Interviewed by Quail Bell Magazine on the CWW’s Pre-Thanksgiving Yoga and Writing Cleanse

Jessica Reidy interviewed members of The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop about our Pre-Thanksgiving Yoga and Writing Cleanse.  Check out the article on Quail Bell or below!

Writing Through Holiday Stress


No matter how cozy your family is, the holidays are stressful. Writers need their time, space, and routine to create and sustain their work, and these necessities fall by the wayside as Thanksgiving marches nearer. Then add the surplus of heavy food, sugar-packed nostalgic treats, and the stress-eating, and you’re feeling like a hot mess and your manuscript is still unfinished. The Cambridge Writer’s Workshop (CWW) knows this all too well, which is why the Pre-Thanksgiving Yoga & Creative Writing Juice Cleanse was born. On Saturday November 22 and Sunday November 23rd, from 2-4 PM, at Ashtanga Yoga Shala in New York City, we will be hosting an afternoon of creative writing classes, yoga classes, and juice for writers who need to decompress and write their hearts out, all with a little raw juice kick.

I’ve lovingly sung the praises of the symbiotic magic of yoga and writing before, which is why I love teaching at the CWW retreats—yoga prepares the body for meditation, and writing is a kind of meditation-in-motion. When we write, we channel, and we ask a lot of our bodies and minds to sit through what can be both an ecstatic and arduous process. When I treat my body poorly, my writing suffers: I nod off at my desk, my thoughts are dulled, and my muscles ache with distracting intensity. In short, I’m made slow and thick by neglect. So the Yoga, Writing, and Juice Cleanse retreat seems like the perfect antidote to this season of self-abuse. The yoga rejuvenates the body, clears our minds, and balances our energy. The creative writing classes teach us craft techniques and kickstart our writing with exercises. And the juice delvers pure, fast, and easy to digest nutrients, unfettered by fibers or fats. The two-day afternoon retreat is a gentle introduction to a juice cleanse, especially if you never tried one before, and the reasons to try a juice cleanse are many.

There are still spots to register, which you can do here. We’ve just released our schedule for the two-day event. You can attend for both days or just one day at the price of $50 per day (all-inclusive). But for those of you waiting till the last minute, you’re in luck! There is a SPECIAL OFFER for you: Register BETWEEN 11 p.m. Mon 11/17 & 11 p.m. Thurs. NOV. 20 for $35 /day (or $75 for both)

Retreat Schedule:

SATURDAY Nov. 22  2pm-4 pm

YOGA  Elissa Lewis

“The Art of Witholding in Creative Writing”  with Jessica Reidy

Raw Juice Cleanse

“Sense of Smell, Memory, & Narrative Part One” (includes an aromatherapy session with essential oils) with Diana Norma Szokolyai

SUNDAY Nov. 24  2 pm-4pm

YOGA  Elissa Lewis

“The Art of Revision” with Jonah Kruvant

Raw Juice Cleanse

“Sense of Smell, Memory, & Narrative Part Two” (includes an aromatherapy session with essential oils) with Diana Norma Szokolyai

All classes held at Ashtanga Yoga Shala, 295 E. 8th St. (Corner of Ave B.), New York, NY 10009

Below is an interview I conducted with some of the CWW folks involved with the retreat, including our Yoga teacher Elissa Lewis, our Co-Directors Diana Norma Szkoloyai and Rita Banerjee, and our interns Megan Tilley and Alex Carrigan. They share their insight and perspective on the relationship between yoga, writing, self-care, retreats, and cultivating discipline and productivity.  


JR: How can Ayurveda help your creative practice and well-being?

EL: Meaning “the science of long life” in Sanskrit, this practice improves well-being by making our energy become “sattvic” or “balanced.” Aryuveda aims to balance energy, promoting a creative flow, which is essential for the many writers who get stuck in their own heads. Our workshop takes the Ayurvedic approach to yoga by catering to the individual, helping you become aware of ways you tend to go out of balance and gain insight on how to bring yourself back into balance.

In Ayurveda there are three types, or ‘Doshas’: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Most writers are Vata, dominated by the elements of air and space.  Autumn is “Vata -season” making Vata traits more extreme.  All three types are prone to being overtaxed by frenetic, anxious energy in Autumn. Our workshop offers techniques you can use to modify your creative practice according to your personal needs.

JR: What is the CWW’s model? And why a juice cleanse?

DNS: The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop has a tradition of pairing intensive writing workshops and craft of writing seminars with experiences that promote health and well-being.  We have offered organic gardening, juice-cleanses, energy work, and yoga on our past writing retreats in the U.S. and abroad.  We feel that when writers’ minds and bodies are healthy and clear of negative energy, they can better focus on their creativity.  We hire wonderful writing faculty to teach craft of writing seminars that are most often designed to be applicable to all genres of writing.  Our yoga coordinator, Elissa Lewis, designs the yoga classes so that the meditations and mantras can be applied to generate inspiration and clarity of focus in our writing workshops that follow.  During the writing workshops, we generate new material or share texts and receive feedback.  During craft of writing seminars, we learn about and discuss various aspects of our writing lives, including writing strategies, navigating writing problems, and establishing a sound network to support one’s writing life. Below is the schedule for our Pre-Thanksgiving Yoga and Writing Cleanse in NYC coming up Nov. 22 & 23.  Make sure to also check out our upcoming Writing & Yoga retreats in Newport, RI; Paris; and Granada this spring and summer!

JR: How does the retreat community shape your work and practice?

MT: One of the most wonderful parts about a retreat is the fact that you have other writers accessible, close to you, that you can turn to for workshopping and brain-storming at any time, outside of an academic setting. There’s no pressure for grades, or impending due dates, so the flow of conversation between you and other writers is a lot more relaxed. I tend to write more and a lot better when I have other people around me who continuously inspire me, and I stay more focused, and therefore get a lot more done (which is always a good thing).

JR: How do retreats help sustain self-care and artistic discipline at home?

AC: I think the retreat will teach us how self-care can influence artistic discipline and vice versa. Because of the retreat structure, the participants will be able to see how doing forty minutes of yoga can influence what they write in one of the workshops. I’ve started taking weekly yoga classes but still need to try doing yoga at home more. Perhaps by participating in this retreat, I’ll see how doing yoga before writing can spur my creativity.

JR: How do you keep a regular creative work routine through the holiday stress?

RB: When work and the holiday season are in full swing, things can get a little hectic.  As a creative writer who works at a university, I’m often balancing project deadlines, multiple articles to write and revise, grading student exams and papers, advising thesis projects, getting back to editors, and preparing book manuscripts all while directing the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop with Diana Norma Szokolyai and working on my own creative writing.  Having a strong and supportive group of writers and artists with whom I can commune has been essential to keeping me on task in terms of my creative projects.

At the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop (CWW), for example, many of the executive board members, interns, and affiliates, have pledged to do a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Challenge for the month of November.  We’re egging each other on to finish a book manuscript or write at least 50,000 words on our book projects by the end of November.  While many of us are working on novels proper, several members of the CWW are also completing or revising poetry manuscripts, screenplays, story collections, and longer nonfiction narratives.  And nearly each week during a CWW board meeting or through email, writers who have taken the NaNoWriMo pledge check in with one another to see how each other’s writing projects are going.  So while November signifies the beginning of the holiday season and one of the busiest times of the year, it’s incredible to reimagine November as a month dedicated to the craft of writing and harnessing one’s creativity within a supportive group of comrade writers.

As a writer, I also try to maintain a practice of daily creativity.  I try to work on one creative project each day.  For my novel project for NaNoWriMo, I often draft scenes, dialogues, and character sketches or location and background information by hand.  It’s liberating to jot down a note to yourself about a future creative writing project, chapter, or idea for a poem, even when you’re on the go.

I also find that having the flexibility to switch between genres and experiment with different modes of writing can greatly aid my creative process.  This past week, for example, I just finished polishing my full-length poetry manuscript draft, and have been querying the book project to publishers.  While I was revising my manuscript, it was wonderful to take some time off to work on individual poems, and focus on their play of sound and sense.  One exercise, which generated many provocative poems in my current manuscript, focused on the idea of creating “Mis/Translations.”  This “Mis/Translation” exercise was developed by Diana Norma Szokolyai and me for our summer writing retreats with the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.  The writing prompt is based on Robert Lowell’s concept of “Imitations” and works something like this:

A group of writers are gathered in a room (with pens, papers, and their digital or analog notebooks ready).  In order to play a game of “Mis/Translations,” each writer has brought with him/her a poem or text to read in a “foreign” language.  The poem can be originally transcribed in a “foreign” language such as Hungarian, Romani, Medieval French, Bengali, Tagalog, Swahili, Hebrew, or Mandarin, for example, or can be part of an “invented” language such as Pig Latin, Esperanto, Sound-Painting, or gibberish.

Once the “foreign” language texts have been chosen, each reader shares his/her piece with the group of writers.  Each writer, then, is responsible to hear and “translate” what is being said into a lyrical or narrative text.  Writers are welcomed to create poems, songs, flash fiction pieces, personal essays, etc. about what they are hearing.  Based on the emotive quality of each text being recited, its musicality and structural repetitions, or the play of sense and nonsense which occurs when interpreting the sounds and rhythms of a “foreign” language, each writer has to interpret and transcribe what is being conveyed and said within a given piece.  Each written piece, is thus, an act of translation and purposeful mistranslation, and can function as a fun, provocative, or eye-opening creative piece on its own.  This “Mis/Translation” exercise can also be done visually with written texts in foreign languages as Robert Lowell had previously demonstrated with his series of “Imitations.”  And as an exercise, it’s a wonderful way to kick-start the imagination and get out of that dreaded valley called writer’s rut.


Here’s a juice recipe you can try at home to get you started–

  • 1-2 stalks of fennel
  • 3 apples
  • 2 pears
  • ½ a Meyer lemon (you can leave the peel on for a stronger flavor)

I made this juice to fuel me for the CWW NaNoWriMo Challenge.

Here’s some information about the people involved with the workshop:

Diana Norma Szkoloyai is author of the poetry books Roses in the Snow and Parallel Sparrows (Finishing Line Press). Her writing and hybrid art have appeared in Lyre Lyre, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, The Fiction Project, Teachers as Writers, Polarity, The Boston Globe, The Dudley Review, Up the Staircase, Area Zinc Art Magazine, Belltower & the Beach, and Human Rights News. Founding Literary Arts Director of Chagall Performance Art Collaborative and co-director of the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop, she holds an Ed.M from Harvard and an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Connecticut.  She is also a certified reiki healer and uses essential oils aromatherapy daily.

Norma will be leading a two part workshop over the weekend, using aromatherapy as part of her workshop “Sense of Smell, Memory, and Narrative.”

Rita Banerjee is a writer, and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She holds an MFA in Poetry and her writing has been published in Poets for Living Waters, The New Renaissance, The Fiction Project, Jaggery, The Crab Creek Review, The Dudley Review, Objet d’Art, Vox Populi, Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, and Chrysanthemum among other journals. Her first collection of poems,Cracklers at Night, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010 and received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book at the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival. Her novella, A Night with Kali, was digitized by the Brooklyn Art-house Co-op in 2011. She is a co-director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has been recently featured on HER KIND by VIDA: Women in Literary Artsand on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass in Portland, Oregon.

Elissa Lewis is the Yoga & Arts Coordinator of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.  She began her journey with yoga in 2006, when she moved to France and made the practice part of her daily routine. She saw yoga as a lifestyle, not only a class, helping her to clear her mind and have more compassion for herself and others. In 2010 she moved to New York and completed her teacher training at Laughing Lotus, a creative, soulful yoga studio that teaches the student to ‘move like yourself.’ She’s taught private and group classes in Manhattan and Brooklyn ever since. Visit her website for informative yoga sequences and information.

Elissa will be leading our yoga workshops at this event.

Jessica Reidy Jessica Reidy is a mixed-Romani (Gypsy) heritage writer from New Hampshire. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart, and has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles ReviewArsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a staff-writer and Outreach Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Visiting Professor for the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop retreats, and Art Editor for The Southeast Review. She also teaches yoga and occasionally still works her family trades, fortune telling and dance. Jessica is currently working on her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about Coco Charbonneau, a half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter.

Jessica will lead a workshop on Saturday titled “The Art of Withholding in Creative Writing.”

Jonah Kruvant is one of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s  NYC area program organizers and is also a teacher, performer, writer, and student of the world.  He used to live in Costa Rica, where he wrote a popular blog, “From Gaijin to Gringo: Living Abroad in Costa Rica.”  His writing has been published in Digital Americana, and you can read about his adventures in Latin America here:

Jonah will be leading a workshop on Sunday called “The Art of Revision.”

Alex Carrigan is from Newport News, Virginia and attended college at Virginia Commonwealth University.  He graduated this year with a degree in print/online journalism and a minor in world cinema.  He is currently an intern for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, as well as Staff Film Reviewer for Quail BellMagazine.  He has written articles for The Commonwealth Times and has had work featured in Luna Luna Magazine. He is also a creative writer and has had work published in Amendment Literary Journal and in Poictesme Literary Journal, of which he was a staff member for four years, two years in which he was deputy editor-in-chief.

Alex will be assisting with the running of the weekend event, ensuring everyone has all the materials and juice they need.

If you would still like to sign up, click here to learn how to sign up. You can also email us at if you have any specific questions.  Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr for more information and to learn more about upcoming events.

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