Sitting in the Cramp
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Writing is like yoga. It's utterly insufferable to get started again, if you've abandoned it for any length of time. You ease yourself in as you get started. You get comfortable, you relax a little bit, you wiggle your fingers. You take a nice deep breath, kidding yourself on that it won't be so bad. And then the pain starts.
Writing, like stretching, I've found, tends to require a certain malleability - the openness to your preconceived notions becoming looser, more elastic. Like yoga, you've got to rest in all the fits, starts, and spurts of success, and the excruciating discomfort of trying to reach your toes.
OK, maybe that last one is yoga specific - but the two have much in common. I realised this, lying on my yoga mat like a dead spider, one hip cramping with absolute fury, wracking my brain for article subjects that sounded actually good.
I've been into fitness for a while - into the idea of bettering my body and challenging my physical limits. I've always like less 'conventional sports' (read: running can do one), such as fencing, capoeira, kendo, ju jitsu and bouldering. I've been fascinated by circus acrobatics and aerial silks, roller derby and rowing. I've gone to ground with barbells, attempted gymnastics, and delighted in dance. Yoga is the practice that allows me to do most of these without crippling myself.
Kate Galliett, an amazing climber and all-round excellent person once posted an Instagram picture, captioned with a few short, potent phrases about staying with the cramp. Helping people move without pain, her advice was simple - let the cramp come, breathe through the agony, and wait it out.
I tried this a couple of times during my yoga practice (with what I'm sure were astonishing facial expressions) and, contrary to all my fears, did not die of foot cramp. Kate's advice is grounded in the truth that if your muscles are cramping, it's because they need to. After my muscle in question finally relaxed, I felt lighter, freer, softer, more flexible. The feeling of release was incredible.
And it got me thinking about writing. Sometimes the words come in fits and starts, in cramps and seizures and schisms and arid, dry deserts, when you're all out of juice. Often the advice is to write through the discomfort, to take care of the quantity, to just keep going.
It's bloody good advice under most circumstances - honing discipline, accountability, self-awareness, consistency, and mettle. But what if it just hurts too much? What if that cramp, that seizing of your writing ability, is an absolute necessity? What happens then?
I'm not sure I know the answer - but I do know that on the other side of all that pain and discomfort is a lighter, freer, happier writer. And that's got to be something worth trying for.