Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yoga, Meditation and Murder

Annette Dashofy is my online critique partner and a fabulous writer. To top it off, she's in excellent shape. So, what revenge does one take against someone with such talent and physique? I insist she write an article about her interests in both. Please welcome Annette Dashofy to the Five Scribes ~ Donnell

The world of yoga and the world of murder mystery writing would appear to be polar opposites. And for good reason. They are. About the only thing they have in common is me. I am a yoga teacher who writes mysteries.

I've been told time and again that I should write a yoga thriller. But isn't that an oxymoron? Like jumbo shrimp? Military intelligence.

When I teach yoga, I coax my students into a place of tranquility. No stress. No tension.

When I write, I strive to put tension and conflict on every page. And the tension should build and become unbearable.

Basically, my characters need yoga.

The common thread between relaxing my students and bringing my readers to a nail-biting frenzy is the power of the word. When I was studying to become a yoga instructor, I was taught to use calming, passive langauge. "Gently clasping the right wrist with the fingers of the left hand, ease into the stretch."

In writing murder mysteries, I use active verbs. "He grabbed her wrist and yanked her from her seat."

We never grab or yank in yoga class.

As part of my yoga practice, I took up meditation. This was during a time in my life when I suffered an extended period of writer's block. The clutter of everyday worries and responsibilities drowned out the characters who used to speak to me. At one point, I'd forgotten they even existed. In meditation, I learned to sit and chant mantra and calm the internal chatter that nagged at me constantly. Until one day a strange thing happened. Two characters took advantage of that lull in the action and began telling me their story.

Which is a bit of good news/bad news. Meditation freed my mind to allow my creativity to flow once again. But I haven't been able to sit quietly in meditation for more than a few minutes at a time since then! As soon as my inner chatter settles down, the solution to my latest plot problem becomes clear. My meditation teacher would tell me to let go of those thoughts and ideas and come back to my mantra.

But if I do that, I might forget that perfect solution to the plot problem du jour!

Meditation rekindled my writing, but writing murdered my meditation practice.

Which brings us back to the polar opposite thing. The stillness of yoga and meditation vs. the tension of crime writing. Or is it so opposite? Aren't we all a study in contrasts? Don't you have hobbies and interests that don't mesh? Hockey players spend their spare moments knitting. Football players practice ballet.

Both football and hockey players practice yoga. It's about a life in balance. Yin and yang. Encompassing our light and our dark sides.

Maybe a yoga thriller isn't so far-fetched after all.

Just don't tell my yoga students that as I guide them into the deep relaxation of shavasana, I am, in fact, plotting out the murder in my next novel. I may be complex, but let's face it, one person's "complex" is another person's "totally nuts!"

Annette's short stories have been published in Mysterical-e and Spinetingler Magazine. One was named a finalist for a 2007 Derringer Award. Her literary agent is currently shopping her two veterinary mysteries around New York. She posts every Wednesday at the Working Stiffs blog ( and shares random thoughts at Writing, etc. ( And she's been teaching yoga since 1999.


Donnell said...

Good morning, Annette. What great pictures. I have a question. Why did you get into YOGA in the first place. Can you discuss the health benefits. Do you incorporate other exercise as well, what do you find especially beneficial about YOGA and what can an average person expect if they take it up? Thanks and welcome!

Annette said...

Thanks, Donnell! What a list of questions! I could write a whole other blog.

I got into yoga originally because I had taken a bad fall from a horse and injured my back. Eight months of yoga helped more than eight YEARS of chiropractic. I began teaching so I could pass on the benefits I'd found.

Yoga helps reduce stress, increases strength, balance, and flexibility. ANYONE can do it. I have students from teenagers to a couple of ladies in their 80's including my 88 year old mom. However, you may need to sample several different classes and/or teachers to find one that fits you. There are MANY different types of yoga. Some are very strong and others are calmer and more "normal-people-friendly."

I've always been outdoorsy, so I also ride horses and bike and walk. Plus I do a little weight training for my aging bones.

I think I've hit all your questions. And thanks to all the Scribes for having me here today!

Keri Ford said...

Hi, Annette. This is a great blog (and great timing Donnell for having her) One of me docs suggested yoga (the mind one) and meditation (or are they the same now since I'm cutting out the physical?) to calm down my thoughts and worries and dern if I didn't totally forget to do some research on it!

Do you have any recommendations for quieting down stress and everyday worries? And by recommendations, I mean a book or something I can find to read up on it because this all so new to me

Annette said...

Hi, Keri! I can totally confuse you with the terminology. "Yoga" actually translates to "union" as the bond between body, mind, and spirit. Most people think of "hatha" yoga when they just say "yoga." Hatha yoga is the physical practice of poses or postures. Meditation is simply sitting quietly and letting the wild monkey brain become calm. Notice I say "let" because you cannot MAKE it be quiet.

Two books I highly recommend for relaxing, destressing, and just learning about a yogic life are both by one of my teachers, Judith Lasater. LIVING YOUR YOGA is about finding the spiritual in everyday life, but it doesn't overwhelm you with the woo-woo stuff. Judith is very down to earth and wise. The other book is RELAX & RENEW and will introduce you to restorative yoga in which you set yourself up in physical poses, but they are all supported by bolsters, pillows, and folded blankets so you basically just lay around and let the body (and mind) open. It's better than a nap!

Edie said...

How funny to meditate about murder. The same thing happens to me while walking my dog. As soon as my inner chatter stills, my characters speak to me.

I used to practice yoga. I keep saying I'm going to take it up again. Same with strength training. I'm going to get the Relax & Renew book. Thanks!

Annette said...

Edie, it's a great book! You'll love it.

People either love or hate restorative yoga. Some love it because all you do is lie around and do nothing. Others HATE it because all you do is lie around and do nothing.

Some lie around and plot murder mysteries, but as a yoga teacher, I cannot recommend that. ;-)

Mary Marvella said...

My daughter does it for her Fibro. When I try meditation I drift off to sleep!

Good blog, Annette.

Annette said...

Mary, one of my meditation teachers always said if you fall asleep during meditation, it means you NEED more sleep.

And never meditate lying down. There's such a thing as being TOO comfortable.

Tiffany James said...

Annette & Donnell,

Great blog! I struggle with incorporating the parts of myself into a cohesive whole...I like all the square pegs to fit into the round holes of my life...yeah, I know, right! Your comment about all of us being a study in opposites really helped me create an opening for all of the parts of me to fit...just maybe not in the round holes! :0)



Donnell said...

Ugggh, my apologies, gang, Annette had another spectacular picture of her balance pose and it disappeared into cyberspace. I have readded. Let's hope it sticks around. Annette, I find what you do fascinating. I assumed you were in great shape to begin with. To know you began yoga to help yourself is truly inspirational. I'm even more impressed with myself for asking you to be here LOL. Except that I can't set up a blog, no problem!

Keri Ford said...

Thanks Annette. Since yoga can stretch you to your limits, my docs said no-no on the physical yoga because of my hypermobility. I am off to find this LIVING YOUR YOGA. thanks!

Annette said...

Hey! There I am in scribbleasana, also known as note taking pose! LOL.

Keri, the joy of restorative yoga is that you can support your joints and muscles in such a way that you DON'T hyperextend or go TOO deep. You can personalize it to suit your needs. I've been known to have each student in a different restorative pose in class or different variations of the pose. It's not one size fits all.

Renee Knowles said...


Great post. I practice yoga as well and have found it very helpful to my writing (and my back as I write!!)

Thanks for the fun post!


KL Grady said...

What a great article, Annette! Do you mind sharing what kind of mantra you do? I *love* Sanskrit mantra. I find when I'm creatively blocked that Om Gum Ganapatiye Namaha is my savior.

Annette said...

KL, that's a GOOD one, although in my yoga lineage, the transliteration is GAM, not gUm. Invoking Ganesha (Ganapatye) is good for removing blocks and obstacles. I also do Om Nama Shiva just to clear the mind. And I always chant Om Shri Maha Lakshmi Namaha when I send in a submission. That one is aimed at Lakshmi, the godness of wealth and good fortune.

Okay, now I've weirded everyone out with the woo-woo stuff.

KL Grady said...

Love Om Nama Shiva! But then, I totally dig on Shiva. I've also found Om Eim Saraswatiyei Swaha is a good one for inspiration, though I always do 108 to Ganesh first - both out of respect and to remove the blocks. Between you and me and anyone who reads this, my favorite mantra of all is one to the Durga aspect of Kali Ma. No, I don't write murder mysteries. ;)

And now *I'm* the woo woo one. Pressure's off.

Annette said...

KL, You realize everyone thinks we're speaking in gibberish. ;-)

I've been warned by my teacher, Sri Shambhavananda, to be very careful about offering mantra to Kali since she likes to totally tear ones life apart in order to rebuild. Think hurricanes and tornados of a personal sort. You'd better be prepared for some life-altering events if you start invoking Kali Ma.

Just repeating what I've been told. For what it's worth...

KL Grady said...

Thanks, Annette. :) I've been working with Ma for about eight years now. She definitely takes the hardcore approach to rearranging your life - so definitely not for everyone. Her energy is incredible, though. I went to a Kali Puja in Laguna Beach last year, and the love and devotion from the mandir regulars spoke volumes.