September 3, 2017

How Writing Fiction made me a Better Yoga Teacher.

Prior to my yoga teacher training, I didn’t think that my dual passions of yoga and fiction writing had anything in common.

Sure, they both bring me happiness and are a form of self-expression, but the similarities seemed to stop there.

But as I went through my yoga teacher training, I began to realize that a lot of the “rules” I’d learned about fiction writing as a Creative Writing major in college (and by reading every novel and writing how-to book I could get my hands on) applied to teaching yoga as well.

Here are four truths about writing fiction that also guide my yoga teaching practice:

Show, don’t tell.

The phrase “show, don’t tell” is famous among fiction writers, and is one of the many “secrets” to writing a great story. But what exactly does “show, don’t tell” mean?

Writing that simply tells the reader something, such as how a character is feeling, is direct, but prevents the reader from feeling the emotions the writer hopes to convey. But when a writer shows these emotions by engaging the reader’s senses through creative language and vivid descriptions, the words fall away and the reader is able to experience the story.

“Sally felt sad” and “It was very windy outside” are both valid sentences, but neither has the same emotional impact as the following: “The wind rushed through the trees, hitting Sally’s face like a wall of water. Her eyes burning, she swallowed back the heavy lump in her throat, and continued to walk.”

How can we apply a “show, don’t tell” mentality to our yoga teaching?

We could tell our students that we are going to do Locust Pose (Shalabasana). Or, we could use language that is clear and precise without sacrificing our creativity, such as using an alignment cue for Locust that urges the student to imagine that they have a mermaid tail as they point their toes and squeeze their legs together.

Both have a complete “narrative” arc.

A great novel’s narrative structure flows so seamlessly that a reader will never notice its foundation unless they are looking for it. Though it might seem like it while we’re reading it, nothing that happens in a story is random or by chance. A good story follows a logical narrative arc. The beginning sets the stage, the action in the middle continues to escalate, until finally things come to an explosive head at the climax, all of which lead up to a satisfying ending.

A yoga sequence really isn’t all that different. Each class begins with a centering or warm up, and each successive pose builds upon the next, until all of our students are sinking into the big finish: Savasana.

Stay true to our own unique voices.

Voice is one of the most difficult things for writers to learn, because it can’t be taught. A writer’s voice is how he or she expresses his or herself, including the words they choose and their unique perspective, all of which make it the story that only they can tell.

Each of my favorite authors has a different voice, a different style. And while all of them inspire me and my work, I don’t want to write exactly like them. Because if I’m trying too hard to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, Maeve Binchy, or Nora Roberts, then I’ll never cultivate the only voice I’ll ever master: my own.

Too many times yoga teachers, especially new ones who are still learning how to find their voice, try too hard to emulate their favorite teachers. And while there’s nothing wrong with picking up a few expert tricks and phrases that work for us or drawing inspiration from our favorite teachers, it’s authenticity, the courage to just be ourselves, that will keep students coming back for more.

The goal is to please our audience.

Just as yoga teachers love to do yoga, writers love to write. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing things just for fun, if we choose to put ourselves out there—be it as a published author or a yoga teacher—it’s important to remember that we are doing a service for others, and giving them something that they crave, something that only we can give them. Writers are always trying please their readers, and the most successful ones have a large readership.

Teaching yoga to a room full of students isn’t the same as practicing all on our own. It’s not about us, or our personal practice, and that’s okay, because there’s nothing quite as wonderful as having the privilege to guide others into their own inner happiness and bliss.


Author: Cassie Cartaginese 
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron

Social Editor: Nicole Cameron

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