Photo: Quills, Chris Wightman. Handwriting: Gandhi. Art Direction: The Magazine of Yoga.
Routines and rituals
BY MAGAZINE ART EDITOR AJA BLANC
When I sit down to write something (like this column for example) I do three things:
- First, I write by hand guiding words in my notebook.
(I just wrote: Twyla Tharp, commitment, intentional practice and rituals.)
- After that, I assume my computer writing position: sitting crossed legged in my desk chair.
- Then I open up my email and compose a new message, not to write an email, but to write out my words in the body of the email.
Which is fairly tame compared to what I could be doing
This is my pre-writing ritual that I do without fail every time I write. American author John Cheever had a more peculiar ritual.
Each morning, he wore a suit and took an elevator to a basement room in his building where he worked. Once he arrived at his work space, he would undress and write in his underwear. He would then dress to go back upstairs for lunch and then when he rode the elevator back home each night.
I wonder if Cheever got his ritual from Victor Hugo, who wrote completely in the buff, giving his clothes to his valet, who was instructed to give the clothes back only after Hugo finished writing.
Writer Toni Morrison begins each day of writing with the sunrise and a cup of coffee. Gertrude Stein sat in a parked car and wrote the beginning of poems on scraps of paper. Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy”, takes regular baths not only to freshen up, but to get fresh ideas.
Routines, habits and rituals. Simple acts that are repeated over and over again.
Highly recommended by productive creative geniuses
Choreographer Twyla Tharp, in her book The Creative Habit says
It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior - at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.
What separates habits and routines from rituals is that rituals have what Tharp calls a “transforming effect on the activity” that follows. They imbue our activity with intention and meaning, commit one to move forward with the task at hand, and give us strength to not give up before we enter the gate.
A transition between one state of intention and another
In yoga class, one can’t help but notice the variety of pre-practice rituals that pop up. Candles are often lit. Hands are in a prayer position at our heart. We chant the sound of aum. These rituals aren’t sanctimonious shows, but small helpful acts that can prepare us for the work ahead.
Rituals can also build confidence.
When I first started teaching yoga, I was all nerves and anxiety. I would show up 45 minutes early to slowly and methodically sweep the studio floor, even though it was left gleaming by the teacher before me. I would then put on some soft music and fold into child’s pose, getting up only after I couldn’t hear my heart pounding so loudly in my chest.
We all have rituals in our day, whether we’re aware of them or not.
- Twyla Tharp
Or a foot dragging resistance to acting on intentions
There is one kind of ritual to be on the lookout for that is less than helpful: the procrastination ritual. These pop up from time to time, not to help us move forward or instill dedication or intention into our actions, but to keep us from getting on with the task at hand.
I have spent 30 minutes looking for the perfect music to practice yoga to. I have futzed around with yoga books, props and what to wear. Although I was convinced I just had to do these things before practicing, in reality they were keeping me from getting my butt on the mat.
My only ritual is to just sit down and write, write every day.
- Augusten Burroughs
Not habitual practice, but the habit of practicing
I see my daily yoga practice as a ritual for living fully and showing up at my best.
Sometimes when I lie in bed sleepily in the morning or after I drag myself home after work, it’s hard to connect with that intention. But when I unroll my mat and light a candle, the most important step is complete.
The simple ritual of lighting the candle is like a porthole. I am propelled forward and the green light says go.
Peace to your practice,
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.