Sthira-sukham asanam: the writing edition

yoga-3053488_1920“Can you do this in such a way that you’ll want to do it again tomorrow?”

—Brie, yoga instructor

I am in the process of a re-write on a novel. In the last couple of weeks, the only time that I’ve had success working on it has been late at night after the kiddo and husband are asleep. The result has been staying up way past my bedtime and into the wee hours of the morning. I was talking to my coach, Michael, about it in our last session.

“I feel lousy when I don’t get to sleep enough, but I feel worse when I don’t make anything. But is this really sustainable? I don’t know. At least I’m getting something done.”

At the end of our session, he said, “I’m so stinkin’ proud of you for doing the work you’d love to be doing. Parting question, don’t answer now, just think about it. What would it look like to do this work with clarity, focus, ease, and grace?” Emphasis on the ease.

Cue a week of pondering on this.

Hmm. What would that look like? Is it the imagined scene of me as the productive writer at the super sweet antique desk in my secluded mountain cabin?
No, can’t be. That cabin is a distant future thing. Surely, I must be able to write with clarity, focus, ease, and grace right now. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have asked the question.
How would I do that?
Maybe it’s a trick question.

This sucks. I don’t do anything with clarity focus, ease, and grace. I can maybe get two of the four, but never all four.
And if writing a book isn’t easy, how can I do it with ease?
Can you work hard with ease?

I must be a failure at writing because I can’t do it with ease.
Don’t be so dramatic. Just do your work and stop over-thinking this.

Meanwhile, at yoga that night, my instructor opened by saying that on her drive to class, she  felt inspired to talk about being at ease. Doing yoga easefully. Living easefully.

Aw, jeez. That thing is happening again where the universe sends me the same message from multiple people at once.

A different yoga instructor talked about ease a few days later. She said something that I’ve heard several times in my decade+ practicing. She gave the quote from Pantajali’s Yoga Sutra, “Sthira-sukham asanam.” I’ve most frequently heard this translated as “find balance between effort and ease,” but I found a great article on this from where a different translation is given. It said, “resolutely abide in a good place.”

Okay, good. Insight. When I go to yoga, how do I balance effort and ease? How do I abide in a good place?

After a good deal of reflection, I summed up some sweet yoga wisdom.

1. Observe the quality of my breath. Am I breathing shallow or deep? Breathing fast or slow? If I catch myself holding my breath, I can automatically tell that I am trying too hard. My ego has taken over and I’m missing the point. The whole thing is about making space in my body for breath.
2. Be grounded. Feel my connection, support, and sturdiness coming from the ground beneath me.
3. Engage my core. Fire up those muscles. Breathe into them. Let them offer supple support.
4. Check in with the joy and peace elements. Am I glad I’m doing this? Is this something I can do again tomorrow? Does this bring me peace?
5. Remember, it’s all practice. Practice takes off the pressure to achieve perfection every time. Every day is a little different because the state of the mind and body are constantly shifting.

Here’s a re-make of the list with writing in place of yoga. How can I resolutely abide in a good place relative to writing?

1. Observe the quality of my breath. Writing is the breath. Are the words flowing easily? Or sticking? Am I making space for the story or trying to control it? Am I focused on the result or the process?
2. Be grounded. I have support all around me (family, friends, coach, etc.) and from within. Stand firmly in that conviction.
3. Engage my core. First, literally, watch the posture because slouching over a computer is bad for you. Second, writing is an outlet for the workings of my core. My values and dreams are my drivers. The more I work from the core, the more authentic writing I produce.
4. Check in with the joy and peace elements. For me, this is manifesting as allowing what I can do to be enough. I have the tendency to beat myself up for not getting “enough” done. Not sleeping just makes me a cranky zombie-type person. Sometimes, I do get caught up in writing something and stay up late, but doing that every night is not sustainable. What I can do while maintaining the peace and joy elements is enough.
5. Remember, it’s all practice. Writing is a practice. Every time I sit down to work, I learn and grow as a creative. There is no perfection (although the perfectionist in me would love to argue about that). And the process might be different from day to day because I am a whole person with a mind and body in dynamic state.

So, what would writing with clarity, focus, ease, and grace look like?

Resolutely abiding in the good place.

And doing just the right amount of work so that I’ll want to do this again tomorrow.

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