What the Body Writes: On Our First Yoga & Writing Workshop with Sokhna
a post written by Allison, with consent from Sokhna & 1313 to post publicly.
Last week, in addition to having the first writing workshop in our winter series, we partnered with The Tantric Tavern, created by Sokhna Mabin, for our first "Yoga for Writers" workshop. We began this collaboration midway through our summer workshop series, after one of our writers commented that they felt uncomfortable writing in a chair, especially after a day of labor. They also mentioned how their body had been damaged by years of weight-lifting while imprisoned. They mentioned that he wanted to get into yoga.
At our next workshop, we invited a yoga instructor, Sokhna Mabin, to observe our writing and see if she saw potential to blend our workshops. She was an incredible listener and left excited to create something for our next series of workshops. Several months later, Sokhna and I met to create a custom workshop of yoga and writing.
It was a new experience for me, as a writer, to remember the body does not have to be separate from the writing process. Sokhna's steadfast experience in the healing arts opened up a divide I imposed on myself a long time ago: That writing is a way for my mind to get on paper, while my body stays full of it's usual aches.
Often, these aches interrupt my own experience of being part of a creative writing workshop that I'm facilitating. I find it difficult to facilitate a workshop when I'm so clouded by my own injuries. Whether they are labeled "mental" or "physical," they all take place right inside me.
It was really good for me to get out of the writing workshop template that I've trusted for so long: the introductions and icebreakers, reading some works, talking about them, giving a prompt, brainstorming specific details, writing for 15-20 minutes and then sharing in a circle.
These "usual" writing workshops can get us in the habit of writing into our "usual suspects" in uncreative ways. These "usual" writing workshops can lull us into writing the same stories with no transformation.
At our first "Yoga for Writers" workshop, I was breathing, calm, keeping great posture in a room with dim lighting. I wasn't shifting in my chair, but steadying myself on the floor, with heaps of blankets nearby. It was the first workshop in a long time that I felt calm in, and in hindsight, I realize how often I look at "facilitating" as "controlling" workshops. I haven't been present in them for a long time. I've let my anxieties swallow the entire experience, worrying, "What if we don't have enough copies of the poems? How will I explain the prompt to someone who is late? What if I picked the wrong prompt? What if the person who isn't here who said they would be is in danger?"
No wonder I haven't been able to write easily in a workshop for a long time.
I became a writer when I joined spoken word scenes, and participated in high school poetry slams almost 6 years ago. I used to love memorizing a poem so well that I could finally let it out of my whole body, and not just my mouth. I remember reading a poem close to 300 times, aloud in a McDonald's parking lot, before I finally felt ready for it to spill out of me. I remember jumping out of the car and shouting it out by the dumpsters, and walking up and down Stadium Avenue just trying to feel it out.
Rehearsing that poem while moving my body was when I started to feel like I could accept what I was writing about. I was no longer just writing to "get out of my head," or stop feeling "crazy." I was letting the words come back into my body, all mine, no longer just the words I'd been told were my story. This workshop reminded me of what I've missed in my last few years of not performing - I miss writing with my body. I miss moving my words from my pelvis to my fingertips.
Something that started with writing "beyond boxes," still ends up creating it's own boxes over time.
I know that for too long I've thought that creative writing workshops had to follow a certain structure - the structures I've learned from workshops I've been in. Last week was an incredible reminder to keep reaching and bending beyond the habitual ways I've learned to do things, and to collaborate. Transformative justice will require imagination and creativity, even in how we approach encouraging them collectively. It will take risk-taking and partnership and mind and body.
I look forward to our next workshop in the second week of February, and breathing more in workshops to come.