Musing On Yoga And Poetry At The Skylight Diner
Two NY poets/yoginis, Kathleen Kraft and Kim Farrar, both have books of poetry coming out in the new year from Finishing Line Press– which is quite a feat these days when almost no poetry gets published.
They met in a poetry workshop at the Writer’s Studio in NYC several years ago. Below they chew on the relationship between poetry, creative expression and the practice of yoga.
Kim Farrar: Are you excited about your book?
Kathleen Kraft: Yes. You?
Kim: Me too. It’s going to be fun to do a reading together…
Kathleen: I had an image of us as I was walking over - we open our reading with 3 rounds of OM then assume tree pose side by side!
So tell me – what is the connection between yoga and poetry writing?
Kim: I think real imagination needs an empty mental space. If you're mind is worried or trapped in all the fleeting nonsense that it usually is, then your imagination gets tangled in all that. By breathing and focusing on releasing the evil knots of the body, a quiet can happen. And once it's quiet, all sorts of great things have room to come forward. Imagination is different from thinking. You have to sweep out the thinking first.
Kathleen: Right, once you get into the poses and hold them, you can then let go more easily… What’s your favorite aspect of the practice?
Kim: Honestly, I like any exercise where breathing is considered part of the workout. We all breathe but in yoga we take time to appreciate the breath and everyday movement—I love that something as simple as standing can be called Mountain Pose.
Kathleen: Right! And that you can tap into that tall, focused energy when you’re standing on line at the grocery store or waiting for a train…
Kim: It’s powerful. It always makes me sit up taller, and I find that my posture has a direct impact on my mood. If I’m slouchy, I’m down. If I sit tall and and upright, I feel more confident.
Kathleen: That’s interesting—there was actually a study about that done at Harvard that showed that standing tall with the heart center open directly influences our brain chemistry, increases testosterone and lowers cortisol, making us feel more dominant.
Kim: I feel so smart now! What do you love about yoga?
Kathleen: So many things, but what has really grounded me in the practice is the feeling that I am expressing myself on the mat… Somewhat like poetry but different because it’s a silent, visual language… It’s like I’m expressing the unconscious parts of myself as I practice. The poses tap me into spaces, places I can’t otherwise find so readily… It’s like silent theatre.
Kim: Wow. I think I know what you mean—I love seated spinal twist and Marichyasana because holding the bent knee feels contemplative. And stretching up, looking into the distance... what’s ahead.
Kathleen: And what’s behind. I feel the same way about Warrior 1 and 2, like I am preparing myself for something in Warrior 1…Maybe for battle, maybe for the next day or whatever, and then as I shift to Warrior 2 I become more precise about my target and my range… It’s a broad feeling, general, abstract… That’s what I love so much. How’s your food?
Kim: Great, I love matzoh ball soup. How’s that omelette?
Kathleen: Good—dry. What about teaching your students at Laguardia Community College—do you think practicing yoga impacts the way you teach?
Kim: In the mornings when I do my Rodney Yee DVD, I try to keep my mind focused on his instructions, which sounds like it should be easy but as soon as I wake up I’m ticking off everything I have to do for the day. So for those 15 minutes I try to take instructions the way I would like my students to take my instructions… I am sometimes a terrible student which makes me a better teacher.
Kathleen: I think about that too…especially about morning practice—I have to work harder to stay present, not let my thoughts fling me into the day. I’ve also noticed that I gravitate towards teachers who are methodical, for example, if they demo a pose that’s unfamiliar, they also repeat the instructions slowly when it’s time for the class to try it. Not all teachers do that, but I think it’s really helps people stay focused and present… I also notice that my mind starts to wander in a class when the teacher stops cueing the breath for too long or if they start preaching about something, even if it’s valuable information, during class… it takes me out of the space, the moment… I try hard as an instructor to provide a space where people can be with themselves via their breath—that’s it.
Kim: Right… Like you want to feel like you’ve lost sense of time, like when you’re writing and not even aware of how much time has elapsed.
Kathleen: Yes. Getting back to the poses, the more I learn about the origins of the poses, the more dynamic my practice becomes. For example, the warrior poses come from the violent story of Shiva and Sati who were like the Romeo and Juliet of yoga mythology – it’s about defending the innocent and righteous anger as it relates to that, so that adds a new dimension to my warriors, especially Warrior 1… What or who am I defending?
Kim: It’s similar to how etymology affects my writing, like the more I learn about a word the farther I can go with it, extrapolating, associating and so on…
Kathleen: Like your poem “Penitmento” where the definition of the word informs your memory of the two girls planning their lives…
Kim: Yes, or your Climbing Kandinsky poem where the images in the painting take on new meaning through your personal experience of them.
Kathleen: It seems like the connections between yoga and art are endless, far-reaching. On a more grounded note, what’s your favorite pose?
Kim: Child’s pose—it feels like going back into the womb. Totally safe, dark and comforting. You?
Kathleen: Child’s pose is up there… especially supported with a big bolster. Yummy. It’s hard to say because are many. In a way, Downward Dog because it feels so innocent and playful, and we are always returning to it—it’s like an old friend… And looking back past my legs gives me a really joyful, present feeling… Like all that’s behind me is really behind me… and here I am, now.
Kim: Here’s to that.
Kathleen Kraft teaches movement and yoga to adults, seniors and kids. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook Fairview Road is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February. She is a regular contributor to YogaCityNYC.
Kim Farrar is a poet and essayist. Her second chapbook The Brief Clear is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in March. Her poetry has been published most recently in Alaska Quarterly Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Rhino. She teaches at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York.