Early on in my writing career I was introduced to the special relationship between yoga and writing. On a simple level, the health benefits of yoga, help to put you in the best possible place for the huge physical and emotional demands of writing. On a deeper level, by understanding how your body lies at the heart of what it means to be human, you will come to a more intuitive understanding of your characters and how their bodies are an intrinsic part of their narratives. Your breath, your movements, your gestures, your physical interaction with the world, exposes your hopes and dreams, your fears and longings, your relationships – your very character. The same is true of your characters.
One of the ways in which I came to understand the power of yoga was by attending the writing and yoga retreats of Patricia Lee Lewis. The yoga teacher who guides writers through these retreats is the awesome Jane Mortifee. It is a great privilege to share some of Jane’s thoughts on yoga and writing.
A bit about Jane:
Jane lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She used to make my living as a singer and actress working in theatre, TV, film and in the studios doing voice overs, jingles, animated series, backgrounds on CDs and narration for documentaries. She has recorded 3 CDs that are available through CD Baby, Itunes and her website.
In the last number of years she has embarked on writing a novel and has lead yoga at various retreats around the world, in Mexico, Guatemala, Italy, Puerto Rico and New Zealand, some for Patricia Lee Lewis and Jacqueline Sheehan’s Creative Writing and Yoga retreats and some for Laura Hansen’s Soul Collage retreats.
Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
Curious Passionate. Introvert.
What’s your favourite yoga pose?
Hard to choose one pose, but Warrior 2 comes to mind, it feels like such a complete pose to me, engaging everything: feet, legs, buttocks, abdominals, chest, arms, gaze, intention, focus, softness in the midst of strength, grounded, expansive, contained… I could go on…!
How did you come to be a yoga teacher?
I had no intention of becoming a yoga teacher but took the 200-hour training in the interest of going deeper into my own practice. I have been practicing on and off for 40 years, but consistently for the last 15 years. I took the 200-hour training again 7 years after taking it the first time to experience different teachers, and then completed the additional 300 hour training for the 500 hour certification. I continue to take many workshops as it is always interesting to me to hear new ways of describing or explaining a pose, the breath, the mind state, the yoga sutras. Sometimes it can be crazy making as many times one teacher will say the direct opposite of what another teacher says, so it has taught me to listen carefully to my own body!! And to want to study anatomy more so as to conclude what seems the most logical given the mechanics of the body.
What do you love most about yoga?
What I love the most about yoga is how more space is created in the body and in the mind, the combination of physical strength and flexibility with a practice of being with what is, recognizing the stories the mind tells and coming back to the breath and the body creating more calm and resilience.
How does yoga help you in general?
Yoga has helped to keep me grounded, to undo some of the physical and mental knots and to stay physically active and supple.
How does yoga help with your writing?
I can get lost in writing for hours at a time so sitting in a static position for long periods of time can create physical stiffness and stuck energy, so yoga helps release and move the energy and release the stiffness.
How do you see the relationship between yoga and creativity?
Yoga helps one to get out of the mind and enter a different way of being, which, I believe, is necessary for the creative process. If we try to create from the thinking mind, chances are the writing will not be very engaging or powerful.
How do you see the relationship between yoga and storytelling?
I think the relationship between yoga and the art of storytelling is that in the practice of yoga we have the opportunity to witness the story that goes on in our heads as we practice… whether we are off daydreaming or in aversion to a pose or loving it or annoyed with the teacher or whatever the inner dialogue may be that is going on, and any time as I writer I can be aware of that provides me with a deeper understanding of how the mind works which is useful in creating characters and how they might think.
Could you recommend some yoga stretches for those of us who spend hours at our desk scribbling?
When I have been sitting for a long time writing I like to do some overhead stretches, arms reaching up, clasping the hands and leaning from one side to the other, then some forward folds with half way lifts, and some seated twists, and often Happy Baby eases my back if it has become particularly stiff.
What is your yoga routine?
I usually go to a yoga class at least 5 times a week, if not every day, depending on my schedule. At the moment I go in the morning but I am going to try writing in the morning and going to yoga in the afternoons to see if I can have more discipline with sitting down to write. I find that if I am out a class I can often get sidetracked with errands since I am already out and about and, wow, the day can go by fast and no writing gets done!
What are the benefits of yoga and writing retreats?
At home I can find a million things to do instead of sitting down to write. So I do most of my writing on retreats, which is why I love going on retreats so much. The advantage, of course, is that there are none of the normal distractions of home and the days are structured for yoga to settle in, prompts to assist the process, sharing the writing and getting and giving supportive feedback. There is something about being in the energy of a group that can take the process deeper. I find the same thing happens when on a meditation retreat, the meditation is more grounded, calm and focused in the presence of supportive group energy. I will be leading yoga in New Zealand February 7-18, 2016 at Patricia Lee Lewis’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat.
Could you recommend a book on yoga that you have found helpful?
It is hard to choose one book on yoga as they all have something interesting to offer but I really do like the books of Ray Long illustrated by Chris Macivor: Scientific Keys Volume 1, The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga – a detailed presentation of each muscle in the body and the movements they control. And Scientific Key Volume 2, The Key Poses of Yoga – a detailed presentation of yoga poses with illustrations of the muscles that are activated either in contraction (in blue) or stretching (in red). These books appeal to my interest in anatomy.
Another book I remember having a deep effect on me when I read it many years ago is The Heart of Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar. Answering this question might just inspire me to read it again to see if I still respond the same way! This book appeals to the historical and more traditional approach to yoga.
Also I really like Stephen Cope’s books: Yoga and the Quest for the True Self and The Great Work of Your Life. These books reveal the intersection of the traditions of yoga with Buddha Dharma and Western psychology, all three of which are of great interest to me.
What advice would you give to those who are new to yoga?
If you have never done yoga I recommend trying a number of different classes. Most studios allow you to take a drop in class, often the first class for free. It is important to find the teacher and the style of yoga that is a good fit for you. One of the reasons I was intermittent with yoga in the beginning years of practice was because in those days there were very few teachers and the one I went to was very rigid. It wasn’t until years later when I realized there is a yoga studio practically on every corner that I tried another studio and knew I had found the right fit for me. And, of course, now there are so many styles from which to choose… Yin, Power Flow, Kundalini, Restorative, Anusara, Iyengar, Hot Yoga, Gentle… the list goes on, so it depends what you are needing in your life at the moment, which will change… with injury, with age, with life circumstances. One of the best pieces of advice I heard was… the best form of exercise is one you will do! So the yoga class that is right for you is the one that resonates and brings joy and contentment, in the midst of perhaps working and challenging you, or facilitating deep relaxation and restoration if that is what you need, so that is why is it important to try different teachers and approaches… to find what works best for you.
You can get to know more about Jane Mortifee through her website and Facebook page. Do also consider booking yourself onto one of Jane and Patricia’s awesome writing and yoga retreats – see my recommendation on writing retreats here.