Yoga, Chakras and Memoir Writing
Malia Erickson: An Accidental Awakening, a memoir of family and self-discovery centers around your year-long commitment to yoga. Could you summarize for us what you feel the most powerful lessons of yoga are?
Stephanie Hrehirchuk: Yoga means union. I’ve come to appreciate that union looks different for each person, but the more you invite this ‘joining’ into your life, the easier it is for the feeling of separation to slip away. Yoga is most alive through the senses. Just for this moment, what do you hear, see, taste, smell and feel? Extend beyond your immediate self into the environment around you. Don’t judge it. Join it.
Malia: That’s a very powerful lesson. How and when did you feel compelled to share these experiences with a larger audience? When did you know that you wanted to write a full-length book about your year of yoga?
Stephanie: I began to journal during my year in yoga. Sometime leading up to fifth chakra, I felt a strong pull to share the journey that was shifting my perspective in such remarkable ways. I thought that people who struggled with similar issues could also benefit in the way I had from the practices. If my story helped even one person, that would be enough.
Paying Attention to Nature’s Signs when Writing a Memoir
Malia: You also discuss “callings” and “natural signs” (often in the form of birds) throughout An Accidental Awakening. Did the universe present you with a sign that encouraged you to write? Or not give up on your book?
Stephanie: Great question. One of the chapters that didn’t make it into the book was about this very thing. I had been out on a walk around the coulee with a friend. We talked at length about the insights that were galloping through each of our lives. After I left her at her house and headed for mine, I wondered if I had shared too much of my journey and perhaps should have kept it sacred. As I criticized myself for my overly generous sharing, a massive wind hit me head on and storm clouds rushed me.
I dropped my head into the wind and pushed for home, still stewing, when suddenly a robin appeared just ahead on my path. I slowed, waiting for her to fly away. She stayed. I approached. She walked side by side with me along the path for quite some time As we crested the hill toward my house, she turned back and left me. I felt humbled and honored by her presence. I googled her as soon as I got through the door. Her symbolism is reported to be that of fresh beginnings and finding your voice. Robin played a big part in helping me find my voice through writing.
Malia: That is so fascinating how once you tuned in to yourself, signs like the robin came along to nudge you along the right path. I really appreciated how you also talk about sometimes resisting your callings or doubting the signs. Lisa mentioned she worked with you on an early draft in her Bring Your Book to Life® program. What inspired you to return to the project? What motivated you?
Sticking with Writing a Memoir and the Role of Timing in Completing It
Stephanie: I held such a burning desire for the book. When a story wants to be told, it will find a way through you. For years, I pecked away at revisions but there were no clear signs to follow. As much as I wanted the book to be released, it wasn’t supported at that time. I did what I thought the next steps were and got up the courage to seek critique services. I continued to revise based on feedback.
When the timing was right, the Universe put the rest of the ducks in a row before me and An Accidental Awakening was born. Had I rushed it, even if the energies would have let me, I’d have regretted it. The years between first draft and final draft taught me a lot about the craft of writing and allowed me to mature as both a writer and a person.
Malia: Are there any similarities between yoga and memoir writing?
Stephanie: Yes. You are, at once, the writer and the subject of the writing. You must engage all of your senses, including your sixth sense, to re-member the details of the story. Past, present and even future merge in the process.
Malia: Yes, and there’s another example of how yoga means union. Learning balance and to take time for yourself seem to be key lessons from your yoga practice. How did these lessons help you as you wrote? What challenges did you encounter as you balanced memoir writing, spirituality, and family?
Stephanie: I became acutely aware of energy: my own and that around me. We are conditioned to manage our time, but I discovered that it is more useful to manage my energy. There is a difference between hard work and struggle. When the energy supports me, I work hard and am often amazed by my efforts. When the energy does not support a task, it quickly turns from work to struggle. I approached writing much like I now approach my meditation (yoga) practice: daily, enjoyable, consistent practice. I typically wrote for an hour and then considered myself satisfied and went on with my day. That period of time left me refreshed and often energized. If I pushed through much longer, I could feel it drain me. That commitment left me ample energy for the other parts of my day: family, clients, and always time for nature.
Writing and the Chakras
Malia: While writing An Accidental Awakening, did you return to any particular chakra or practice that you experienced on your year of yoga to help you stay focused?
Stephanie: As readers discover during the book, I am third chakra dominant. Though that poses challenges, the gift of third chakra is fire: focus, determination and drive. So, I have that naturally working for me. The chakra that helped me the most (and continues to do so) is root chakra: grounding, steady, supported. Time in nature is key for my health, creativity and longevity.
Writing the First Draft of a Memoir
Malia: You participated in Lisa Tener’s Bring Your Book to Life® program. How did this program help you develop your story?
Stephanie: The thought of an entire novel-length manuscript was overwhelming. Luckily the energy that supported the writing was an equal force. Lisa was a big part of the book’s journey. The story of how she crossed my path is an equally incredible tale, and is told in the second book. It was because of Lisa and her course, Bring Your Book To Life®, that I penned that first full draft. Thinking about it now, I can’t believe the energy that flowed through me to facilitate those 8 weeks of writing. Some days were eleven hours but the energy was always there. With the accountability and guidance that Lisa’s course offered, I was fully supported in completing that first draft.
Malia: Commitment arises as a theme in your yogic journey. How did this concept manifest itself as you began writing An Accidental Awakening?
Stephanie: My third chakra nature lends itself to commitment, however, my fifth chakra need for freedom can either sabotage my progress or free me from traveling too far down the wrong path. My writing resistance was high. But, like my meditation practice, once I got my butt in my chair and stopped making excuses (how ‘bout a nice cup of tea, maybe just a square or two of chocolate, oh, this laundry needs to be done, is that the phone I hear?…) the writing always lit me up, and I’d wonder why it took so long each day to return to it.
Malia: I like how you weave between the memories of your younger self and between Alora’s yoga practice and your own inner realizations. In many of my writing classes, we’ve studied this technique. How did you learn craft?
Stephanie: Some of it came with Lisa’s course. Some of it came through the critique of industry professionals and fellow writers. Some of it came through workshops with inspiring writers like the award-wining Canadian author, Richard Wagamese. I was equally motivated by his spiritual approach to wordsmithing and his words of encouragement during lunch. It takes a village to raise a writer.
How to Recall Memories and Capture Them in a Memoir Tweet This
Malia: In An Accidental Awakening, you capture memories with such great detail, using all your senses to describe experiences (your first morning waking up to go to yoga for example, the details of the fire chakra retreat) How were you able to remember these particularities and craft them into passages in your book? Did you always have this skill or did writing and yoga help you develop it?
Stephanie: Lisa’s advice to me at the start of the course was that the quality of my story depended on my ability to put myself back into those experiences. Often, writing became meditative for me, almost transcendent. Sometimes the energy simply flowed from one word to the next, as if someone was telling me a story. Other times, because the year had been so transformative, I just closed my eyes and felt myself back at a pivotal moment: the tunnel of love and the fear of vulnerability choking me. If you’re present in a moment, it’s easier to remember it later. When it’s visceral, you don’t tend to forget it.
Keeping and Consulting a Journal and its Role in Memoir Writing
Malia: That’s a very wise insight. Throughout that year, you often mention journaling. I’ve found journaling to be a powerful practice to gain insight into my life. Is this true for you? Did your journal serve as a rough outline for what would later become An Accidental Awakening? How does journaling differ from memoir writing?
Stephanie: Yes! Journaling for me is healing. It helps me sort out the wisdom from the noise. Writing releases stuck energy, emotions and thought patterns. Studies have even shown that repeatedly journaling about pain and injury actually reduces the perceived level of pain. I’m so glad that I journaled during that year. It was like having an outline for the book already done. Journaling is raw, honest, unfiltered and unedited. Memoir is often raw and honest but we do apply various language filters and editing in order to take the reader on a journey with us. My earlier journaling was often as fast and furious as my mind. I didn’t include the tread of the tractor tire or the peeling birch bark.
Writing Openly About Other People in a Memoir
Malia: In An Accidental Awakening, other people play prominent roles in your journey, from your family members, to your teacher, Alora, to the other “boatmates” who joined you on that year of transformation. Could you tell us what writing about other people is like? Did you notify them that you were writing about them?
Stephanie: It’s tricky. I did, one year, email everyone about the pending publication of the book, seeking their permission. Many of my boatmates were thrilled about the book and wished me well. A couple expressed concerns and I could feel their apprehension and discomfort. I like to err on the side of kindness, and felt no need to make anyone uncomfortable about my decision to write about our year. I changed all the names in the book except mine and public figures like the Dalai Lama. I also asked my husband to read his parts in the book and make sure he was good with it before publication. Knowing me as he does, he asked,” Will my opinion change anything that you’ve written?” Probably not.
Malia: Yes, writing about others can be difficult to navigate, and writing about yourself can also be a different kind of challenge. You express great honesty about parts of yourself, and your home-life that you found challenging or unfulfilling in An Accidental Awakening while also expressing your fear of vulnerability. How were you able to overcome these struggles and fears to be able to write openly and honestly for anyone to read?
Stephanie: I believe writing about it for so many years assisted that process. With a little distance comes freedom. Every revision brought a little more courage, clarity and detachment. It’s been ten years since that year in yoga. I tested the waters of publishing with a children’s book that I wrote two years ago. I enjoyed the process so much that I’ve published seven more books since then. That experience helped me be more open and confident in my writing.
Advice for Writing a Memoir Tweet This
Malia: What advice can you offer someone wishing to embark on a similar yogic journey? What about for someone planning to write a memoir of their life?
Stephanie: I guess the same advice applies for both. Know your why. Why is this journey important to you? What is your touchstone? What will keep you showing up when resistance knocks on your door?
Malia: Who is your target audience? Did you write for mothers? Yogis? Both?
Stephanie: I wrote mainly for mothers though my yogi readers are telling me they are finding benefits for them in the book as well.
Self-publishing a Memoir
Malia: You’ve self-published several books. Could you explain what that process was like? Where there any particular difficulties or parts that were more complex than you anticipated?
Stephanie: I love the world of self-publishing. It was an extremely steep learning curve but once I published my first book, I was off and running, and coaching other writers through the process. The most challenging aspect of self-publishing today is keeping up with technology. Having published many titles over the past two years, I have kept on top of changes to the industry, and it moves fast. It’s an exciting time for writers and storytellers!
Promoting a Memoir
Malia: Now that An Accidental Awakening has been published, what are your plans to promote the book during these first few weeks of sales?
Stephanie: I like to test a variety of marketing methods to see which is successful. I am running ads on Amazon, Kobo and Bookbub. I have local book signings set up, guest blog posts scheduled and social media posts to promote the book.
Malia: Which of these methods has been most successful? Are there any that you would not recommend?
Stephanie: Since I write in multiple genres, I have found marketing to be unique for each genre. Personal appearances, workshops and speaking engagements are always the most successful marketing tools for me, particularly for my wellness book, Nourish: Ayurveda-inspired 21-day Detox. Recently, I have found Kobo promotions to be effective and inexpensive. I ran a Goodreads giveaway for one of my children’s books, with little success. I am running another one for An Accidental Awakening. I suspect a higher return on memoir, but I’ll soon find out. And, of course, it never hurts to send your book to Oprah.
Stephanie Hrehirchuk is the author of Nourish: Ayurveda-inspired 21-day Detox, Householder Yogini: Practices & Journaling Exercises for Women who Live at the Intersection of Spirituality & Family and the Anna collection of children’s books. Her articles have been featured in Gaia, Finer Minds, Elephant Journal, and Sivana East. She coaches writers through the empowering process of self-publishing. A lover of nature, Stephanie has a tree planted for every print copy sold of the Anna series. Visit Stephanie’s website to read a free chapter of An Accidental Awakening or buy your copy now on Amazon.