Wednesday, July 23, 2014


This is not me, but how I often imagine myself when I'm doing yoga. Recently, I joined a class, & noticed the teacher describing our poses & movements as our "practice." This morning, when I sat to write-- as I do nearly every morning-- I realized that writing is also my practice.

If it's a choice between writing & yoga (or writing & anything else), writing will always win out, but they both work on me in similar ways. Yoga stretches my body, & writing stretches my mind, & together they stretch my heart.  

One of the reasons my six years of piano lessons fizzled out was because I never learned to look at piano lessons as a practice. Instead, I was bored by repeating the scales, & I was always preparing for a recital or program. It wasn't the road, but the inn at the end of the road. And if there was no inn, it all felts like a dead-end.

Now, I'm a traveler. It's in my blood, & when you are a traveler through & through, you know the journey never ends. The inn is just one stop along the way because the true voyage is within you. The country you are exploring is yourself. The voyage is your life.

There is no end to writing. I finish one book & immediately begin another. With yoga, I master one pose (speaking figuratively!) & immediately try to sink deeper into a pose or hold it a little longer.

Through the years I've come up with a few thoughts about practice. Here are seven that I hope will resonate with you:

1. Find your practice-- the thing that gives meaning & joy to your life. It may take years or you may  stumble on it from the beginning. It doesn't matter when you find it or how it finds you. Whenever it is, it's the right time, & it's yours, & you begin at that point.

2. Practice doesn't always make perfect. I know this may sound harsh, but lazy or shoddy practice can lead to unsatisfactory, disappointing results. That's why it's better to take time to learn well from the start, if you can. Study the masters. Read the great writers, attend classes with inspiring teachers, & try to learn good form & the basic foundations of your art/craft/sport.

3. Practice your practice. Over & over. Regularly. Interweave the practice into your daily life until it becomes second nature. There will be monotony, distractions, jobs, responsibilities, etc. Hey, that's life. But return to it when you're ready.

4. Discipline is necessary, but if you are not self-motivated to continue, your practice will drop along the way. Your challenge is to find ways to make it new. Vary your routine. Shake up your practice by giving yourself prompts or assignments. Try a different teacher or class. Write in a coffeeshop or on a park bench if you usually write at home. Write with a partner if you write alone. Join a class if you practice alone. Play at your practice.

5. Focus. The key to a successful practice-- no matter what you're doing-- is being in the moment, concentrating on your goal, on what you hope to accomplish during that session. In yoga, focusing on your breathing becomes so natural you often carry that awareness into your daily life. In writing, you concentrate on the world you're creating. As the always wonderful Anne Lamott says, "You squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”

6. Practice may not lead to the "promised" goal: you may not become a yoga master or teacher. Your writing may not get the recognition you wish for or feel you deserve. Somewhere along the road of life, you need to examine who you are, what you need & can't live without, what makes life worthwhile. One step at a time. In the words of author E.L. Doctorow: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

7. Practice, for me, is a mix of passion & control. I stretch words as far as I can, twist them like elastic bands, snap & send them into the air. With yoga I'm much more aware of my limits, but I'm ready to explore & see where it takes me. Another word for practice is curiosity. I hope I never stop being curious.

Listen to Albert: "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." -Einstein

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