Writer Maria Thomas interviews yoga instructor Colleen Saidman Yee as part of Gaiam TV's new guide, Yoga Foundations with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee. Colleen chats about her new book, Yoga for Life, the writing process, and all things yoga. Plus, meet Colleen and Rodney.
MT: Explain how your writing process went during Yoga for Life – did you have any writing rituals, favorite times/places to write, anything like that? Did you encounter any roadblocks when writing your book?
CSY: Those are great questions, but I think a better question would be, Were there any roadblocks you didn’t confront while writing the book? From the very beginning, I didn’t think I was qualified to write a book. After all, I was a college dropout.
Furthermore, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about resurrecting some of the ghosts from my past. I had no idea what I’d committed to. Writing Yoga For Life consumed every waking (and sleeping) moment for 18 months. I have my father’s work ethic — when I say that I’m going to do something, it gets done. Add to that the deep respect (okay, bordering on fear) I have for my literary agent, Esther Newberg — I wasn’t going to let her down. So I persevered, and now I can proudly say I’m an author.
As for a writing ritual – I had no idea how even to begin this daunting adventure. Right after I was commissioned to write Yoga for Life, Rodney and I were getting ready to do a yoga tour, and wouldn’t land home for two months. I freaked. My agent told me to just sit down for an hour a day and write a story about my life – it could be anything I remembered, even if it was blah blah blah. That was important — setting up the ritual of just sitting down and looking at the screen.
At first I wrote longhand. It felt too personal to pound out on the keys of my MacBook Air. But that precious idea was sort of like me thinking I would never buy plastic toys for children — it didn’t last long. I realized how much spilling and then deleting was necessary — that couldn’t be done on yellow-lined legal paper with a #2 lead pencil. So I succumbed to my computer and was glued to it for 18 months.
I found that the best time for me to write was after yoga practice and after a strong cup of black tea. 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. was my sweet spot. I needed to have some activity in the house, but nothing that required my personal engagement. (I think that comfort and familiarity is from growing up with six siblings.) I didn’t cancel anything from my teaching schedule, which was already too full, so I didn’t have the luxury of sitting down for my sweet spot every day — I had to grab whatever I could. A lot of my work got done on the airplane. Flights have never gone so fast. I believe that my yoga practice gave me the discipline to just sit my butt down every damn day whether I felt inspired or not.
MT: What was the hardest part about writing Yoga for Life?
CSY: The hardest part of writing Yoga for Life was writing Yoga for Life. Getting started was difficult. Not quitting on the occasions when I was ready to throw in the towel was difficult. Wanting to leave out the most shameful and embarrassing stories was difficult. Rodney held me accountable to tell the truth — all of it. One of the main reasons I wanted to write the book was to inspire all women to set down their shame and guilt and adopt the mantra "You are enough." I had to live up to my message.
MT: What was the most rewarding part of writing the book?
Probably when my father read it, pulled me into his arms, and, with tears in his eyes, told me how good the book was and how proud he was of me. He also said that my writing about my mother (who died in 2012) had brought the love of his life back to him.
On a broader scale, it’s been incredibly rewarding to connect with people all over the world who have written to say that they were deeply touched by the book, which helped them unlock their own potential. This has made me even more courageous in my quest for truth. The letters that I get on a daily basis break me open and make me realize that we’re all doing the best we can, and doing it together. That unity is how peace and freedom may make their way to the surface.
MT: Do you have a favorite chapter or yoga sequence from the book?
My favorite chapters are the ones toward the end of the book — the ones about love and women. My favorite sequence changes depending on whatever is happening on a particular day. Today my favorite sequence is the one that accompanies the last chapter, called "Peace." It’s five different variations of final relaxation, or savasana.
If we asked you to dump out the contents of your purse for us, what are some of the things we’d find?
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