Monday, December 14, 2009

Yoga for Pain Relief

My first contact with Kelly McGonigal was in 2006, when I interviewed her for an article in Yoga Journal's My Yoga Mentor about her online yoga course Open Mind, Open Body. We chatted for a half an hour about yoga and the Internet; I was impressed with her intelligence, thoughtfulness and how she had combined her love of yoga with her scholarship. A number of times I've turned to her for suggestions or contacts for other articles and she has always been generous with her information.

Here's my opportunity to return the favor. Last week Kelly contacted me to see if I was interested in participating in the "blog tour" for her latest book, Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Pain. I decided to talk with her about the process of writing; so many of us have free-lance writing gigs, blogs, etc., I thought it would be interesting to hear about the discipline required in putting together a whole book.

So, without further ado, here are some of Kelly's thoughts:


How did you come to write this book?
The publisher reached out to me and asked if I was interested in writing a book applying mind-body practices and psychology. The catch was, they wanted it to be a book for a specific problem, such as depression or heart disease, which is not how I usually teach (or think!).

I sat down and made two lists: all of the key messages in my teaching
(e.g. “befriend your body,” “your mind is in your body, not separate from your body”), and the populations/problems I work with most often in my teaching. I ended up choosing pain because I have been working with pain sufferers for 10 years, have suffered from chronic pain myself, and every key message in my teaching applies to pain.

But the whole time I was writing the book, I was aware that pain was
an opportunity to communicate ideas that apply to all forms of suffering, physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Did you have a reader in mind as you wrote?

I had two readers in mind— (1) a specific woman I know who is in her
mid-fifties, suffers from chronic headaches and back pain, and is a little intimidated by yoga, and (2) a yoga teacher who is interested in yoga as therapy, but hasn’t been exposed to what it can look like when adapted to individuals.

It was a bit tricky to walk the line. For example, a number of readers
with pain have told me they found the science chapter interesting but challenging. Yoga teachers, on the other hand, think it's the best chapter in the book. My publisher had another key audience in mind—healthcare providers. I decided that I would write directly to the person suffering, in language that hopefully healthcare providers could connect to.

The whole writing and editing process, I had three words written on a
piece of paper to guide my choices about what to include and how to say it: compassionate, authoritative, and encouraging. When in doubt, I asked if this section, sentence, or study supported those three goals. For example, I ended up cutting a section summarizing research on how pain medications sensitize the nervous system to pain. It was fascinating from a scientific perspective, but I realized it would be too discouraging to people who need pain medications to get through the day. I was thrilled when early readers, including my editors, used the word “compassionate” to describe the voice of the book.

Was it challenging to write a book in six months?

I had heard from other writers that once you have a contract signed,
you go through a crisis of confidence. I really didn’t think this would happen to me, since I had picked a topic I’d been writing and teaching about for so long. But sure enough, I had my ugly doubts. It hits you like a car accident—out of nowhere, and totally disorienting.

I’ll tell you what helped: during the writing process, I ended up
having a minor surgery with a painful recovery process. I used the pain relief techniques I was writing about to deal with it. The pain paradoxically made me feel better! It reminded me of the power of the techniques. How comforting a mantra meditation is, or how a restorative yoga pose can give you the sense that you are taking care of yourself. I think it would have been a different book if I hadn’t been suffering during the writing process. I felt vulnerable because of the pain, and I hope that vulnerability comes across in the book as a kind of compassion or authenticity.

I’m also an editor, so I could have edited the book for another three
years. I never would have been satisfied with it. Even after my publisher had signed off on drafts of the first few chapters, I completely rewrote them. Literally started from scratch with the most research-heavy chapter, “Understanding Your Pain.” So it was good to have a real deadline and just turn it over to the publisher.

1 comment:

PetalsYoga said...

I'm so excited about this book. Thanks so much for sharing it with us and giving us a sneak peek into the content and the author. YAHOOO... it's just what I've been looking for and will really be helpful for my Yoga for Healing class!

Thanks again Brenda!