Writing as a Yoga Practice
The pen is mightier than the sword - Edward Bulwer-Lytton
A while back I started to explore the idea of what it meant to “locate” myself beyond Dhyana (meditation) and Asana (movement practice or postures). Let me tell you, at times has been an awkward and convoluted journey. Back in February 2021 I wrote about how liberating and impactful it felt to practice Yoga and Buddhism during Black History month with Dharma teachers that were primarily black and other people of color (BIPOC). It felt comforting to hear language that I could relate to, and it made me feel at ease and at home in myself. During that time, I learned things about my family's history that were not so surprising; like the fact that I come from enslaved people and some very surprising things; like the fact that these enslaved people also enslaved people.
Recently, I was inspired once again through a writing exercise to discover myself, and to answer the age-old questions, “who am I” And “where do I come from.” I approached this as a mindfulness practice; an excavation to unearth the deepest seeds that inform my unconscious beliefs. If my Yoga practice has taught me anything, it’s that it is not worth my time or energy trying to deny it. We all have these hidden patterns that, if left unexplored, continue to influence, and guide the ways we move through life repeating the same narratives and driving the story line down further and further. It is like Groundhog Day – same stuff, different day. Once you catch on to yourself, you realize it is somewhat boring and very predictable.
I firmly believe that we can understand our life a little differently when we look in the rear-view mirror from time to time. So, I took this writing experiment as an opportunity to do exactly that – to learn, and possibly even heal something in myself…what, however, I was not quite sure. I remember practicing with a teacher who said, “if you hate where you come from, it will be very hard to heal.” I do not want to leave the impression that I hate where I come from, but I have been at odds with it occasionally. So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I took this as an opportunity to use writing to explore that which continues to be armored in me and to soften it somehow.
I am learning a lot about myself through writing, and it always feels like vulnerable territory. But, as Brene Brown says “vulnerability is the core, the heart, and the center of meaningful human experiences." So, I am learning that writing is not about being polite. It is a practice of sharing what disturbs me both out in the world and within myself. It is an exploration of what I fear I will never know and what I fear will never cease to be. It is about writing what is true for me at a given moment in time. If I so choose, it can be about sharing private moments of beauty, nostalgia, or shame. It is about unearthing the things that have held me back and celebrating the things that have propelled me forward. It is about sharing my deep heart as a connector to other people and myself and it is definitely beyond “I’m fine, how are you!?”
You may be wondering why I find it important to do this type of exercise. Well, it’s simple. As someone who is committed to Svadhyaya (self-observation) and as a Yoga therapist and educator who works with a variety of people all with different sorrows and joys, I need to know myself and what influences me. It is me practicing what I encourage others to do; to get to know yourself deeply, intimately, and truthfully. But more importantly, it is an act of self-care and love and a personal responsibility I do not take lightly.
This writing prompt called "where I’m from" grew out of a writer and teacher named George Ella Lyon. It was her response to a poem from "Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet" (Orchard Books, 1989; Theater Communications Group, 1991) written by her friend, Tennessee writer Jo Carson. Since then, this writing prompt has been used in many amazing ways such as: family reunions, for education purposes, to aid girls in juvenile detention, and men in prison for life, and to help refugees in a camp in Sudan. For me it has been a profound revelation for a couple of reasons; one because it literally flew out of me and two, I had no idea how impressionable I have been to the images of Jamaica, my mother’s homeland. If you are inclined, I encourage you to create your own version of Lyon’s “where I’m from” poem. You can find a template here. Below is my adaptation:
I am from dirty laundry,
from silk and pant presses
and Perc Ethelyn.
I am from ancestral trauma and dysregulated nervous systems
(Alarming, startling, like ancient hieroglyphic anxieties I somehow adopted as my own)
I am from coconut water, and
hot pink Hibiscus flowers,
like the ones my mother plants on her balcony each year as a small reminder of home.
I’m from Jamaican rum pudding,
Fay Hope and Allan Ronald and,
From Sylvia Hyacinth with cataracts so thick, she went blind.
I’m from Tracy, Tracy is no good, chop her up for firewood! and
“She likkle, but she tallawah!”
I’m from Mary Baker Eddy and the Church of Christ, Scientist and
a testimonial that brought my mother North,
making me a first-generation Canadian.
I’m from Victoria, beautiful British Columbia, and
Kingston, Jamaica, the land of wood and water
From ackee and salt fish,
sweet potato pudding, and
pineapple upside-down cake.
I’m from my grandfather’s rage,
my father’s sarcasm, cruel and cutting, and
From my stepfather’s “you can be anything you put your mind to.”
I’m from competition,
no holds barred,
from put up your dukes, and
people pleasing for peace.
I’m from willing and able,
how can I help? and,
I am from this, and
From loyalty and
so much love my heart aches.
As these words flowed out of me, I realized that none of this really answers the question of “who am I.” They simply represent old stories and some of my conditioning. They certainly do not say anything about the totality of my life, my mother's kindness, my father's desire to save people as a paramedic, or the entirety of my ancestry for that matter. The words do, however, reveal some undigested fodder and some of the complexities of my lived experience. Written on another day with blue sky and sunshine my poem could sound quite different. After some reflection, I realize more than anything that what these words really reveal is “who I am not" - and that friends, always moves me in the direction of spaciousness and truth.
Hello, beautiful people. My name is Tracy Chetna Boyd (she/her). Among other things, I am a Yoga educator and Yoga Therapist, specializing in Yoga for Cancer. Although I have many teachers, my primary teacher is Baba Hari Dass. I have a deep belief in people’s ability to change, forgiveness, redemption, and the teachings, wherever they come from. Small talk has never been my forte. I am a person who is comfortable living in the weeds of the human condition, while keeping my heart open and the big picture in perspective. I hope this sets the tone for the musings I'll be sharing from time-to-time.