Writing with Exercises Part 2

This post is a continuation from last week. I have been asking writers whether exercising influences their writing. Does the discipline of the exercise transfer to the mind, to writing? Does it matter is the activity is solo or team-based? Do they write about their sport? This week I spoke with Ellie Kozlowski and Brendan Lynaugh.

Ellie Kozlowski on yoga and writing:

ellie-yogaI am grateful that my first experience with yoga was a college course at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. In addition to learning asanas or postures, I was exposed to some theory and history. This was in 2005. I was hooked immediately. I don’t think I missed one class that semester–which says a lot since it was at 8am Monday morning and I was a 21-year-old university student.

After that initial hook, my practice became sporadic. Sometimes I would go months without practicing. During these lulls I always thought, hey, why aren’t I doing yoga? I always feel better when I’m doing yoga.

Which was true. I didn’t know why exactly, but I always had more energy and slept better when I did yoga. I felt stronger, fitter. Aerobic and cardio activity—like running, which I detest—is easier if I have a regular yoga practice.

After completing my MFA, I taught English in Korea. There, I did a 200-hour yoga teacher certification, which changed my life. It engaged me spiritually like nothing had before. I never thought I could meditate, but 6 months of seated practice made me better at it. AND I enjoyed it.

Sometimes during meditation I had that feeling…like when you go to sleep and wake up and it’s as if there was no time in between. I didn’t engage with thoughts or the normal narration of my inner self. It was just nothingness, a beautiful calm. I’d feel rested and energized afterward. It sounds kind of fruity, but that’s what happened.

Now, I can achieve a kind of moving meditation when I practice yoga. My head is clear, I’m in the moment, time moves neither slowly nor quickly. I turn inward; I feel each breath expand my ribcage; I feel my body from the inside out. Which muscles are holding tension, where I am tired? In some poses I feel strong and powerful…in some relaxed.

What does this do for me as a writer? It gives me a chance to go blank. To clear, to reset. To exist instead of observing and taking mental notes all the time. I can take a break from scrawling lines of poetry across the folds of my brain.

When I sit down to write, I clear my brain for writing. This is not the time for to-do lists or reminders. It’s a space to recall an image, to picture a wrinkled hand in a lap.

Yoga has made me more self-aware. Has made me able to take a giant feather duster to my brain and clear away the cobwebs, tuck them into a corner to be accessed later. I can set aside my chattering brain and see what is stirred inside me when I sit down to write.

It isn’t always so neat and pretty. I still get writers block, need to sit patiently and wait for what may emerge as I strike the keys or stare at the screen.

Brendan Lynaugh on teaching tennis and writing:

173_506526619575_8544_nMy parents took me and my brother to the town courts with little $20 dollar rackets one summer when I was maybe six or seven. I remember the glue in the grip would melt in the sun and the grip would get all sticky.  We liked it, so they sent us to the tennis camp down the street for many years.
I started teaching the summer after my freshman year of college.  As a college tennis player, I was able to get a job as a tennis counselor at a sleep-away camp in Connecticut.  I did that for several summers in college and worked a little bit back home in NJ too.  About two years after college, I was back in NJ with no job, so I went back to my old club and got work that summer and then some hours in the fall.  Eventually that became a full-time job for 3 years before I went to grad school out west in Spokane.  I started up again after returning from grad school three years ago. So I’ve more or less been teaching 12 years now, on and off.

It’s funny, sometimes I think teaching tennis is a perfect complement to writing, sometimes not.  It works because it balances things out: active and social v.s. passive (at a desk) and lonely (at a desk).  And I certainly get to meet a range of people and have new experiences.  However, unlike teaching lit or creative writing or working at a magazine or newspaper, I don’t get to think about writing as part of my job.  It’s totally separate.  So if I don’t make time for writing or thinking about writing, I don’t do any.It doesn’t provide a community of support for writing like I imagine being an adjunct prof or English teacher would.

People invariably ask if I’ve read David Foster Wallace (the most famous tennis playing writer) in particular his essay on Federer as Religious Experience in the NY Times.  I have, and it’s fantastic.


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