Writing · Yoga

On learning patience.

This morning as I did my yoga practice (first time in the new apartment!) I found myself thinking back to the early days, when I’d first started doing Ashtanga.

I remember Michael teaching me the fundamentals, initially letting me try the same balancing pose two or three times in one evening. Balancing has always been one of my greatest weaknesses because of the million problems with my feet and ankles. I was determined to get it, and I thought I could speed up the process by cramming repetition into each practice session.

Then came a day when Michael told me, “From now on you will only do this once in your practice, and then you will move on.”

I was no longer allowed to try the same pose over and over again, and I found it frustrating. I was impatient to improve, to grow my strength and flexibility. But whatever my teacher tells me, I trust and I do. So I stopped repeating the pose. I did just once a day, and learned to let that feel like enough.

My progress slowed (or maybe now I would say it went down to a normal and safer pace), but when the improvement came it was unmistakable. I could feel the new strength and ease, I could see the difference in how my body moved.

This morning, as I remembered all this, I thought about how Ashtanga has forced me to learn patience.

It’s rarely possible for any human being to do it all at once, “it” being a blank that you can fill with any pursuit / discipline. So yoga teaches that bit by bit, day by day, we can make huge changes. The hard part is in actually practicing regularly enough that it builds up.

I’ve definitely applied this same idea to my writing discipline. When I talk about how no chunk of time is too small to work on writing — I think that’s really something that I learned from yoga.

Let’s say I’m trying to fix a structural problem in my novel, and I spend just ten minutes every morning thinking about it. I’ll actually arrive at the breakthrough so much faster than if I waste three weeks waiting for my schedule to free up enough that I can have an uninterrupted chunk of five hours to write.

It’s so easy for time to disappear while I’m waiting for that indulgent, several-hour stretch of writing time. And by then I’ll have halted and delayed for way too long. But if I’m working through the project little by little every day, Sunday through Saturday, there’s guaranteed to be progress, even if it’s slower. Even if I don’t notice the build-up.

And because I’m working away on it so frequently — every day rather than, say, once a week or once every two weeks — my brain is used to the effort, used to that kind of thinking. It’s like a muscle kept in good shape. I can work through my novel more efficiently even when I’m given smaller stretches of time to do it.

I guess, ironically, what I’m saying is that patience in fact allows me to improve better and faster. It’s too easy to burn out after writing for hours on end, or after repeating the same pose too many times in, say, a week. Having the discipline to work at it for a little bit every day, having the patience to let that time bring on the change I want — that’s what’s most effective.

Today Loren watched my practice as he sipped at his coffee and when I finished he told me it was crazy how much I’d improved, how much my body had changed. It was probably the first time he’d watched my entire practice in a year or so. He said he was impressed by my new strength.

But the thing was, the strength wasn’t so new to me. It’s been building up this whole time.

I thought of the other day when, as I was packing, I found those cringe-inducing stories I’d written a few years ago. I thought about how the storytelling skills I have now are not new either. They’ve been adding up every day. They’ve been gathering every time I snatch up just ten minutes to sit down and write.

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