I remember telling my mum I was writing a book when I was a little girl, stapling some sheets of paper together and writing what was probably a complete rip off of The Lion the witch and the wardrobe. I remember thinking ‘one day someone will quote me in a university assignment’ as I gazed in admiration at the row of PhD theses in university. I remember that I always wanted to write a book. I remember always being praised for the quality of my writing whenever I write ‘in flow’.
I also remember that I was always too “busy” to actually do anything about it. I preferred instead to consume other people’s words, immersing myself in song lyrics and books, letting other people write my thoughts for me, or spend hours reading pointless things on social media. The Beatles have a song for every mood, why did I need to write anything?
Having often turned to writing when I was really unhappy, pouring my sadness onto the page and hoping no one ever saw it, I always knew on some level that there was a real benefit to writing, that it was a great tool for expressing emotions, but was always too lazy, and also too scared to do it much. Having had my private thoughts read and then used against me by vindictive soon to be ex lovers, I became very wary of putting my thoughts to paper.
This changed when I began yoga teacher training. Part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is the Niyamas, these are ways we can behave to elevate ourselves and become better at being us. One of these Niyamas is Swadhyaya, self study. We cannot hope to improve ourselves if we don’t know who we are, so this self study is vital. It is important that self study is always done without judgement and comparison to others, and without self-recrimination, otherwise it becomes another tool with which to beat ourselves up, and I don’t suppose many of us need another one of those!
Writing to release and grow
Swadhyaya involves studying Yoga texts, understanding what Yoga teaches us about the human condition, and studying oneself in relation to these texts. Every month on the course we were given reading and practices to do, and essay questions to answer. There was a requirement to keep a diary, which I failed miserably at, but I threw myself into these with wild abandon. I didn’t this in the same light as writing a diary, my teacher was the only person who was going to see these, it felt safe to write.
During the writing of these essays, I would banish my inner critic to a dark corner, switch off the conscious thoughts that made me stop writing, and just let the words flow. Sometimes I could barely keep up with the words, my typing feeling slower than the release of the words. These essays became a real experience of Swadhyaya as I watched myself unfolding on the screen in front of me. Often I would sit back and stare at the screen in astonishment at what I had written as I took yoga philosophy and practices and applied them to my life.
I would see patterns of behaviour that had started in childhood that I had never noticed, find connections between things that happened in my teens and now, and release years of pent up frustration, anger and pain. As much as I was releasing tension through the practical work of Asana, Pranayama and relaxation, I was releasing so much tension through Swadhyaya, through these essays. It was, without doubt, one of the many ways in which Yoga helped me to beat my addictions
Kalavathi, my teacher, had to allocate extra time every month to be able to mark my work; she would have been quite reasonable in telling me I needed to stick to the suggested word count, but as she could see how much I was benefiting, she happily let me continue.
This work reminded me that I do enjoy writing, and lead to the writing of ‘Bent out of Shape: Beating Addiction through Yoga’. It’s only out on Kindle so far, but soon, I will be a ‘Paperback Writer’
The terrible first draft, the VITAL first draft
This book was a massive exercise in Swadhyaya. The ‘terrible first draft’ was an utterly unpublishable, but vital 30000 words of writing – I laid so many demons to rest during the writing of that, I feel about 2 stone lighter (in my head at least!) It allowed me to express so many more emotions I have misunderstood, or suppressed. Combined with my study of, in particular, Dr Ananda’s ‘Understanding the Yoga Darshan’ and Dr Gabor Mate’s ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts’, I learned so much about myself that I feel that I am only just meeting myself. The finished book has very little of the detailed personal stuff in it that the first draft had, there is no need for it to be there at all, I am the only person who needed to read that. What has been written since will, I hope, help others as much as the first draft helped me.
Swadhyaya and writing can be such a powerful way to explore who you are. It can help you to look at painful past memories and let them go, healing old wounds and releasing resentment. It can help you to see things from a different perspective, rather than reacting to a situation with your immediate emotional response. It can help you to make sense of what has happened in the past. It can help you to find out who you really are, and to make peace with the bits of you that don’t feel right. It can help you work out what bits you want to change, and strategies that will work for you. Many people use journaling or diaries to help them do this, there are a wide range of techniques you can employ to uncover your hidden truth. It can be scary to do it, but it is so worthwhile!