Mindfulness with yoga and creative writing: Speak the plank

Creative Writing for Yoga? Mindfulness teachertrainee Philip Cowell leads a workshop in self-kindness, and seeks words for the joy of it

Illustration painting print drawing: Man with a plank of wood in his mouth

Speak the plank. Spank the peak. Keep this blank. Laura Eades 2014

I recently ran a workshop I called Creative Writing for Yoga. I have no idea what creative writing for yoga is, and that’s why I wanted to run the workshop.

In the blurb I said I wasn’t a yoga teacher. I had to make that clear. Why? one of the Buddhists in the Brixton Order asked me. People needed to take a risk to join in. Move, it’s dangerous! You might not get anywhere.

I started the workshop by saying we’d do some mindful movements that might look a bit like yoga but that weren’t (but were). I said, in fact, we’re going to practise the ancient art form of not-yoga, which I’ve just made up.

Here’s some things I learnt from the workshop:

  • I love being in a workshop. What is that about, people? Whether I’m facilitating or participating, I love the necessities: the starting time, the room, its windows, the table(s), the chairs, the break, the biscuits (gluten-free of course), the tea, the toilet, the last half, the coming to an end, the end, the second end, the leaving, the door shutting, the wind on my skin.
  • Writing in the moment – you might call it free writing or automatic, even flow, writing – is a kind of yoga. It’s a yoga pose. Scribesana. Writing is yoga… is meditation… is mindfulness. They’re all the same. It’s the practice. It’s your practice. Want to meditate but can’t? Write for half an hour, jot down everything you notice in the presence-ing. In the presence, sing. (That’s one of Jon Kabat- Zinn’s word plays, mind.)
  • There’s journaling and there’s creative writing (really?). Journaling is this idea of putting words to experience, to somehow match what’s just been experienced, or what’s being experienced. Creative writing is more like making something, using the source material to find a beautiful form or a structure out of all this chaos. They look a bit like Being and Doing, I guess.
  • Can we be-more and be-do?
  • Did you think what you just wrote was rubbish? Oh, hi editor who just came in the room. Can you write without judging yourself? Can you defenestrate your critical voice? Can you make something and still be in the present? Is journaling in fact the same as creative writing? Is there a room somewhere where all these rhetorical questions go unanswered?
  • Writing brings in a gorgeous sense of irony to the laboratory (what Illustrated Guide To Life might call mirony). You can’t really write without a sense of what Richard Rorty calls liberal irony. For Rorty, the liberal ironist is someone so impressed by other people’s ideas and ways of speaking that they can’t quite believe their own.
  • Natalie Goldberg is my all-time hero. Read her book Writing Down The Bones.
  • Try this. Shut your eyes. Write for 3 minutes without stopping. Feel your hand move across the page. Feel your proprioceptive and interoceptive senses on overdrive, your feet touching the floor. Come back. Read what you wrote. Now write for 3 minutes with your eyes open, journaling how that was. Now do that for the rest of your life (just joking).
  • And try this. Do what you just did with your eyes shut, but this time write with your non-writing hand.
  • And then try this. Work with a friend. One of you get into a yoga pose you’re comfortable with. I like plank for this experiment but any pose works (shoulder stand might be cool but don’t move your head). The one in the pose now says things, speaks, out loud, for as long as they can, while the other one writes down what they’re saying. They might be recording sensations, they might be telling a story. Stop. Swap. Do the same. Now come back and name your pieces after the yoga pose. Read them out as if you’re at the book launch. I reckon you’ll find what you’ve written to be quite marvellous.

Someone from the local paper had been in my workshop. I walked to the train station with her afterwards. She asked me why I did this work, what it meant. The light was light and the leaves were leaves.

“It’s all about kindness. It’s a continuous, ongoing training in kindness to ourselves and to each other.”

I didn’t say that. Dammit, I can’t remember what I said.

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Philip Cowell is a wordsmith, skipper round town, clown-in-training and part-time stander still. He has wordplay and bodywork practices, employ him. www.philipcowell.co.uk

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