The Poetry of Yoga / Yoga of Poetry: Writing Exercises and Resources
Yoga practitioners offer physical posture, or asana, as an expression, or container, for the world of Spirit. Poets offer their words, their poems, their language asanas. While poetry also has physicality to it—we often write and read with our whole bodies—and yoga has an innate poeticness, they are different vessels. The journey, however, is the same: an acceptance and embracing of the journey itself rather than reaching toward a perfect idea of form. What’s happening inside, what is changing inside, how you are talking to yourself inside, are what yoga and poetry help us take notice of, and how, ultimately, they help us transform.
There are many ways you can embrace poetry and incorporate it into your yoga practice. Here are five ways to get started:
- Dialogue with Self and Spirit. Try the exercise that helped change Danna’s life. She gradually integrated a daily practice of free writing into her yoga time. “Each morning,” she says, “I would pick up my journal and write the words ‘This is what I have to say to you’ then let the words flow in any direction they chose.”
- Write from your yoga. Keep a journal by your yoga mat during your practice and when you feel moved and while staying connected to your breath, stop and jot down images, feelings, phrases, anything that surfaces (if nothing comes up, just write “nothing is coming up”). Then return to your mat. Practice this seamless dance between posture and page, body and word. Honor the strange, the unexplainable, the negative, the dark, the nonsensical, the sensual. Let your mind be itself, and let your yoga move the language of the mind.
- Trace the lineage of a feeling. When you find yourself consumed by a single feeling, before stepping onto your yoga mat, try the following writing practice to navigate into calmer, clearer waters: First, write down in simple terms what is bothering you. Then write one straightforward sentence stating how you are feeling about it. Next, answer this question: “What’s truer than that?” Keep asking yourself this question and allow whatever comes to come. Continue answering until you sense you have come to a kernel of gentle truth about yourself, the complaint, and your original feeling. Use this insight as a focus when you step on your yoga mat to begin your practice.
- Set an intention. What are you writing for? In his book The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing, writer and yoga teacher Jeff Davis, suggests the following meditation as you approach a session of writing practice: Stand in Mountain Pose. Focus your awareness on your feet, to draw yourself away from the noise of the mind. Take a couple minutes to quiet yourself, your mind, your body, taking slow deep breaths. When you feel present and calm, ask yourself quietly, “What are you writing for?” Don’t force a response. Let something arise from underneath. Your answer may change every time you write. If at any point in your writing practice you feel stuck, return to your original intention. You can use this intention process before your yoga practice as well, “What am I practicing for?”
- New to writing? Follow basic writing practice guidelines to get started. Novelist, poet, painter, and Zen practitioner, Natalie Goldberg, changed the face of writing in America with the publication of her book Writing Down the Bones followed by Wild Mind. She suggests starting with a simple prompt like “I remember” or “I know” or “I want”. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write. Go. Don’t think. Don’t edit. Don’t worry about punctuation. If you can’t think of anything to write just keep writing your original prompt over and over until something comes. Doing this on a regular basis, builds a relationship between your mind and your writing hand and helps to quiet your inner editor/critic. Some days you may write boring, ordinary things. Other days, you will be amazed at what you have to say. Try it with a friend, and read your writings out loud. It will change your life.
Recommended Books of Poetry
The City in Which I Love You and Book of My Nights (both from BOA Editions), by Li-Young Lee
Eating the Honey of Words (Harper Collins), by Robert Bly
Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga and Prayers to the Infinite: New Yoga Poems (both from Peaceable Kingdom), by Danna Faulds
Delights and Shadows (Copper Canyon Press), by Ted Kooser
The Trouble with Poetry (Random House), by Billy Collins
Given Sugar, Given Salt (Harper Perennial) and After: Poems (Harper Collins), by Jane Hirschfield
180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day (Random House), edited by Billy Collins
Recommended Books on Writing
The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing (Penguin), by Jeff Davis
The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska Press), by Ted Kooser
The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach (Harper Collins), edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twitchell
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambala) and Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (Bantam), by Natalie Goldberg
Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out (HarperTrophy), by Ralph Fletcher
Bird by Bird: Somet Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor), by Anne Lamott
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (Tarcher) and other books by Julia Cameron
Poets.org: audio clips, poetry listening booth, poetry book club, and more (sponsored by the Academy of American Poets)
Poets House: based in NYC, Poets House is "a collection and meeting place that invites poets and the public to step into the living tradition of poetry"
Cave Canem: a nonprofit committed to the discovery and cultivation of new voices in African American poetry
Poetry Daily: sign up to receive a daily e-mail poem.
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the April 2006 issue of Kripalu Online. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.