Yoga and writing: Two separate disciplines that have been in practice for millennia. Ahead of her December workshop Lessons from Yoga for Writers, Inez Baranay speaks about her experiences with each vocation and why understanding the relationship between the two can help our writing practice. Interview by Carolyn Anderson.
A review of your latest book “Turn Left at Venus” describes the protagonist Ada as “a creative soul who upturns expectation, finding unseen angles in familiar territory.” Would you say this describes what inspires you?
Yes, it’s not what I would have said about myself, but I do think that part of what you do as a writer, is to be aware that things aren’t always what they seem and to look beyond the most obvious aspect of whatever it is that you are observing and experiencing.
You have lived and taught creative writing in India, Indonesia, the United States and most recently Turkey. Have you found there are differences in creative writing in different countries or is the process universal?
One of the differences especially in Australia (because mostly I have taught creative writing in Australia) is that by and large, students are very accustomed to freely expressing themselves, having an opinion and feeling that it is ok to be forthright in their language. But in India and Turkey, where the education system is more authoritarian (and the teaching in Humanities and English departments is much more prescriptive) people are expecting to be taught the proper way to respond to a text. It is a new idea [in those countries] to find your own voice and your own way of saying things; to refuse any censorship or self-censorship. I think that would be the biggest difference.
You have obviously been writing and practicing yoga for many, many years, which came first or have they always co-existed for you?
The practice of writing has been a lot longer because I was one of those kids who knew they would be a writer from a very young age and I was reading and writing from as soon as I could. Yoga came later. Although I was fairly young, it is more recent, although that’s been a long time too.
Do you find it is a ‘two-way’ street between yoga and writing or does one flow more easily into the other?
They are different practices and disciplines but I became interested in how they could relate. In the beginning when I started doing yoga seriously they seemed like very different kinds of practice that required very different kinds of commitment and because of the type of person I was, they were almost in conflict with each other. I mean, which is the best to do first in the morning and so on?
I wrote a piece in the mid 80s that looked at them as two disciplines and practices that had similar issues and then eventually I became much more committed to further exploration of that relationship between them. I have written a small book about that (Sun Square Moon). In that, I started to read some classical yoga texts, like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and other things that are either translated or written by B K S Iyengar, looking at things that he talks about with yoga and applying them to writing.
And then there is the issue of the writing body and what it takes to work as a writer and what effects that has on your health and wellbeing and whether yoga can be of some use there too.
What inspired you to create a workshop involving the two?
I was very interested in working with people who also practiced in both disciplines. I was probably asked quite a while ago to do a workshop [like this] and then I was asked to do it again; I did it in Byron Bay in the early 2000s and I have done variances of it in Bali a few times and in Turkey for a very small group of people.
What about the workshop excites you the most?
It’s being with other people who are thinking about similar issues, who are also committed to both writing and to yoga because we do it together in a way… everybody brings their own experience and thoughts. I’m sure you know, anyone who has been in a workshop environment knows that a group inspires and creates some kind of new way of looking at things by the synergy of all of the people who are there.
What do you hope those attending the workshop will take away with them?
They will get the experience of doing the workshop and that is the only thing I can say. There is an old text, the Bhagavad Gita from the Mahabharata that is often quoted, that it is about doing an action for the sake of the action and not for the fruits of the action… to me the real value is doing it for the sake of doing it and what may come out of that, I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive about that. Each person will take away something different.
What can people expect from the workshop more generally?
There will be a combination of a lot of writing exercises and discussion. It’s always a bit scary to enter this space of the workshop because I want there to be room to respond to whatever the group dynamic is and whatever people’s particular queries and issues are. Participants will all have an opportunity to send in a question or an issue or something that they want attention paid to. We’ll see what happens but of course I do have a structure and specific issues which will be covered, with some attention given to physical yoga and the writing body as well.
Inez Baranay will be facilitating the workshop ‘Lessons from Yoga for Writers’ on Friday 6 December. Places are limited. For details and to book, head to our workshops page.