We might be able to understand how yoga can be used to help us get physically stronger and more flexible as well as chilling us out – but can it really be an effective tool for tapping into our creativity?
Let’s start with defining some terms.
Yoga would be a good place to start. Well, the word ‘Yoga’ itself literally means ‘union’. This definition always left me feeling a little underwhelmed.
Union? Is that really so significant, meaningful and – dare I say – enlightening?
But in pondering creativity more, I’m getting excited about the term.
I’m excited because for me, creativity is all about union. It’s the union of disparate ideas coming together and forging something new and novel and – importantly – of value.
You can bang a rubber a chicken and a pear together for days and still result in nothing creative.
So in this sense, I can see how yoga and creativity could, abstractly, be connected.
I don’t think you write songs. They come through you…Yoga is just a different route to that same process.
But now let’s move away from the abstract, and get concrete.
Yoga means a lot of things to a lot of people, but let’s say for the sake of argument there are two things happening here: a mental practise and a physical practise.
Creativity too has more definitions than I care for, but let’s say here that creativity is the process of forming connections and acting on them in some discernible way.
Now we’ve got something to work with, let’s look at some science.
Yoga for mindfulness, mindfulness for creativity
The first real benefit I found in my own yoga practise years ago was it’s profound ability to calm me down. The simple act of focussing on my breath, and not the disturbing milieu of thoughts racing around my mind, was enough for me to catch a glimpse of peace.
From there, I had a tool to work with when I needed to change my mental state for long enough to make some art.
It’s possible that it’s just the meditation part of yoga that gets us into a more creative state; a 2014 study conducted at Leiden University found that mindfulness-based meditation led to an increase in innovative thinking and the generation of new ideas.
But for many of us creatives who consider ourselves prone to being ‘stuck in our heads’ and who struggle with sitting still in padmasana (lotus pose) or even lying still in savasana (corpse pose) it is the moving aspect of yoga that gets us into this meditative state.
I personally would never have found the benefits of mindfulness meditation if I hadn’t given yoga a go. Still today, you can’t get me to meditate unless I’m lured to a yoga mat and have given my mind a chance to cooperate with my body and breath for a while first.
Yoga for physical exercise, exercise for creativity
The other (somewhat obvious) aspect of yoga is the physical element: moving your body, sometimes very slowly, sometimes vigorously. Either way, this moving form of meditation could be seen as a pretty good workout for all types of body and ability.
And the science says… exercise might just be another creativity conductor. This study is just one that suggests exercises helps us in both divergent thinking (gathering ideas) and convergent thinking (bringing ideas together).
Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
~ Haruki Murakami
We’ve all been there. Plugging away at the laptop for hours, till we literally feel like we’ve run dry of creative juices and that there’s a good chance we’ll never birth another creative idea worth a damn again.
Then, in pure frustration, we surrender. We might go for a walk to the corner store to pick up some bits for dinner, and on route – BAM. The creative brainwave we’ve been trying to lure out all day has found us.
Is this just comedic timing, or is there something to the act of moving our body that brings our mind into a creative state?
According to Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, exercise affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety.
So even if it’s getting your heart rate up with a few sun salutes mid afternoon, it might be enough to keep your creative juices flowing – and keep the inner critic at bay for a while.
Specific yoga practises for increasing creativity
Here’s an idea. We create using the contents of our senses. That means we’re collecting information from the world around us, taking it in, noticing some stuff more than other stuff, committing what we can to memory and letting it simmer until we’re ready to use it.
However, if we’re constantly flooded with input, we don’t really get a chance to let it simmer and come to a place where we can output.
This is when the practise of pratyahara, or ‘control of the senses’, might be worth trying. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga (there are eight in total), and is all about regulating our input from the external world so that we can delve deeper into our inner world. This inner reflection can give us the space we need to get our creative ideas out.
So whatever creativity is, it seems like there’s enough evidence (placebo effect or not) to suggest that it would be worth hopping onto the yoga mat if we’re experiencing some creative block. After all, it’s probably a better option than continuing to stare at a blank page.