Writing, Yoga and Doing What You Love

1 Oct

When you first start writing, chances are you’re not doing it for anyone other than yourself. You might begin by keeping a journal, or producing badly illustrated, yarn-bound books about anthropomorphic cats named Stubby, or else writing raw, angst-written teenage poetry by moonlight while the rest of your family (who, by the way, don’t understand you) are asleep. I mean, maybe. It’s not like I’m drawing examples from my personal life here or anything.

It might be that writing for yourself is all you want to do, and that’s great. That means that you can write whatever you want, edit as much (or as little) as you want, and basically be able to not give a fuck about, well, anything. JD Salinger (the king of giving no fucks) said,

There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. … It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I live to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure. … I don’t necessarily intend to publish posthumously, but I do like to write for myself. … I pay for this kind of attitude. I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I’m doing is trying to protect myself and my work.

If you want any kind of commercial success, though, you need to start thinking about other people. In a best case scenario, you could write exactly what you want to write, and, due to some crazy alignment of the stars or a perfect moment of cultural zeitgeist, it would make the New York Times bestseller list. For example, you could write smutty Twilight fan fiction, change a few names, and have it become a wildly successful work of erotica. However, if that business model isn’t working for you (and don’t worry, you’re not alone), you need to figure out who your audience is and what the hell they want to read.

I feel like this is kind of where I am right now, not just with writing but also with yoga.

When I first started practicing yoga, it was (obviously) something I only did for myself. I remember my first class vividly; I struggled through it, but afterwards I was so relaxed that I felt high. It was love at first downward dog.

In the beginning it was just a physical practice, but later it became something more. I’m hesitant to describe it as “spiritual”, but the way I practice now certainly goes deeper than just my body. There have been times when yoga has triggered unexpected emotions in me; I laughed the first time I went into urdhva dhanurasana (full wheel), and kicking up into handstand still makes me insanely happy. There have been poses that have made me feel irrationally angry, and, much to my embarrassment, I’ve cried in class once or twice. Luckily, the lights were dim, and I was able to slink out the door without anyone noticing that something was amiss.

The feeling that I associate the most with yoga, though, is what I like to refer to as the “bell jar” feeling. I call it that because of the way Sylvia Plath describes feeling after her first shock treatment:

All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air.

The bell jar, of course, is the metaphor she uses to describe her depression:

If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.

I mean, let’s face it, we all have bell jars of one sort or another, though some may be lighter and clearer than others. For me, yoga, both the physical practice and the philosophy, was the best way of lifting mine for a little while.

Then I started teaching yoga, and it went from being this beautiful, deeply personal thing to being, well, a business. When you’re teaching, you can’t just do whatever you want. You can’t just teach your favourite poses over and over, or have a 20 minute savasana. I mean, sure, if you’re some kind of yoga superstar and you’re having to turn people away from your overcrowded classes, then maybe. But I’m still working my way up the ladder, and for now I have to figure out what the people want and how to give it to them.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn, especially since people in the yoga world aren’t always exactly, well, yogic. They can get angry if a class isn’t exactly what they wanted, or if they think you’ve made a mistake, or if you go five minutes too long or too short. You, the teacher, are providing a service, and the student, your customer, is always right. Or, rather, they are if you want them to ever come back to your class. Which, by the way, you probably do.

And then there’s the fact that you, as a teacher, should maintain a personal practice. It’s hard, though, to convince myself to roll out my mat when I get home from a day that’s been nothing but yoga: teaching yoga, doing yoga studio admin, writing emails about yoga. By the time I make it back to my apartment, all I want to do is snuggle Theo, hang out with Matt, and write.

So yeah, I’m feeling a little burned out on yoga these days. And then I feel guilty for feeling burned out, because it seems unfair to my students that their teacher is kind of tired of yoga. And then I think about how everyone always tells you to try to find work doing what you love, and I wonder if the natural consequence of doing what you love is that instead of loving your job, you end up feeling resentful about something that used to bring you so much joy.

Today, though, I cracked Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for the first time in months. Reading through the second sutra, I caught myself thinking, oh yes, I do love this. Later, when I went to teach my class, I ended by talking a little bit about what I’d read in the sutras that day, and that felt good. Afterwards one of my students came up to me and told me how much she’d enjoyed the class, especially the bit at the end. And that felt really good.

I guess that what I’ve realized is that there has to be balance between what you love and what you give out to other people. Yes, you need to offer something that people want, at least if you want to make any money doing whatever it is you’re doing, but you need to inject some of yourself into your work as well. Being yourself when you teach or when you write is what makes your work authentic, and people can sense that. Have you ever read a book that was written specifically to appeal to a certain demographic? Usually they’re pretty terrible. By the same token, a book that’s just the author nattering on and on about whatever their pet subject is can often be just as bad.

So if you can find that perfect sweet spot of sharing what you love and giving what people need, then you’re probably golden. If you can find a way of separating thing-that-I-love-doing from thing-that-I-get-paid-for while at the same time acknowledging that, to a certain degree, they are the same thing, then you’re probably way ahead of the curve. And if you can find a way to admit that it’s okay to feel burned out on the places, people and leisure activities in your life, and that you can come back to them when you feel ready, then you get a thousand high fives.

And that, my friend, is a lot of high fives.

Check out all the fucks I’m giving. Oh wait, there are none.

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13 Responses to “Writing, Yoga and Doing What You Love”

  1. kwarren1970 October 1, 2012 at 3:46 am #

    I agree about the balance thing. Often in the past I’ve been guilty of saying yes too often and I’m the one who suffers/stresses out. Much better now. I just started the blog thing and have decided to also write about yoga. Right now, I’m focused on some experiences or conversations that I’ve had and transferring them to the blog. Enjoyed your post.

    • bellejarblog October 4, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

      Thanks! I checked out your blog and like it a lot 🙂

  2. Sara Hanna October 1, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    You’re so right! That’s why I never chose writing as a career. I remember in English class, being so resentful of having to write poetry, because I couldn’t just DO IT on command. I used to write tonnes of my own poetry, but doing it because I have to just didn’t feel right. That’s why i love my reviews! I’m not on a deadline, I don’t have to write them a certain way, I just do them my way. Same with my sewing! I love to create custom clutches, though I dislike repetition and making the same things over and over again. That’s why almost every clutch I make is different. Whether it be a different style, or different fabrics. I’m always evolving, always experimenting, and sometimes it pays off. Other times, it just means I’ve made a whole bunch of purses for myself if no one buys them! LOL

    • bellejarblog October 5, 2012 at 12:25 am #

      Aww I’m sure people will buy them all! You make such lovely purses!

  3. fabulouslyawkwardgirl October 1, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    I love your outlook. Balance is so important and a skill most people have yet to master. I find it’s like trying to walk through a crowd of people while wearing heels, talking on the phone, and orientating where you are direction-wise. Multi-tasking isn’t my strong suit when it comes walking or to life, but I find figuring it out is what keeps it all interesting.

    • bellejarblog October 5, 2012 at 12:24 am #

      Hah, I have yet to master walking in high heels on its own, let alone through a crowd, talking on a phone. I keep thinking I might learn, but I never seem to 🙂

  4. shannon October 4, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    I’m feeling this with writing lately, too. And other, reflective, articulate words.

  5. wildcowsofboont December 13, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    I just recently found your blog (via BlogHer) and while reading back through your older posts, I keep wanting to shout “Yes, Yes, and Yeeeees!” to so much of what you write, and specifically at this moment, to all of this post. I can relate to oh so much of this, although not the part about being a yoga teacher, though I’ve bandied about the idea because yoga has had a profound impact on my life, and I like to share things with others that have made a profound, positive impact on me which I think may be able to do the same for them. (I also loved your post about “I can’t do yoga” and other lies people tell you… something to that effect).

    It’s some scary shit putting your thoughts, beliefs, musings, talents, etc. out there for the world to digest (or spit back out again), when most of all you’ve (ok, I’ve) ever done is either write endlessly and emotively in one’s diary and submit academic papers to my past professors, and that is a pretty limited audience, and there are no internet trolls in the mix with any of that. My blog is but a newborn and I’m still so nervous about people I know (even my friends) finding it and judging the shit out of me for it, because I’m also a people pleaser (awareness is the first step) and self-critical, and sometimes I don’t write as well or as articulately or completely about something as I think I should have and so I don’t want people to see that and… ahhhhhhh!

    And then shit, I think sometimes that yes, dream job, yes of course I want to get paid to write, because it’s the only thing I’ve ever loved (next to hyperbole… and a lot of other things too, in reality) and ohmygawd, doesn’t that seem so cool? But I know from experience how the things we love can, over time or quite rapidly, come to seem tedious and full o’ drudgery once we’re forced (by choice, of course, though there is that question of wage slavery…) to use our skills and love of a somethingorother in order to make money. Boo. It sucks that something beautiful becomes commodity. But it also can be beautiful to be able to love what you do to make money. So, conundra abound… I struggle with this all the time. Right now, I’m a chef. I’ve always loved cooking for my family and friends, and am reasonably confident in my abilities, and now I make passably decent money at it. But it’s tiring and physically draining too, and sometimes I want something more intellectually stimulating than thinking up new ways to combine flour, butter, and sugar, etc. into something people want to stuff themselves with.

    Hmmph. Anyway, I know this is getting to the point of long-winded, and what I’m also getting at is: thanks for writing and putting yourself out there for the whole wide internet to see. I’m so very delighted to have found your blog. I went to an all women’s college in the US (Sylvia Plath’s alma mater, actually. Love her, though probably don’t know her work as well as I should, or wish I did. I know I can remedy that!) and now live in rural California, where I am feeling there is a bit of a void when it comes to the outlets I once enjoyed that were intellectually stimulating conversations and feminism aplenty. You have very interesting, intelligent, and informative things to say. Yay, for educational blogs and intelligent women fighting the good fight on the internet!

    And if you haven’t read this already, I hope you now will, because I love it so much and think every woman who ever questions herself in any way whatsoever (so most likely every woman?) will benefit from considering these words:

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/171520/she-who-dies-most-likes-wins#

    • bellejarblog December 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      ” But I know from experience how the things we love can, over time or quite rapidly, come to seem tedious and full o’ drudgery once we’re forced (by choice, of course, though there is that question of wage slavery…) to use our skills and love of a somethingorother in order to make money. Boo. It sucks that something beautiful becomes commodity. But it also can be beautiful to be able to love what you do to make money.”

      This is so, so, so dead on. Thank you for this! I love everything you have to say, and I will definitely be following your blog 🙂

      Also, I am super jealous that you went to Smith. When I take my dream vacation, the Dead Author Tour of New England, I am totally making a stop at Smith to check out their Sylvia Plath collection.

      • wildcowsofboont December 15, 2012 at 4:10 am #

        YES! You should totally check out the Mortimer Rare Book Room when you are able to go, and of course the Sophia Smith Collection. (And the Lyman Plant House, even though it doesn’t have much to do with dead authors, so far as I remember, but it’s really awesome and beautiful.) I’m assuming these are open to the public, but actually, I can’t remember either way. And of course, that always can change, I guess. Smith was not so exclusionary in that way, as Harvard can be with their libraries (annoying/snotty, though I can understand their reasoning. Somewhat).

        And the Pioneer Valley is certainly a great jumping off point/destination for a Dead Author Tour.

        Thanks for the follow!

  6. Lady Fancifull November 14, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Great post. It’s very easy for everything, and everyone we love, to at times feel a little burdensome and drudgery. And then we have to find the keyhole to re-open the door to that initial excitement again.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I Write Like JD Salinger! …And Stephanie Meyer? « ProgressDaily - October 20, 2012

    […] then after reading this post on another great blog I came across today, I realized, maybe its a balance thing.  I mean, […]

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