Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Mystery of Yoga

by Annette Dashofy

I’m a yoga instructor who writes mysteries, striving to become a mystery writer who teaches yoga. My students fret that when I become rich and famous, I will abandon them. Fat chance. First, they don’t realize that mystery writers rarely become rich and famous. As in almost never. Second, I love my day job (actually my night job since I teach in the evening) and have no intention of quitting.

But my two chosen occupations do make for a life of contradictions. All day I write about the backside world of a second rate Thoroughbred racetrack where all sorts of seedy characters cause problems for my protagonist. And when things get really bad for her, I throw something else at her to make it worse. More tension, I need more tension on each page. Who can I kill off now?

Then I change into my yoga clothes and head to the Yoga Center with its white walls and white carpet, the faint scent of incense wafting on the air currents created by the white ceiling fans. A CD plays in the background sending the soft droning tones of a harmonium into the tranquil space decorated with lovely paintings of Hindu deities and tiles bearing the Sanskrit figure Om. Black and white photographs of past gurus in our yoga lineage gaze down at me while I encourage my stressed-out students to breathe, to seek out the tension they hold in their bodies and to let it go, feel it peel away like the layers of an onion, release it into the earth.

At the end of class, providing I’ve done my job, my students leave the center wearing smiles of bliss.

How do I reconcile these two diametrically opposite lifestyles? I don’t. I gave up years ago. When people ask, I tell them I’m a complex person. Those who know me, laugh.

The fact is I have developed a deep friendship with tension. I’ve learned how to build it, to twist it to suit my needs and I’ve learned how to turn it off, to send it packing when I no longer have a use for it. This is an interesting skill in today’s world. Everywhere we turn, stress lurks. As a society, high blood pressure (also known as HyperTENSION) and heart disease have become as common as…well…the common cold. Almost. And how many of the illnesses that attack us are triggered in some way by stress?

So I’ll keep my connections to the yoga world and my yoga students, some of whom, by the way, are mystery fans! We all need to find some way to let go of the day. I will go to class tonight and teach Downward Facing Dog and Triangle and finish with the relaxation of savasana. Then I’ll come home and torture my protagonist again.

Incidentally, I have read that my favorite of the gurus in the photographs at the Yoga Center, Swami Rudrananda, was a huge fan of Agatha Christie. Maybe these two lifestyles aren’t so diametrically opposite after all.


mike said...

Great post, Annette. The key word in it is "complex." Not only does it describe you, but it describes most everyone (no matter how placid they may seem on the surface). And it should also describe the characters we create and write about. Nice description of your yoga class, too...I'm going to check out the schedule at a nearby yoga center...long past time for me to get back into it.

Joyce said...

I started a yoga class last night at CCAC. I was surprised at how similar some of the poses were to the moves I knew from taekwondo (which I really, really miss). Taekwondo was a great stress reliever--I got to kick and punch things and no one got hurt(most of the time)!

I think writers are unique in that we can switch things off easily. We can go from torturing our characters (as you said) one minute, then back to reality the next. That escape to our fictional world can be the greatest stress reliever of all!

Tory Butterworth said...

I love yoga!

Though some days, it increases my level of frustration rather than lowering it. Does frustration = stress?


Nancy said...

I get some of my best ideas while in that state of tension-less bliss. Okay, often just before I fall asleep, because---why is this??--I always faint in yoga class! Weird.

Annette said...

Nancy, you FAINT in yoga class??? Hmm. That's a new one for me. Is there incense burning in the room where you take yoga? Some people are sensitive to fragrances. Is it certain poses that make you light-headed? We'll have to talk about this and find out what's going on. Could be a pinched nerve in your neck. Hmm. Now you've got me thinking.

And Joyce, I find yoga poses incorporated into a lot of different practices and visa versa. Taekwondo is great.

Tory, yes, frustration equals stress. You need to let that go. Absorb the good stuff and release the frustration and judgement. Yoga is not a competition. Even when the competition is you.

Kristine said...

I started doing yoga about two years ago, first at a class and now with home practice. Both yoga and fiction writing are forms of escape--for different reasons, maybe. Maybe not.

Nancy, there was one instance when I almost fainted in yoga class. I had just finished doing a pose that was particularly painful, and being prone to fainting when in pain, I blacked out and nearly fell over. Fortunately, I alerted my instructor right away and she immediately put me in a restorative pose. It only happened once, but it was enough to shake me up a bit.

Great post, Annette!

debralee said...

I love to do Yoga. I've never taken a class. I have tapes that I follow. I had some back trouble and doing Yoga helped relieve the pain. Only now I think I over did it and pulled some muscles along my ribcage. Guess I'll have to let all of my frustrations out in my writing.

Bob said...

Hey Annette

A fine post and one that I read just after returning home from ... yoga class.

I recently jump-started my practice after laying off for a year after a rotator cuff injury. All I know is that the return to yoga seems to have brought a certain clarity to my writing -- or at least to my writing practice. Now when I find myself at a roadblock, just staring at that computer screen, I find myself concentrating on my breathing. And while it doesn't always get me past the roadblock at least I don't get a knot in my stomach.

Rebecca Drake said...

I never thought of that dichotomy before, Annette, but it's so true!

Yoga is compelling: Very mindful and very mind-releasing. I think it models what we should be as a writers--very much in the present moment with our work while still freeing ourselves from the stress that holds us back from our best writing.