I fell in love with Rhetoric and Composition upon first reading about the role of embodiment in writing. Writers like Patricia Dunn, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Malea Powell, and Jacqueline Jones Royster (among many others) engaged my attention by linking writing practices to bodily preferences, proximities, pressures, and possibilities.
Most of my early interest in embodiment arose from my digital practices; I started blogging about moving and writing, yoga and writing, Facebooking and writing. On Oct. 8, 2009, I ended a blog post by asking: “Do writers know/think to use their bodies in the process? What is the benefit of using movement when brainstorming and drafting? How can movement affect the revision process?” Today, I would expand that last question a bit to read: How can movement affect drafting, thinking, resting, collaborating, and revising? In this blog post, I want to make a few personal writing observations on embodiment.
For me, yoga is a constant metaphor for writing. Focus on breathe helps sustain bodily postures that otherwise seem impossible to maintain. This kind of focus also applies to stress maintenance necessary for grad school survival. I spent most of the first year of my doctoral program with a painful connection to my stomach. I lived in constant fear that my consistent stomachaches indicated my inability to handle grad school’s pressures. At the same time, I feared others would view me as apathetic or slacker-y if I didn’t run around stressed out all the time. Yoga helped me use breath as a safety net in these hectic multi-pressured situations (where stress comes from students, professors, what others think about me, what I think about myself, how I want others to see me, how those things affect my ability to collaborate, get excited about my work, or win departmental positions). The pain I faced was too overwhelming to ignore, and it required me to create new habits of mind and body around learning. During this time, my yoga teacher explained to our class that the pose called warrior two (pictured above) reminds us to live in the present moment. With arms stretched equally forward (toward the future) and backward (toward the past), the pose reminds us to turn our attention to the center of our bodies–our hearts and cores (the present). Posing here helped soothe my stomach pain (which existed in my core) and turn my attention to breathing as a way of handling pain and bringing my mind into immediate time and place with my body. This connection I experience between mind and body shapes my understanding of embodiment.
Still, there are historical links between learning and pain. Learning is often related to pain when some stressful or painful situation makes you remember something more vividly. I’ve heard professors explain that learning—to be genuine, effective, and meaningful—has to be painful. Some questions I have in response are:
Is it true that the pain of sitting too long, acquiring too much info at once, or stressful lifestyle choices really make us learn more or better?
What studies exist among graduate students to show the relationship between learning and pain? Is this relationship really beneficial? Or best? Or even effective?
Where does reflection/stillness fit into the simple equation that “real” learning is pain?