Most yoga teachers I know see their yoga practice and teaching as a sacred quest. A yoga teacher ripens by processing life, as it arises, day by day, year by year. It is a special and unique profession indeed where our emotional, mental, psychological, spiritual and embodied growth helps us to develop as yoga teachers. This quest involves a continuing journey of self-reflection. It is very natural that along the way we will meet our own habits of contraction or patterns of conditioning – our ‘stuff’.
I want to share two wonderful writing practices that are designed to help this processing of life. These writing practices help us embrace our shadow, our self-doubt, our unclaimed power. Through writing, we can compassionately hold the hand of all that arises – and walk our deepest path.
A Writing Meditation: the Morning Pages
This wonderful practice comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I have used this practice, in phases, over twenty years and I am always amazed by the creativity and self-discovery this practice reveals.
The morning pages are, simply, three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, hand-written first thing in the morning. This means writing whatever comes to mind, without stopping, without reading over what you have written, without regards for spelling, without any self-censoring or analysing at all. Literally write whatever is in your mind, however silly or trivial. It might be that you write ‘I can’t think of what to write’– it doesn’t matter, just fill up three pages. The only other structure that can be added sometimes, but is not essential, is to begin the practice with a question about whatever dilemma or edge you are facing currently. It is best to commit to this as a daily practice to really get the benefits. Do this for at least a few weeks or months if possible. Do not read over what you have written until weeks later, so the flow is uninterrupted by the analytical mind.
Cameron describes this as a meditation practice that purges our smallness and connects us to a deep inner power source. The morning pages practice helps us stay with what arises, moment by moment: the fears, doubts, pettiness, the insights and so on. This practice puts aside the logical, censoring, left brain and frees up what Cameron calls the artist-brain, the creative, intuitive, holistic part of the self. The morning pages exercise purges our ‘stuff’ and lets the stream of consciousness become a “pathway to a strong and clear sense of self” (Cameron, p.15).
Working with Affirmation/Intention
This practice is adapted from a wonderful, holistic business coaching book called Building Your Ideal Private Practice by Lynn Grodzki. Grodzki outlines a practice of writing business affirmations to help work with the mental or emotional obstacles in the way of taking the next steps in your business. I prefer to use the word ‘intention’ rather than ‘affirmation’, as this practice is really about setting goals that you intend to achieve. This practice can be applied to both business and to life in general.
To create an intention, use positive language, keep it short and focus on changes within yourself, not in others. Importantly Grodzki suggests finding an intention that is right on the leading edge of your growth, outside of your comfort zone. This is an intention that stretches you to a new level and that feels ‘edgy’. Here is an example that clarifies the difference between a comfort zone intention and a leading edge intention. Imagine you make good money from teaching yoga but it is exhausting and draining. A comfort zone intention would be: ‘I will continue to make good money from my teaching’. A leading edge intention would be: ‘I will make good money from my teaching and it will be energising’. It takes a bit of searching to find your leading edge intention. You can use the morning pages to find the intention that rings true.
When you have found your leading edge intention, there will probably be an immediate protest from the mind, bringing negative reactivity to the surface. Here is how to transform that reaction. Write down your intention. Then write down your reaction or belief in response to that intention. Write your intention again, then the reaction, and keep doing this until you have a full page, or for about 10 minutes. Do this every day for about 10 minutes and for a month – or until you feel that you have resolved all the reactivity of the mind and you feel ready to embrace this intention. Grodzki puts forward three ways to work with the reactions, that she calls the Three Rs:
Run through them: The process outlined above will allow you to run through all the mind’s reactions until there is no negative response left. Often this is all you need to do but you can use the next two steps if needed.
Refute them: Write a response that refutes some of the negative responses.
Replace them: Reframe a reaction with a positive replacement idea.
I used this practice daily when I decided to open up my own yoga studio. It looked something like this:
I am going to set up my own yoga studio. There are so many yoga studios, why set up another one?
I am going to set up my own yoga studio. Studios are so expensive, how will I find the money to set it up?
I am going to set up my own yoga studio. How will it survive financially?
I am going to set up my own yoga studio. What is so special about what I have to offer?
I had long lists of reactions! I simply wrote them down without refuting or replacing them, but just allowing them to be. After two weeks they started to dwindle and by the third week, I had run out of reactions. That is when I could start to say clearly and confidently to friends: I am going to set up my own yoga studio.
I hope you enjoy these writing practices as great maintenance tools that help you take the next step on your yoga teaching journey.
Cameron, J. The Artist’s Way. Pan MacMillan, London, 1997.
Grodzki, L. Building Your Ideal Private Practice, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2000.
Anahata Giri is the founder of One Heart Yoga & Meditation based at the Abbotsford Convent. She combines her yoga teaching and counselling skills to provide mentoring, to support yoga teachers reach their full potential. www.oneheartyoga.com.au