. No gorgeous phrases, no sparkling syntax, just truth. Write until you’ve written the whole story.” Nancy Aronie

Write for 30 minutes.

Or: write about a major lie told to you

Our group went deep with this prompt! This prompt is adapted from Nancy Aronie’s Writing from The Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (a writing book that has a similar feel to Bird by Bird; also very funny and very poignant; Nancy Aronie came to writing late in life and I really identify with her journey.)

Our workshop participants doing our last exercise where we invite them to dream big about their writing life. They name their accomplishments, writing skills they want to strengthen during the coming year, and identify allies and mysterious sources of support. It involves colorful post-it notes!

 

Love this picture of Marjorie practicing Lion’s Pose, a great refresher for the face and tension reliever. (photo credit Donna Campbell)

We provided participants with easy, sustainable exercises to support their back, shoulders and hands during the labor of writing. Check out these poses for hands and wrists:

https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/ss/slideshow-hand-finger-exercises

The Last Day

A quick pic with faculty member John Claude Bemis before we get down to selling our books!

 

Books, books and more books! Faculty and participants get to sell books on the last day. Humbled that my Reenu-You novella was on the table next to so many authors that I admire.

Overall, a very soul-refreshing adventure. I love teaching with Marjorie. And, because we had a week to teach the material (unlike our previous weekend teaching gigs), there was more spaciousness built into the experience. I was also able to stay on my own writing schedule!

And, of course I couldn’t leave with out some books! Can’t wait to dive into these books by the faculty!

I don’t know if we will get the chance again to teach at Table Rock due to schedules, etc. I hope so! I can also see myself taking a class at TR, too. Table Rock definitely made an impression on me.

Doesn’t this look like a really happy face? Taken on the last day of the workshop by the fantastic Donna Campbell.

Check out more about them and their schedule here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m thrilled to announce that I will be co-leading a writing workshop with Marjorie Hudson at the Table Rock Writers’ Workshop in August! We’ll be there for a week! Dates are August 26-30.

Our workshop is “Stretch. Breathe. Write: Opening the Writer’s Heart”

We’re exploring how gentle mindfulness and movement practices can enhance our work and open our hearts-so that our writing goes deeper and explores new territories. We’ll do lots of freewriting, as well as support projects that are already underway.

Writing together is always joyous, often funny, sometimes very moving. To have concentrated writing time is a rare blessing for most of us. To enjoy each other’s company for a couple of days in the mountains is sweet indeed.

Marjorie is an author (Accidental Birds of the Carolinas and Searching for Virginia Dare), my writing teacher/mentor and friend. Over the years, we have co-facilitated a number of writing and movement workshops. When we team up, MAGIC happens.

Table Rock is a supportive environment that is known for nurturing writers. It’s in the mountains and will provide a wonderful escape from the heat and humidity of the summer.

No movement experience necessary for our workshop; writers at all levels and genres are welcome.

The schedule is such that you’re in a specific workshop in the morning and then there are some afternoon sessions and evening sessions with the entire group. There’s also plenty of time for writing on your own. And, there will be time to get to meet and interact with the other faculty teaching there, chat with the editor-in-residence and get to know some of the other participants. Sometimes there’s evening entertainment. It’s a lively time.

See the full description of our workshop and more details at the website. Our workshop is already half-filled, so don’t take too long to decide!

I’d love to see you there and nurture your writing! Feel free to email me with questions!

Last spring, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a weekend writing and yoga workshop with my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson. In that workshop we invited participants to explore the ways that the practice of writing and the practice of yoga need similar things from us: patience, devotion, activity, silence and reflection.  We did lots of prompt writing and interspersed that with gentle movement, demonstrating how yoga can help release the body’s wisdom to nurture the creative process.

The workshop was a great success and since then we both have become interested in exploring the chakra system (a yogic energy system) and its connection to writing. Next weekend we’re teaming up for a one day workshop where we explore ‘Writing from the Heart Chakra’ hosted by the Raleigh Review, a literary journal.

Chakras

Every writer needs to find a pathway to the heart’s best work. We often talk about ‘writing our heart out’ or ‘putting our heart’ into the work. This week leading up to the workshop, I’ll blog about why we want to pay attention to the heart chakra, physically and energetically, as we create.

I feel lucky to call Julee Snyder both teacher and friend. I met her when I began my yoga teacher training almost a decade ago with Lisa Clark and David Beadle. She was already a massage practitioner, explorer of  Body- Mind Centering (BMC) work, yoga innovator and an assistant teacher in Lisa and David’s program. Her wisdom, compassion and clarity make her a gifted teacher. All these qualities are present in her guest post.

Supporting Your Mid-Year Vision with Restorative Yoga

Some people love summer…the beach, pool, mountains, hiking, biking, vacationing and being outdoors. I often wish I was one of them. For me, it’s a second winter. I often find myself sequestered away in the air conditioning with blinds drawn to avoid the heat, the sun, the bugs and the sweat. Regardless of whether you come alive or wilt a bit in the summer months, it’s worth taking time to turn inwards and check-in with where your year is going and whether you are staying true to your authentic vision for your life.

Restorative yoga is a practice in consciously resting and turning inwards. Most yogis will note that the energy of their practice begins to pick up in late spring. We somehow feel called to twists and inversions, to stronger standing poses, and vinyasa. We want to sweat and move and come alive after turning inwards for the winter. The cycle begins to revert a bit once we hit the solstice and the heat of the summer is on us. Our poses are still strong, but more static. Please, by all means follow these internal rhythms. But don’t forget to include your restorative and meditation practices. A weekly resting practice to balance your active practices is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Include one resting pose per day followed by a five-minute meditation, if you can.

‘Legs-up-the-wall’ is one of my favorite restorative poses. All you really need is a quiet spot with open wall space and maybe something to elevate your pelvis and something to cover your eyes. When you’re ready:
1. come close to the wall
2. roll onto your back
3. swing your legs up the wall
4. shimmy as close as you can to the wall where your legs can rest comfortably long.
5. cover your eyes with an eye pillow or cool cloth.
6. hang out there for 5-20 minutes while focusing on your breath

Viparita-Karani

When you come out, sit against the wall and set your timer for five minutes, but don’t push go right away. Next, practice alternate nostril breathing. Take your right hand and curl the middle three fingers exposing the thumb and pinky. Use your pinky to close your left nostril and inhale through your right nostril. Then close the right, open the left and exhale. Inhale left, close it, open right, and exhale. Continue this cycle for several rounds until you feel a calm state of mind. Then release your hands, hit go on your timer, and sit in quiet meditation for five minutes.

Now you are ready for your day (or maybe that writing practice)!

Julee Snyder is a massage and yoga therapist in Raleigh. For more information, go to www.jsbodywork.massagetherapy.com.

Photo credit

Yoga has been an integral part of my life for the past twenty years. I am a yoga teacher and have become increasingly interested in exploring the relationship between yoga, creativity and writing. I have noticed that many people often feel so fatigued it prevents them from making time for their creative life. Restorative yoga postures can help relax the mind and body which then leads to greater energy for creative focusing. The practice of writing and the practice of yoga also need similar things from us: patience, devotion, activity, silence and reflection.

Through attention to the breath and gentle movement, yoga can help release the body’s wisdom to nurture the creative process.

Over the past 9 months, my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson and I teamed up to plan a weekend beach retreat that would feature writing and yoga. Although I have taught ‘Yoga for Creative People’ workshops, what we were attempting to do was different. Marjorie would take care of the writing prompts and I would teach the yoga classes and intersperse meditation and stretching throughout our writing sessions. Marjorie is also a yoga enthusiast and understands the importance of movement for writers.

Last weekend, we traveled to a retreat center in Emerald Isle, NC and met the ten amazing writers who signed up for this weekend of exploration. About half of them had some knowledge of yoga and about half had never done yoga.

Each day of writing was interspersed with gentle yoga postures, meditation and breath exercises that support the creative process.

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We also came up with an original way to talk about stages in the writing life through exploring the chakras. ‘Chakra’ is the Sanskrit word for “wheel”. In yogic wisdom, the chakras are identified as an energy system in the body (from the spine to the top of the head). Each chakra is associated with particular talents, skills or gifts.  They are often described as colorful vibrating balls of light.

We used the chakra system as a way to metaphorically reflect on aspects of the writing life. When we gathered to do our daily writing, we had 7 candles that reflected the 7 main chakras and lit the appropriate candle to the exercises we were doing. Understanding the chakra system is complex and detailed. We, however, just wanted to give the participants a taste of the chakras and how they could think about their writing in new ways. The writers in the room were so open to what we had to offer. Marjorie and I lucked out!

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One of the writing and chakra exercises that helped participants go pretty deep was looking at the 3rd chakra.

Briefly, this chakra physically corresponds in the body through the solar plexus. It is seen as the seat of personal power and as medical intuitive Carolyn Myss notes it is “our personal power center, the magnetic core of our personality and ego.” (Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing). The color associated with this chakra is yellow and emotionally it corresponds in the body to willpower, commitment, persistence, inner authority, personal responsibility and our ability to stand up for one’s self.

In introducing this topic, I led a guided meditation, asking participants to imagine the strength of the sun in their solar plexus.

Marjorie then read a short passage from To Kill a Mockingbird where Jem (the brother of Scout who is the narrator) runs to Arthur “Boo” Radley’s house (Boo is a strange reclusive character). She invited folks to freewrite for 20 minutes on either:

1)      The bravest kid I ever saw or 2) A time when I was afraid- and acted with courage.

People had the option of writing nonfiction or fiction. Stories and poems of exile, bravery, immigration, leaving difficult situations,and of standing up to inner and outer bullies poured out of the participants. Almost everyone in the room chose to write about a personal experience.

A little later, we talked about how important the message of this chakra was in relation to our writing lives. Marjorie and I asked for them to reflect on: What are your commitments to the writing life? Have they changed over time? How have you stood for your writing life? What shape do your commitments to your writing life take?

These are fruitful questions for writers and creative folk. In order to be productive and gain confidence, we must create structure and accountability in our creative lives. We must have the perseverance to keep going in the face of rejection and the daily grind of life. We have to make decisions about how to stay committed to a particular piece of writing (or creative work), when it feels like we have revised it for the 99th time and it is still not finished. Although we can keep an eye on the marketplace, we must draw on our inner authority to write the things in our heart that desire expression.

Sharon Blessum, one of the poets in the room, and I had a great discussion about how this chakra related to her writing life. She’s been writing all her life, so it’s not that she struggles with the commitment to sit down and write (often a challenge for beginning writers). But, the issue is that the fruits of her commitment to writing now perhaps requires a different level of support. Sharon realized that she’d been functioning like an isolated ‘Lone Ranger’ character in relation to her creative life. This practice has often left her feeling tired and frustrated. I suggested that the isolated, solitary mystical artist archetype is one that may require updating. I also suggested that maybe the commitment required for her writing life now is realizing that it’s OK to seek additional support to help her organize and create a pathway for her work.  This can be accomplished through writing coaches, workshops and even a virtual assistant. We both felt like this was useful territory to explore further. The next day, she delighted the group by sharing a poem that emerged from these reflections. I’m so glad she gave me permission to share it here:

HI HO SILVER

I am a Lone Ranger
I ride Silver
too fast
too many directions
because smoke signals
are in neon lights for me
even invisible messages
stop me in my tracks
challenge me to manage
this earthplane incarnation
while riding bareback
with full backpack
of paper and pens
to write every gd*%&  word
God is giving me
from the seven directions

I need a Tonto

Tonto would say
go away
mortal one
go away
pray
rest
I will
mail your poems
walk your dogs
feed your horse
clean your house
brush your kitty
publish your books
arrange your readings
massage your feet
manifest your vision

you go drum
flow on the river
I’ll be sure the sun
comes up

stand
stretch
breathe
up-dog
down-dog
lion
cobra
headstand
oh my

read the not-rejection letter
write
rest
above
all
rest

I’ll
keep
the world
spinning

©Sharon Blessum May 19, 2013

The workshop was a great success on multiple levels. Marjorie and I coached each other and offered the participants fresh ways to think about the writing life. People left with hearts open and pens drained (at least temporarily). I got to work with a dear friend and mentor and get a taste of how I can support others. A great way to kick off the summer!

I hope that you’ll take a moment to explore the writing prompts that we used. You may surprise yourself remembering your own acts of bravery.

For 20 minutes freewrite about:

1)The bravest kid I ever saw or 2) A time when I was afraid- and acted with courage.

For 20 minutes freewrite about:

What are your commitments to the writing life? Have they changed over time? How have you stood for your writing life? What shape do your commitments to your writing life take?


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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