Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Joy of Pain

The other day I was talking with a friend about yoga. More specifically, we were talking about how, over time, positions you dread can turn into something you crave.

I started practicing yoga when we lived in New York and it was an immediate love affair. The kind that made me sneak out of my office at lunchtime and return with a yoga zen smile and a general air of calm that befuddled my coworkers.

All through my pregnancies with Child #1 and #2, yoga was the only thing that kept me sane.

I know this because it was my husband's favorite thing to suggest in the middle of crying jags, irrational demands and feeding frenzies. "Honey, maybe a little yoga will make you feel better. You take all the time you need." 

Yoga is one of those things you can do halfway or you can push yourself hard. As soon as I figured out how to push myself, which isn't as easy as it sounds, that's what I started doing. Which brings me back to the conversation I had with my friend.

Is the desire to twist your body into positions that make you breathe like you're giving birth to a ten pound baby masochistic?

But wait!

Because I'm a writer first and a yoga lover second, the question seemed just as apt, if not more, for the practice of writing.

Writing is full of painful positions. Sometimes the pain comes from getting words out onto paper. Lately, for me the pain has been in the editing. First edit, second edit, third edit, fourth. And on some days the pain comes from reading what I've written. Seriously, who wrote this crap? Oh, right, I did.

Writers shun human contact. We lock ourselves in rooms or coffee shops or attics or basements and communicate with our fingers. It's not a natural state. Or maybe it is. But it's certaintly not a painfree state. What kind of person prefers the written word to the spoken one? What kind of person delves into their most painful memories on a regular basis in order to make sure words on a page feel authentic?

And when we're all done, when we've twisted, slaved, sweated blood and tears, we know that, most likely, our work will not be met with a roaring stadium of fans anxious to congratulate us on our amazing feat.

If we're lucky, it will be met with the same polite smattering of applause that my yoga teacher had after the phenomonal class he taught on Monday night.

"I feel like Lady GaGa," he said.

I giggled because his statement underscored a central truth about both yoga and writing.

They're a practice. Often a difficult one but you don't do it for the applause. You do it for the feeling you are pushing your words or your body into unchartered territory. Maybe writers and yoginis are also practioners of masochism. I'm not sure. All I know is, when done well, both things can be deeply uncomfortable and also have the capacity to produce endless amounts of joy.



Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh yes, we are masochists for sure. :D

I've been meaning to take a yoga class. I think I'd love it. I sit cross-legged even when we go out to fancy restaurants.

Like the connections you made here. Relatable.
~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Oh how I wish I had more time for yoga. Back when I was on my internship in New York, I went to the Y every day after work and did yoga. It was sublime. Not enough time for that these days, and the gym we go to doesn't have yoga when I can take it.

I miss it.

Michael Di Gesu said...

We do love to torture ourselves, don't we? I have art and design added to my repertoire. So I must REALLY love it.

I must say that hiding away is necessary to relay our true feelings for realistic prose.

Lately I have be "OUT" in the world, communicating, shopping, and dealing with ALL SORTS of personalities. I so want to dive back into my quiet space and linger there. Write, visit my cyber brothers and sisters and feel part of our wonderful community.

I have missed it so much over these past four months. I am SLOWLY creeping back. I can't wait to be fully submerged. Soon.

In the meantime I am determined to visit at least twenty blogger friends a day this week. I must.

Thanks for the inner feeling and emotion, Johanna. You are truly an old soul.

Amber said...

I am glad to know I am not the only hermit who wants top lock herself away and do nothing but write :)

I might have to try the yoga thing...I've always been more into sports than zen :) but I could use a little zen these days.

Carol Kilgore said...

I've been tempted to try yoga for a long time, but I never have. Perhaps the time is coming.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I need to try yoga so that I'll be more flexible in my writing.

Weaver said...

I needed this. Even after my epiphany I'm kind of struggling right now. It's the whole "I'm never going to be good enough. I should just quit and play videogames."

Gabrielle Meyer said...

Great analogy! It's amazing how much we push ourselves while we write - and for what gain? Just yesterday I handed my sister the first forty-four pages of my WIP and waited with bated breath as she glanced at it and set it down. I blinked in surprise and said: "Aren't you going to read it?" She nodded with a smile. "As soon as I have the time." Argh! I've poured hours, days, weeks and months over those forty-four pages, when I didn't have the time and she sets it aside so casually This is no reflection on her, she didn't do anything wrong, but it made me realize that the work I do is primarily for myself - with the hope and prayer that someone else may pick it up and enjoy it.

Johanna Garth said...

Wendy, so glad you found this relatable.

Joshua, it's harder if your gym doesn't offer it.

Michael, so good to see you here :) I flit between on line and real world too. Sometimes it's hard to balance.

Amber, I sometimes wish someone would lock me in a room with no internet access!

Carol, you should!!

Michael, I think it actually works that way. Strange but true!

Donna, everyone goes through the "I'm not good enough." It's just part of being a writer.

Gabrielle, that's so true. I always have to remind myself that it's the world to me but to everyone else it's just words on paper.

Anonymous said...

They do, but there are only two times that are not between 8-3, and I can't get to either one. Boo.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

I keep getting asked to go to my friend's yoga class. I laugh uproariously at the invite... like, really? Has she not looked at me?
As for your writing? I just finished Losing Beauty and I am NOT giving you polite applause - I am standing up on my unbendy legs and giving you an unadulterated STANDING OVATION!!!! Woot Woot! It's an awesome book and you ROCK!

Jenny S. Morris said...

Man, lately I've been really wanting to try Yoga. I used to run, but I haven't been doing that either. I need to get off my butt and become GaGa. LOL.

I feel like I have been pushing myself in writing, so there's that.

Good luck on the edits.

Unknown said...

Yes, I agree. If writers wrote for the applause, they would soon give up. We rarely get any.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Yes! We stretch for that change. Because we are either growing & changing or we are stagnating & dying.

M Pax said...

I also enjoy yoga. I'm no good at it, but it does rebalance one. That I love.

Ella said...

I dabble at yoga. The more I ride my bike, the more I need it. This was a wonderful post. I can add art to my list of more torture. The yin and yang of any art form induces many Gaga moments and a few gags, too.
I loved this post; I have to read it again! :D Thank you for sharing!

Sarah Ahiers said...

This really makes me want to take up Yoga

Connie J Jasperson said...

So true Johanna! OMG it is so true.

alexia said...

So true! I long ago realized what major masochists us writers are. A strange bunch of awesome people we are...

jenny milchman said...

Oy, yes, the pain of editing. Push through it, push through it, breathe...

I envy you the yoga!

Alison DeLuca said...

Now I must start to do yoga! My sister loved it but dropped out due to a busy schedule. Isn't it crazy that we have to schedule in relaxation?

Great blog as always!

Chuck said...

Maybe I haven't become a writer because I can't do masochism for any consistent length of time. That'll work for now!

Jayne said...

Hi! I really enjoyed reading this. I've been doing yoga on and off for years and each time I get into it I love it, although there is nearly always a moment in the lesson (I do Bikram) when I am lying there like a hot damp slug thinking 'why? WHY!?'. But afterwards I know why, when I smile and feel good. And it is a good analogy with writing... especially like your line 'who wrote this crap? Oh yes, me.' Boy do I feel like that a lot! :)

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I haven't tried yoga, but I have found dance classes to be relaxing (which sounds ironic, I suppose); during those types of classes there isn't really much time to think, which gives me a chance to blow off steam.
Revising and editing are painful for me too. I've been reading over my second draft and while it looked good when I was writing it, I find myself cringing at certain parts and thinking, "Why did I write that?" So I've got some major revision to do.

PK HREZO said...

Nice analogy. i totally agree... we really do put ourselves thru some pain... but it's good pain. No pain, no the saying goes. And man, I hate the editing parts too... i'm in the middle of mass rewrites and ugh!!!

Unknown said...

I haven't tried yoga before. I'm always amazed at the poses I see! (Like that one at the top of your post!)

PS - Is yogini a real word?!