This post is part of an occasional series about how yoga influences how I work with clients. I don’t expect you to do yoga. Ever. In your whole life. The point of this series is that yoga has taught me some interesting things about how to approach other things.
I have a daily yoga practice. I have had a daily yoga practice for about 4 years. (see my new yoga practice, or practicing what I preach and Developing a new practice: An update on my yoga practice) This is as shocking to me as it is to anyone. I sometimes miss a day. I sometimes miss a week. It took me a few weeks to restart my daily practice when I moved from Canada to the UK. I can confidently say that I have a daily practice because when I do skip, it is relatively easy to get back to it.
At this point in my daily practice I do not use any recordings (audio or video) when I practice. When I started my practice, I had a very short routine I’d worked out in a private session with a yoga teacher that I did daily. At some point I expanded that routine using what I know about yoga and some information I found on the internet. Then there was a point where I used a series of audio recordings for 30 minute practices. It was a set of 7 and I rotated through them each week. I downloaded an app for a while, used some of their built in short routines and their practice builder function to build a few that I thought would be useful. These were all good things and they served me at the time.
My practice now is partly about listening to my body and my intuition. Holding poses for the time it takes for my anatomy to really settle into the pose properly so I can get the full benefit. (I really like the yoga and anatomy videos Lizzie Lasater shares on YouTube.) Doing as many repetitions of a particular pose as feels right for my body on this particular day. Adjusting to the amount of space and kinds of props I have available.
I could not have started a daily practice like this. I draw on everything I’ve learned from the previous iterations of this practice. I draw on everything I’ve learned in yoga classes I have taken in a yoga studio. I draw on everything I’ve learned from various online resources. I draw on everything I’ve learned about how my body works from yoga, massage, and other sources.
What this means for your writing or any other area of your life
There is no Holy Grail. Your practice will change over time. That doesn’t mean what you did before wasn’t right or was a waste of time and energy. It means it has stopped serving you and needs to be modified.
What you need in any given moment is not obvious. There is skill involved in being able to observe yourself and figure out what the various things you observe mean. You need to observe actively over time. You need to reflect on what works and what doesn’t. You need to relate what you’ve observed about your own practice to what experts can tell you about how different things work. This can happen gradually. You do not need to find it quickly.
Using systems and techniques other people have developed can help you learn more about what works for you. Sometimes you will realize that a particular system or technique isn’t what you need relatively quickly. Sometimes a particular system or technique will work well for you for quite a while. Sometimes you need to use it for a while to really understand it and be able to adapt it to your needs or use it flexibly to adapt to particular circumstances. You may stop using a particular system for a while and come back to it at another time.
When trying a system or techniques other people have developed, you are not looking for the Holy Grail (which does not exist). You are learning about ways of doing the thing you want to do. You are also learning more about your own needs. If something doesn’t work for you, it is worth reflecting on the specifics as a way of deepening this learning and figuring out whether you can adapt this system or technique, what you might look for in a different system or technique, and what to experiment with next.
Listening to and trusting your intuition is also a skill you need to develop. (I have also used quilting and even an intuitive painting class to work on this.) There are things about academic culture that can make it harder to do this. You do not need to know why something works or doesn’t work to decide to do it or not do it. You can learn more about the why as you go along. Science and the experiences of other people may help you as you learn this. Science and the experiences of others may also give you ideas about what you want to observe.
Advice that doesn’t work for you is not necessarily bad advice
I’ll say it again, there is no Holy Grail. The fact that something someone suggests doesn’t work for you right now doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for anyone ever. Heck, it might work for you when your circumstances change.
Principles are probably better than rules. Understanding the principles on which advice is based helps you adapt the advice to your own circumstances.
Notice what is working. Identify one issue you are frustrated with. Observe what’s happening when that issue comes up, both the actual circumstances, your emotional reactions, and the stories you tell yourself about it. Brainstorm some ideas for how you could change things to reduce this frustration. (You can add other people’s advice or strategies as part of your brainstormed list.) Pick one thing to try. Identify clearly what you hope will happen. Try it for a period of time. Review what’s actually happened. Tweak or change your strategy. (Thanks to Jennifer Hofmann for teaching me and others this process.)
Some tentative advice about advice by Dr Amber Gwynne at The Thesis Whisperer.
Against Advice by Agnes Callard in The Point Magazine
A version of this post was sent to members of the Academic Writing Studio on 18 January 2019. I have added some links and the last section.