The Mind Body Connection and Writing: Why Moving Your Body Promotes Better Writing
For most of my life, I have been an avid reader. As a child, I would relish the sensation of being totally immersed in a book – afloat in the world of the author’s creation. As an adult, getting truly lost in a good story is still a cherished thing. To truly lose oneself in the written word can be a transformative experience.
It was difficult to replicate this feeling --- the feeling of being lost in oneself – until I discovered running. As a child, I was conflicted about the act of running. If left to my own devices, I loved running around the backwoods of my home. I was not myself. I was often immersed in a day dream of my own imagination. But the moment I had a set distance to run I hated….no, I loathed…running. As an organized activity, I hated the effort, the sweat, and the energy one had to expend.
In high school I acted on a whim and opted to join the cross-country team. It was a decision that gave my parents a good giggle. I, the child that hated to sweat, was going to run long distance. But I was committed. Something about the idea had seized my interest, and I recruited my father, a former long-distance runner who had long ago hung up his running shoes, to train with me.
That first summer was my first introduction to both the joys and pains of running. I developed a side stitch in week 3 that took most of the summer to resolve. My form was poor, and my running suffered as a result. But long after my father’s ankle had sidelined him, I kept running. And I found that I really, really enjoyed it.
As an introvert, I loved that running took me out of myself. I joined the cross-country team in high school, and I loved that I was both part of something and yet simply myself. Running, much like many of the other sports/activities that I enjoy, is a meditative thing for me. It’s why I’m also drawn to hours in the pool or my yoga practice – it is me and my thoughts. Sometimes I resolve issues, sometimes I compose narratives in my head. But the spark that the physical act provides keeps me going – keeps me moving.
And this meditative quality to physical activity is why I believe many writers walk or run or move their bodies in other ways. Stephen King discusses his writing routine in his book “On Writing,” part of which are his long walks. Physical activity, whether it is walking or swimming or running or yoga, allows the writer a greater mind body connection. Those endorphins can help stimulate thought or, if one is engaged in a quiet practice like yin yoga, can help clear the mind. And in so doing, this helps stimulate thought, either through active ruminations or allowing the mind to rest, allowing other thoughts to float to the surface. Much like my childhood running through the woods, when the mind is unconstrained, it also runs freely.
When I run, I may listen to audiobooks, music, or practice Korean (a recent development since our move to South Korea a little under a year ago). I may be resolving an issue I have been wrestling with, working out a narrative snag, or immersed in a daydream. Or I may simply tune into my breath, and in so doing, running itself can be meditative – when focusing on my breath and the sounds of my feet on the pavement are the music I run to. These are often the most productive runs – the runs when I can more fully come back to myself and feel most refreshed and ready to tackle a new task. This can also be when I have my “aha” moment and understand how to make connection in a piece I am writing. It can be a time when something I am struggling with seamlessly comes together -- given the proper time and space for it to do so.
Joyce Carol Oates wrote, “Writers and pets are famous for loving to be in motion.” And I agree with her. Movement in the body fuels thought in the mind. Or, if we need a moment of stillness in the mind, movement in the body can also promote that. It’s good to feel that connection – connection with the Earth, connection with the body, connection with the self. And movement, whether it’s a fast run or a simple walk or a moment on the mat – can provide that.