By Peggy Morehouse
I had a full day of relaxation and rejuvenation with a good friend this past Saturday at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It’s North America’s largest residential facility for holistic health and education and its 350 acres include forests, lawns, gardens, and a lake. The perfect retreat!
As expected, I improved my Chaturanga, zoned out in meditation, and ate delicious, nutritious meals. What I didn’t expect was to find three writing insights, but there they were like a wonderful gift and I’m sharing them with you.
The first insight came in the morning when I was learning a simple yoga breathing technique called Nadi Shodan Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing. The instructor of the class explained that we alternate between our two nostrils when we breathe. In other words, we don’t use both nostrils when breathing.
I didn’t know that. Did you?
Ideally the breath alternates between nostrils every two hours. Most of us don’t have an “ideal” anatomy or physiology however, and the time period varies between people. According to yogi philosophy, when the breath flows out of one nostril for more than two hours, as with most of us, we may feel stressed and/or fatigued. Practicing Nadi Shodan might take care of those unwelcome feelings. But that’s not all. By balancing our breathing, we’re also balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The result is we optimize creativity and stimulate logical verbal activity.
Could alternate nostril breathing help cure writer’s block? Why not give it a try before your next writing session? I’ve attached an instructional video at the end of the post. Your unbalanced nostril respiration woes are about to be cured.
Insight One: Balanced nostril breathing can optimize creativity and help with finding the perfect word. Do this simple exercise before writing.
On to insight number two. Just like writers, yoga instructors like to use metaphors. Some I’ve heard in various classes include:
- Flower your buttocks.
- Melt your heart/ Melt from your heart.
- Imagine your thigh bones are like rainbows, spiraling outwards.
- Puff out your kidneys.
- Balloon your belly.
- Breathe like Darth Vader.
- Don’t wear your shoulders like earrings.
These statements are meant to clarify and entertain just like in stories. Some work and some don’t, just like in stories. I heard a yoga metaphor during a class at Kripalu, but I took it literally. It was, “Make your collar bone smile wide.” After a few moments of actually trying to shift my collar bone into a happier position, I whispered to my friend, “How do you make your collar bone smile?” She grinned and whispered, “That’s yoga talk for don’t slouch.'”
Insight Two: Make sure your metaphors work. You never want to embarrass your reader (or your yoga student).
The third insight came when I was browsing in the bookstore with my friend. She said, “I finished reading Wild. I really liked it, but I was hoping for a more inspirational ending.”
We discussed the book for a little while as I thought, Wild is a memoir about a 26-year-old woman who is devastated by her divorce and mother’s untimely death. She turns to heroin and indiscriminate sex to suppress her pain. When she hits bottom, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to the Bridge of Gods near Portland in order to contemplate, heal, and test her resolve. She meets her goal and in the end is ready to begin a new life.
That’s quite an inspirational story, but if the final paragraph doesn’t wow readers, they’re left feeling shortchanged despite what happened up until that point. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer. Four hundred pages of riveting paragraphs, and if the last one doesn’t dazzle, the reader might close the book and say, “Eh.”
Insight Number Three: “They lived happily ever after,” just doesn’t work anymore. Practicing alternate nostril breathing is a must before writing the final paragraph of a story.
Just for the record, I was inspired by the last few words of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: “…That it was everything. It was my life–like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”
Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique (Let me know how you like it.):