Although I have been writing my whole life, my professional writing career started as a development coordinator for a small non-profit. I loved writing grants and narrative reports because they use stories to impact the life of an organization in a very direct and tangible way. But I also longed to write content that was more creative so that I could play a more active role in determining what stories to tell and how. I decided to venture beyond grants into other types of content creation, an endeavor that became Jiri Creative.
When I first took the leap into the world of content creation which, in 2018, lives mostly on the internet, I was taken aback – not in a good way. The internet is crowded and full of, well, junk! As a regular practitioner of meditation, I quickly became aware that my mind was being pulled in a million directions. As a writer, I was struck by a perceived pressure to “get on the content train” and mechanically churn out meaningless words. I know how modern marketing works. I understand the value in this type of content creation which serves a very specific purpose, often to market a product or service. But I realized quickly that I belong elsewhere.
Yes, I am, and have always been, a storyteller, but I am also an introvert. A quiet person who, particularly in group settings, only speaks when I have something valuable to share.
I recently participated in a meditation workshop led by teachers from the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. In groups of three, we conducted a mindful listening and sharing exercise, in which we took turns talking for three minutes about an experience we’ve had, while the other group members listened without responding. In between each person’s turn to speak, we paused to become aware of our bodies in that particular moment. After we completed the exercise, the entire room joined together to reflect. I reflected that, when given the opportunity to be deeply, mindfully listened to, I became aware of the value of each word I was saying. As I shared my experience with two other people, I spoke slowly, pausing multiple times and questioning the benefit and value of every word I chose to speak.
I approach my writing similarly. I refuse to be a part of the content-churning machine, pushing words into the abyss of the internet for them to sit there, waiting as clickbait for a mindless web-wonderer. As a consumer of information, I strive to be mindful in what I spend my precious time reading. Shouldn’t I take the same approach as a producer of that information? Therefore, I pledge, on this sunny Philadelphia morning, to create what I will call “honest content”. Honest content is writing that includes at least one of the following elements*:
As a storyteller and writer, I hold the value of honest content closely, ensuring that everything I work on falls within this definition. I want the words I put on paper to matter. I want to consider the value of each word: what impact will it have on its intended audience? What feelings will it evoke? Joy? Pain? Excitement? The stories we tell are nothing more than a sharing of the experiences we have as humans, of the actions we take as individuals, organizations, and communities with the goal of building the world we want to see. The words we use to describe those actions should be crafted with the same goal in mind.
*A note on privilege: I was born a white, cisgender woman, to upper middle class, educated parents who are citizens of the United States. As a result of those fortunate circumstances I received a stellar education and completed two university degrees without accruing debt. I happen to have met a wonderful man with a similar upbringing to mine. This financial and socioeconomic position has not only enabled me to launch a freelance writing business, but also to be selective and thoughtful in the type of work the business takes on. I fully acknowledge that not everyone is able to make those choices. More specifically, I am aware that not every writer is free to write content of value and from the heart. Because I do have that privilege, though, I feel I must use it to create good in the world. To me that means doing my part to break down oppressive and unjust systems that perpetuate the reality in which another person is afforded different opportunities simply because they were born a different color or in a different place.
Four years ago, my partner and I trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. We intended to start from a tiny Himalayan village called Jiri. What's interesting about Jiri is that we never actually made it there. On our way, while our bus was crossing a mountainside, we got caught in a heavy rainstorm. As it zigzagged back and forth between narrow switchbacks, the bus got stuck in the mud and hung precariously close to the edge. Fearing for our lives, we got off the bus and wound up spending the night with an elderly couple in their cliff-side shack.
To me, Jiri symbolizes the unexpected changes that life throws at us, and the need to be agile in our responses in order to overcome and thrive. That agility is a trait that I always want to keep sight of in my work!
This post was originally published on Prana Das Yoga's blog. Read the original post here.
Last month, I was fortunate to learn and practice with David Swenson. Swenson is as close to the source of Ashtanga yoga as I will probably ever get. Listening to his entertaining and inspiring stories opened my mind to self-reflection. As he shared his insights, I thought about the evolution of my own practice over the last decade, from its inception at my college fitness center to the Mysore-style practice I have developed today. Throughout every step in my journey thus far, I find that the closer I get to the source, the more I feel empowered to build a practice that will work for the rest of my life.
Over a weekend-long series of workshops hosted by Prana Das Yoga, Swenson repeatedly emphasized two seemingly conflicting, but actually harmonious ideas. The first is the importance of maintaining the integrity of the practice. To me, that means respecting the teachers who have come before you and upholding the structure and essence of their teachings. It means devoting genuine effort to learning the practice as taught. If, Swenson stresses, the practice doesn’t work for you – for whatever reason – and you need to change it, that is fine. He has no qualms with Power Yoga or even Goat Yoga. After all, if these get more people in the world to quiet their minds – aren’t we all better off? But if you change the Ashtanga practice too much, Swenson says, don’t call it Ashtanga.
Still, he simultaneously emphasized the importance of creating an Ashtanga practice that works for you, acknowledging injury, age, and other factors that may influence our body’s ability to twist, turn, and fold. He tells a story about a blind and seriously disabled student who, when assisted into vriksasana, starting swaying and crying at the beauty of the practice. My tears of joy probably won’t come until I can get in and out of kapotasana alone. The point is, this practice is deeply personal. And the level of enjoyment it brings us does not, by any means, correlate to how deeply we can bind. I’ve known that for years, but it helps to be reminded that if today all I can do is a few sun salutations and closing asanas – that’s more than alright.
Which brings me back to my own journey. I practiced yoga for the first time at my university’s fitness center. When I moved to Tel Aviv after college I continued practicing in classes at the neighborhood gym. The classes were okay, but lacked physical and mental challenge, so I never really connected. Travelling around India exposed me to a broader variety of teachers, different styles of practice, and the spiritual side of yoga. This piqued my interest, leading me to sign up for a teacher training and join a yoga studio for the first time in 2015. The training was a turning point in my practice. Not because I intended to teach – I never did, and still don’t (maybe one day?) – but because it provided a deeper understanding of concepts like bandhas and breath, offering the tools to tap into my own strength. Mysore-style practice, which I started shortly after the teacher training, allowed me to refine the use of those tools. I built a practice that felt more cohesive, meditative, and powerful.
But my ego got the best of me. Within a year I was practicing full primary series 5 times per week. I would practice after a long work day and get home at 8pm, completely depleted of energy. While my body was growing stronger than it had ever been, I felt that I never had a second to breathe. This routine ultimately caught up to me when I hurt my knee, and eventually stopped practicing all together for a few months. As I think about that experience, I realize that I was following the physical practice as it had originally been taught. But I was following it mindlessly and no longer listening to myself.
Today, I have found a happy medium that works for me. I practice in the Mysore room 3 days per week and try to also do 2 short and easy practices at home. I meditate more, which I find is wonderfully complementary to physical practice. I was worried that when I returned to Mysore at a lower intensity, my practice would not advance. First off, what does it mean for your practice to advance? And secondly, well, it is advancing. In this practice there is something new to learn every single day.
We live in a very demanding world, and it is hard not to carry its pressures for excellence onto our mats. It is therefore empowering and refreshing to be reminded by someone who has practiced for over 40 years that sometimes we can take it easy. I will be the first to admit that on days when I have one of those energized, flowing, bendy practices, I allow myself to bask in the sense of accomplishment. But lately, I also challenge myself to feel that same sense of deep gratitude and joy from a 20-minute practice of sun salutations and breathing. And furthermore, to remember that those occasional energized, flowing, bendy days are a result of many more average, uninteresting, less bendy moments. There is value in all parts of a yoga practice. When we let go of our ego and honor the practice for what it is in a way that works for us, we can continue to cultivate it for the rest of our lives.