Make this the year you write your yoga bestseller
Have you ever thought you’d like to write a yoga book? In this blog post I'll share with you some writing tips, techniques, suggestions and encouraging words to get you started on your writing journey. (This post has been adapted from an article I wrote for the Summer 2020 edition of Spectrum, the official magazine of the British Wheel of Yoga).
Write Your Passion
Is there a subject you’re really interested in that sparks your curiosity? Is it like an itch and you can’t rest until you’ve found the answer? Is there something that makes you so indignant that you want to do something about it to bring about change? Yes? Well come on then…get writing! You are unique and only you can tell this story in your own unique way, and, if you don’t tell it, it will go forever untold.
Writing, for me, is about curiosity. When I get intrigued by a subject, it becomes like a puzzle that I want to solve through the writing process. My original motivation to write was that I wanted to solve the mystery of women’s involvement in (or absence from) the history of yoga. I wanted to know what an authentic women’s yoga would look like if over the millennia yoga, instead of being handed down from father to son, it had been handed down through a female lineage from mother to daughter. It was trying to solve this mystery that led me, in a roundabout way, to develop a seasonal approach to yoga, and to write my first book, Yoga Through the Year.
If you want to write…my best advice to you is…well write! If you have ideas in your head, then get them down on paper (or digital equivalent). Nowadays, there are so many opportunities to practice your writing. You can mindfully text, tweet, email, blog, write a card, or even a letter to someone. To be honest when I started writing I didn’t think of myself as the sort of person who would get a book published. I didn’t know anyone who moved in those circles. My main motivation for writing was that I was curious, and I wanted to share my ideas. So, I created websites. I blogged. I wrote newsletters. I shared my ideas and I gave them away for free. My Seasonal Yoga website attracted thousands of visitors and I received many complimentary emails, and so it dawned on me that lots of people shared my passions and wanted to take part in this conversation too.
I think the internet is a wonderful thing, especially for women, as we can get our ideas out there and bypass the usual gatekeepers. So, my advice to you is, get started, get writing, get your ideas out there and build a community of like minds to cheer you on. Take one step at a time and have faith that it will lead you a step closer to becoming a published author.
Write With Mindfulness
Writing a book requires a lot of stamina. Along the way your writing can be a nourishing, spiritual practice if you bring the same mindfulness to it that you bring to your yoga practice. In fact, your yoga practice is a great asset to your writing because it relaxes you and gives you access to your unconscious mind where all your best and most original ideas reside. For me yoga and writing go hand in hand. Before I start a piece of writing I do ten minutes of mindful walking, and my focus for the meditation will be whatever I am writing about that day. I find this a great way of freeing up my ideas. As I walk, I’m aware of the contact my feet are making with the earth beneath me. I allow ideas to come and go, and if my mind wanders off to everyday concerns, I gently bring it back to focusing on my chosen writing theme. Try it and I’m sure you’ll be inspired!
All my books have been written using a technique called writing meditation. It’s a great way to get your ideas flowing, shift creative blocks, and gain access to the wisdom of your subconscious mind. Personally, I like the physicality of writing with pen and paper. However, it’s fine to work digitally too.
Set your timer (for 10-20 minutes) and start writing. Keep your pen in contact with the paper and keep writing until your timer goes. Write down whatever comes into your head. Your aim is to capture the stream of thoughts and feelings as they flow through your mind. Let go of your inner editor! It doesn’t matter how off the wall your thoughts are, just get them down! Later, after the meditation has finished, you can read through and separate the nougats of gold from the stones and grit. But for now, just keep that pen moving! Be reassured that whatever you write down during your meditation is for your eyes only! No need to pay attention to handwriting, neatness, spelling, grammar, presentation etc.
Be aware of the physical act of writing and how it feels to be someone sitting here writing. Relax any parts of your body that don’t need to be engaged with the act of writing. If you find that you’re tensing up, slow your writing down, consciously relax, and reconnect with the flow of your breath. At the same time keep writing! A relaxed attitude will help you to access your subconscious mind, and it’s here that we uncover our gold.
Learn to Write
I’d been working for a few years on my first book when it struck me that I didn’t know how to write! Yes, I could string words together on paper and I had no shortage of ideas, but in order to convey my ideas more effectively I needed to learn writing skills and to master my craft. It was a humbling moment, and it did slow me down considerably as I set myself the task of completing a course on writing. This paid off, as subsequently I started getting articles published in yoga magazines and it eventually led to my first book, Yoga Through the Year, being accepted for publication.
It's fine to be experimental in your writing, but you’ll be a better communicator if you’ve taken the time to learn your craft. For example, take the artist Picasso, his work is pure iconoclastic genius. However, it only works because he knows the rules of drawing and painting and so can confidently break them.
Behind Every Good Book is a Great Editor
When you start out on your writing journey remember not to put your Inner Editor in the driving seat, as they will relentlessly criticise your writing and convince you that it’s rubbish. At this early stage on the path this is not what you need! Instead try to cultivate self-compassion and kindness for yourself, as this will create the right conditions for creativity to grow and flourish. However, once your confidence has grown you will need to reinstate your Inner Editor, who at this stage has an important job to do of discerning what’s good writing and what is not.
Give yourself time to build up confidence and resilience before you share your work with others; done too soon and it will set you back. However, when you’re ready take the plunge and share what you’ve written with trusted others. It takes the loneliness out of writing and helps you to feel part of a community.
Whilst I was writing Yoga Through the Year, before I’d got a publishing deal, I enlisted a group of trusted readers to read chapters of the book and give me feedback. I selected readers with different skills to offer. One was great at spotting typos and bad grammar. Another was a “critical friend” sometimes giving me advice I didn’t want to hear but that helped to improve my writing. Still another was chosen because she had a great knack of cheering me on.
All the above steps in this article will prepare you for the big day when you submit your finished manuscript to a publisher. I was lucky, the first publisher I approached accepted my seasonal yoga book. Fortunately, my editor saw something in my raw talent and was prepared to nurture it, and with her help (and lots of red lines through my original manuscript) together we made my Yoga Through the Year book the best it could be.
For me getting my first book published (and soon my second) is a dream come true! I hope your dreams of writing a yoga best seller come true too. Moreover, I hope that your writing journey transforms you and that you learn something new along the way. Enjoy the ride!
At a time when the natural world is coming out of hibernation, we humans, to protect ourselves and others from the virus, are drawing inwards and staying at home. My next few posts will focus on ways that, despite the restrictions imposed on us by the virus, we can still connect with the natural expansive, opening, outward looking, blossoming nature of the season, even as we isolate ourselves from each other and the the virus.
During spring to summer nature’s creations, such as blossom, have a luminescent quality that can inspire our yoga practice, bringing us closer to the yogic state of clarity and light (sattva). This post will share with you the Visualising a Tree in Blossom exercise (page 52 the Yoga Through the Year book). It will help you to connect with the outward, expansive, blossoming quality of the natural world waking up in spring. See also my previous post Blossom With Yoga which includes this visualisation as part of the yoga practice.
Visualising a Tree in Blossom
Focusing on the natural beauty of a tree in blossom has an uplifting effect and will help you to feel a peaceful sense of connection to the natural world. This exercise can be done standing, sitting or lying down.
Picture the beauty of a tree in blossom. Notice its shape, colours, and fragrance. Now imagine that you are a tree in blossom. Feel the space around you, the blue sky above you, and the earth below you. Picture your roots going deep down into the soil; spreading, wrapping around rocks and boulders, giving you strength, nourishment, and stability. Feel yourself receiving energy from the warm sun. Allow yourself to be breathed. You are a tree in blossom breathing. You are part of it all. You are a tree, connected to the earth, the sky, the air, and the sunshine. Stay here for a few more breaths, feeling your connection to the intricate web of life.
When you are ready let go of the image of the tree in blossom. Become aware of where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Become aware of your surroundings. Take this peaceful feeling of connectedness into the next thing that you do today.
We are all part of an intricate web of inter-dependency and COVID-19 has forcefully brought this reality home to us. We rely on so many people to help us maintain the lifestyle we've become accustomed to, and when those people aren't there we miss them! Here in the UK we are on lock-down. We are allowed out once a day to shop and exercise. All shops apart from pharmacists and food retailers are closed until further notice. Everyone is where possible working from home. We feel the effect of this in small ways, for example my fringe is nearly in my eyes and my roots are showing through and it will be weeks until my hairdresser opens her doors again. And we feel it in big ways: a friend has been waiting for a hip replacement, which will improve her mobility and quality of life, and this has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Schools are closed, so parents are struggling to keep kids occupied indoors, and juggling this with working from home.
In this post I'll share with you a meditation that helps you to cultivate gratitude towards all those people who help make your life run more smoothly. The Showing Appreciation Meditation can be found on page 188 of the Yoga Through the Year book. It helps to strengthen our gratitude "muscle" and stops us from taking people for granted. It's particularly relevant at present as it gives us an opportunity to send good wishes and gratitude to all those "neutral" people in our lives who we usually take for-granted. Before you do the meditation just take a moment now to consider all the people who are helping you to get through the COVID-19 pandemic: the front-line health workers, shop assistants, online delivery people, food growers, postal workers, water, gas, electricity, and internet providers, and the list goes on
The Showing Appreciation Meditation
This meditation engenders positive feelings towards self and others.
Allow 10-20 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable, erect sitting position, either on the floor, or in an upright chair. Or if you prefer this meditation can be done lying down.
Relax the parts of your body that are in contact with floor down into the earth. Let go of any unnecessary tension; relax your shoulders down away from your ears; and soften your face by adopting a half-smile.
Now become aware of the natural flow of your breath and maintain a background awareness of the breath throughout the meditation.
We begin by cultivating a sense of gratitude and loving kindness towards our self. Recall three things that make you feel grateful towards yourself. If you are finding it hard to think of anything, see if you can find just one small thing you like about yourself and feel grateful for. If you find yourself lapsing into self-criticism, congratulate yourself for noticing this, and send yourself some love and compassion.
Now silently repeat several times the Loving Kindness phrases for yourself:
May I be safe,
May I be happy,
May I be healthy,
May I live with ease.
Now bring to mind someone who you are close to and who helps your life to run more smoothly. Consider all the things that this person does for you, big or small, and all the ways that they improve your quality of life. Send your gratitude and thanks to this person; thank them for the many ways they contribute to your happiness.
Now silently repeat the Loving Kindness phrases a few times for this person (if you wish you can insert their name into the phrase):
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease.
Now bring to mind a neutral person; someone who helps you in some way but who you don’t know very well. Choose someone who you don’t have strong feelings towards either way, but who makes your life run more smoothly. Perhaps they are someone who delivers your mail; or serves you in a shop; a cleaner at your place of work; or a bus driver etc. Send your gratitude and thanks to this person; thank them for the help that they give to you. Silently repeat the Loving Kindness phrases a few times for this person:
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease.
Now picture yourself, your friend, and the neutral person altogether. Picture all three of you looking safe, happy, healthy, and at ease. Just like you the friend and the neutral person want to be happy and free from suffering. Just like you their life has ups and downs. And just like you they rely on others to help and support them and to make their life run smoothly.
Repeat the loving kindness phrases for the three of you:
May we all be safe,
May we all be happy,
May we all be healthy,
May we all live with ease.
After repeating the phrases a number of times, let them go and finish by once more sending yourself good wishes, loving kindness, and compassion. Resolve to take these feelings of love, kindness, and gratitude for yourself and others back into your everyday life.
For an audio version of a similar meditation visit the Finding Peace in a Frantic World website and listen to their Befriending Meditation.
For shorter Loving Kindness meditations see my other recent posts:
Spread Kindness not the Virus
Find Peace With Compassionate Walking
In these coronavirus days of social isolation our challenge is how to maintain a physical distance from people, to prevent the virus from spreading, and at the same time remain connected to others, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. The Loving Kindness meditation, that I will describe in this post, is a wonderful way of connecting with others and sending them your love and good wishes, at a time when circumstances may demand that you are physically apart. We're all experiencing the stress of uncertainty and rapid change at the moment, and this meditation is way of showing love and compassion to yourself and others.
The Loving Kindness Meditation originates from a Buddhist meditation called the Metta Bhavana. Metta can be translated as love, compassion, or kindness, and Bhavana is the development or cultivation of these qualities. In this post I'll share with you the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases and we'll look at ways that you can use them informally, including how to incorporate them into a yoga session. In my next post we'll look at how to use them as a formal sitting meditation (see The Showing Appreciation Meditation on page 88 of the Yoga Through the Year book).
Below is my favourite version of the Loving Kindness meditation phrases:
May I be safe.
One simple way of using the loving kindness phrases is to silently repeat them at the beginning and end of your yoga session. At the start of my home yoga practice, I stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and repeat the phrases for myself, which makes me feel safe, secure, and looked after. Then at the end of my yoga session, following my pranayama practice, I sit and send good wishes and love to myself, my husband, and my daughter (who lives 150 miles away from me). Sometimes I use the formal phrases above, and at other times I just give myself a hug, and say, "I love you. I hope you have a good day", and then I do the same for my loved ones, imagining that they are on either side of me and that I am holding their hands, sending them love and good wishes too.
You can also incorporate the phrases into simple yoga sequences. To do this simply repeat one line of the Loving Kindness (metta) phrases each time you exhale. For example, pictured below, inhaling raise your arms, and exhaling lower your arms, silently saying, "May I be safe". Next time round, on the exhale, you say, "May I be happy" etc. Try it. It will focus an anxious mind and induce a state of calm.
You can do the same in this Cat Pose variation:
If you prefer you can simplify the phrases to: safe, happy, healthy, ease.
Inhale, exhale, safe.
Inhale, exhale, happy.
Inhale, exhale, healthy.
Inhale, exhale, ease.
If, at present, your mind is like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, relentlessly going over coronavirus worries, you'll find that the Loving Kindness phrases are a wonderful way of realigning yourself with a sense of safety, good health and happiness. They are also a way of surrounding yourself with love and sending your love out into the world.
See also: Find Peace With Compassionate Walking
Peace is the walk.
All over the world people are practising social distancing in order to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, although we are physically more distant from each other, no hugs or handshakes, many of us are creatively finding ways to stay connected with each other through acts of kindness. In this post I'll share with you the practice of Compassionate Walking which is a wonderful way of extending love to yourself and others.
To begin the practice, start your walk by sending love and good wishes to yourself. This can be as simple as saying something like, "I hope you have a good day today". Use any phrases that help to build up the energy of loving kindness in you. Have compassion for yourself, recognising the difficulties you face at present as you adjust to the restrictions imposed by the virus.
Next, as you walk extend goodwill and loving kindness to both yourself and to passers-by. Do this one person at a time. Again, it might just be a simple phrase such as "I hope things go well for you and me today." Like you, this person is also struggling to adjust to this new world we find ourselves in. Like you they want to be healthy and happy. Send out your love to them. Recognise your shared humanity.
It can also be fun to send out love and compassion to trees, plants, dogs, cats, birds, the earth and the sky.
If you want to develop the practice of Compassionate Walking further you can incorporate the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases:
May I be safe.
The approach is the same as in the less formal version of the meditation already described. You begin the meditation by saying the phrases for yourself, engendering feelings of loving kindness towards yourself as you walk. Next, you choose individual passers-by and say the phrases for both of you:
May you and I be safe.
Christopher Germer, in his book, "The Mindful Path of Self-compassion", says that you can also simplify the phrases to: "Safe, happy, healthy, ease" or "love, love, love, love". Simply repeating these shortened phrases for yourself and others.
If you are quarantined at present and not able to leave the house to walk then see my earlier post: Relieve Stress with a Walking Meditation, which can easily be done at home. My next post will explore simple ways to incorporate the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases into a yoga session.
Here is an excerpt from a blog post I recently wrote for my publisher's website at Llewellyn Worldwide.
During the uncertainty of the current COVID-19 crisis, many of us are looking for ways to support our spiritual and mental health, alongside safeguarding our physical well-being. Walking Meditation is one of the best ways I know to relieve stress and calm an anxious mind. It’s ideally suited for those times when you want to meditate but don’t want to spend more time sitting still. It’s also a way of getting some gentle exercise. Many people find it’s a way of freeing up their ideas and of magically finding creative solutions to difficult problems.
At times of uncertainty, when we feel insecure, our overactive mind unrelentingly turns problems over and over, trying to resolve them, and our energy tends to get stuck in our head. This heady energy makes us disassociate from our body, making us feel stuck and disconnected from the flow of life. Walking Meditation is the perfect antidote to this as it brings our awareness back down from the head, into our body, and to the feet, and in doing so grounds us. Once we feel grounded, we regain clarity, we’re more able to cope with challenges, and life is flowing again.
The beauty of Walking Meditation is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, and it’s very simple to learn. It can be done indoors or outdoors. If you are quarantined at home it can be done around the house, or in the garden, if you have one...
Carry on reading... Walking Meditation in 3 Easy Step
Below is the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh giving guidance on Walking Meditation
The Ten Mindful Movements are a wonderful way to calm down when you feel too stressed to sit and meditate. The meditative movements give an overactive mind something to focus on and help to induce a sense of peacefulness. If you are self-isolating at home they are a gentle way of getting some exercise and meditating at the same time. Other members of your household and children might enjoy joining in too. If coronavirus restrictions in your country still allow you to go outside, they are lovely to do in the open air. Another bonus is that you don't need a yoga mat, so they can be done anywhere. They take about 10 minutes to do.
Here in the UK we are still allowed to leave our homes once a day to exercise (brisk walking enjoying nature for me). I'm also intending each day to practice the Ten Mindful Movements as I find them wonderfully calming, grounding, and centring. Perfect for bringing me back down to earth in these troubled times we're living through.
At the end of this post you'll find a YouTube video of the Ten Mindful Movements as done at Plum Village in France, and below is my class handout for the movements. Please note, on number 8) I do a Half-squat, as I think that's safer on the knees than the Full Squat done in the Plum Village version. I've also added an extra exercise number 12) Hug Yourself, Hug the World.
When practising the Ten Mindful Movements, every time you exhale you do a half-smile. This is super-relaxing! You'll find other smiling-breathing posts on my blog: The Breathe and Smile Meditation, and The Calming. Smiling Practice. Enjoy!
In my last post, the Calming, Smiling Practice, we considered how a smile can help you to regain sovereignty over yourself. The practice involves smiling at difficult feelings such as fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, knowing that you are more than your fear. In this post I will share with you a longer Breathe and Smile Meditation, which is adapted from the Sagittarius chapter of my forthcoming book, Yoga by the Stars.
It's important to say that smiling practice is very different from "positive thinking". We are not pretending everything's OK and ignoring our feelings. Rather we are lovingly acknowledging and attending to our feelings, and smiling, in the same way that you might smile to comfort a crying child. A smile relaxes you and also allows room for other more joyful feelings to arise.
The Breathe and Smile Meditation
Sometimes we approach our meditation practice with such intensity that we forget to cultivate an attitude of joyfulness. The Breathe and Smile Meditation allows you to maintain a clear, focused attention whilst at the same time joyfully lightening up.
This meditation can be done sitting on the floor, in a chair, or lying down in Savasana. Allow 10 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable position, either sitting or lying. Become aware of your body, particularly noticing which parts are in contact with the floor or your support. If you notice any discomfort in your body, be aware of it without immediately trying to fix it, notice any sensations associated with the discomfort and how they change from breath to breath. Notice which parts of your body already feel relaxed, comfortable and at ease.
Become aware of the natural flow of the breath. Notice where in your body you are most aware of the movement of the breath. Perhaps you feel it at the nostrils as the air enters and leaves the body. Or perhaps you can sense it in the chest, or the belly. Wherever you feel it most clearly allow your awareness to settle there for a few breaths.
Next picture something or someone that makes you smile. Perhaps it is one of your kids, or a grandchild, a pet, your best friend, or a beautiful landscape. Allow your lips to relax into a smile; notice how a smile relaxes so many of the facial muscles. Imagine that the smile is spreading through your body; your eyes are smiling; the back of your throat is smiling; the smile expands across your chest; your belly is smiling. If any part of your body needs soothing, imagine that part of your body is relaxing into a smile.
Return your awareness again to the natural flow of your breath. Particularly be aware of the out-breath, which is the part of the breath associated with relaxation. Each time you breathe out, feel yourself relaxing into a half-smile. A half-smile is that gentle smile that you see on the face of the Buddha. Inhale: exhale half-smile. Carry on breathing and smiling over a few more breaths.
Now imagine that the air that you breathe comes from a vast ocean of love. With each inhale you draw love into yourself, and with each exhale give love back to the world. Inhale: love. Exhale: love. Carry on for a few more breaths and then let it go.
Notice what effect this meditation has had upon you. In what way do you feel different now to how you felt at the start of the meditation?
To conclude become aware of your body; noticing any sensations associated with the contact between your body and the floor or your support; feel a connection to the earth beneath you. Become aware of your surroundings. Do any movements you need to do to wake yourself up, including a good stretch. Resolve to stay in touch with your inner smile as you go about your day today.
In my next post I will share with you the Ten Mindful Movements which also incorporate the breathing and smiling practice.
Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we need to be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot...If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."
It's a beautiful sunny day here in the UK today, and we're all coming to terms with the government's announcement that for the next three weeks, at least, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus all UK citizens should stay indoors. Many of us are feeling daunted by the prospect of this. Fortunately we are still allowed out for one lot of exercise each day. Many of you around the world will be living under even tighter restrictions and perhaps don't feel you have much to smile about at the moment. This post will share with you the mindfulness technique of breathing and smiling, which will be another simple, quick way to lift your spirits, lighten your mood, and bring a bit of sunshine into cloudy days stuck indoors.
Calming and Smiling is such a simple, beautiful practice, and remember that a smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and your nervous system. The practice is like this: as you inhale feel the breath calming your body and soothing your mind. As you exhale do a half-smile (like the Buddha) and feel a wave of relaxation spread over you. It's really that simple!
You can also incorporate the calming, smiling practice into your yoga practice. Below are some simple ideas to get you started. You could also use them with Warrior Pose, Bridge Pose, and many other dynamic versions of the poses.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. He relates how a friend asked him, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow?". He replied that she must be able to smile at her sorrow. He said that a human being is like a TV set with hundreds of channels. If we turn sorrow on we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are a smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. He says that we have the seed of everything in us, and when we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves. I love the idea that a smile helps us to regain our sovereignty. We can't always control our circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we respond. We can breathe and smile.
In the next few days I will also post a longer Breathe and Smile Meditation (from my forthcoming Yoga by the Stars book), and the Ten Mindful Movements practice which incorporates the breathing and smiling practice too.
Jilly Shipway, sharing seasonal yoga ideas and inspiration with you through the year...
Coronavirus: Finding Peace in Troubled Times
The next few weeks look set to be a challenging time as the world tries to find a way through and out of this coronavirus crisis.
Many of you will be self-isolating at home, so over the next few weeks I will regularly post simple, accessible yoga and mindfulness techniques to help you find your calm place in the midst of the storm. I will also post short, simple yoga practices for you to do at home.
Please consult the expert advice in your own country on keeping yourself safe and well during the pandemic.
Please feel free to share ideas and resources that you find in my blog, but please do acknowledge me and my website as their source. Thanks!
Disclaimer: if you have any concerns about your health or suitability to do yoga, please consult a medical professional before attempting any of the yoga routines in this blog.