The thing you’ll most often hear me say in yoga class is “feel your breath and feel your body.” It’s a reminder, not just to the students but to me as well. I say it so often because I really do mean it. I don’t mean just go through the motions.
Sometimes when I work with people (especially beginners) and tell them to move and breathe at the same time (lift your arms on the inhale, lower them on the exhale) they appear to go through the motions of breathing without caring to feel it. The truth is sometimes the last thing we want to do is feel.
Anxiety, anger, impatience, intrusive or painful thoughts, and just plain boredom can come up. I’ve mentioned svadhyaya before (self-study in Sanskrit) and it’s not everyone’s favorite thing to do. Really looking at ourselves means having to go deeper. Confronting things we don’t always want to see. We don’t always want to look at ourselves, to dig to the heart of our feelings and stories, and ask, Why? Why am I doing this or that? Why do I always respond this way? Why do I feel this way? What is my purpose? What am I’m trying to do here? Really looking means no longer playing it safe.
Even with writing, we don’t always want to go deeper. I’m sick of editing, bored of looking at the same characters. Basically, I want to be done. I want my story to be amazing and published already. After many revisions, I find myself zoning out, skimming over the same old words, not really bothering to look deeper. But when I challenge myself to truly connect with my characters and ask, Why do they feel this way? Why would they react this way? What is my purpose for this story? What am I trying to do here? I move deeper inside the heart of my story.
A shift occurs when I dig into the soul of my character, when I really explore how they would think and feel in different situations. The writing becomes much more raw. Of course, fear that I’m going to have to make lots of time-consuming changes often comes up. But my point was never to offer a dumbed-down experience. I want the words to be so alive that they walk off the page. And only three-dimensional characters create worlds of words like that. Only characters that I’ve plumbed the depths of their soul to write for are alive.
The best writers make us feel their words like we can feel our own bodies in yoga. We experience them, not just read them. And this can be the same in yoga too— we can experience being alive in our body and actually feel what it’s like to live in the shape our body takes instead of just “doing the damn pose.”
This is the yoga of writing and yoga of yoga— to embrace our three-dimensionality and all the range of feelings that may arise, to “feel our breath and our body” even if it’s not ideal. Because the point is to feel alive, not numb out. Do you really want to miss this moment?