What is creativity? Can yoga practice help us take a more creative approach to life?
Often, being creative is confused with being artistic. People assume that if they can't paint, write or perform then they aren't creative. But of course the true concept of creativity has a much wider remit and can refer to many things, such as the way we make choices, solve problems or present ourselves to the world.
According to the dictionary, creativity is defined as 'manifestation, originality of thought, showing imagination and bending rules or conventions'. Which is not as easy as it might sound. Our culture does not, in general, encourage individuality and our obsession with goal-setting and achievement, which can be attributed to the left ('masculine') hemisphere of the brain, tends to inhibit meandering in the unknown, which is the realm of the right ('feminine') hemisphere, and which is essential for creativity to occur.
In psychology circles, the popular theory that people are either left or right-brain dominant (thus logical or creative by nature) has largely been disproved. Instead, what is required for successful creative activity is balance and good communication between the two hemispheres. What better way to balance the brain than to coordinate it with the body during yoga practice...? In the words of Jeffrey Davis, Creative Consultant and yoga enthusiast, “the ability to watch your mind at work and play is instrumental in thriving as a creative in any field.” People who engage in conscious mindfulness techniques such as yoga are much more able to function on this level, as their prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for self awareness) is more awake.
Relaxation is also a key part of the creative process. Just as seeds need time to gestate before they form fully, so do our creative ideas. We have probably learnt from experience that if we want to solve a problem, it is best not to sit down to try and figure it out. Instead, we prime the mind with necessary information, step back and then go do something relaxing (a process described by scientists as the Eureka Effect, or by psychologists as 'getting out of our own way'...) So gentle physical exercise such as yoga asana, deep rest such as yoga nidra, and any type of meditation technique can be hugely beneficial if we want to make space for our seedling creative notions to grow.
Women have a particularly potent link to the force of creativity as their bodies tangibly pulse with the creative cycle during each menstrual month. Whether they are in the outwardly manifest phase of ovulation, the inwardly reflective phase of bleeding or somewhere in between, women are able to taste each subtle nuance of creative unfolding and, if encouraged, learn to give these subtleties the space and respect they deserve. Unfortunately though, our culture's preoccupation with unending productivity has left women a little disconnected from their inner rhythms. Again, this is where yoga steps in, inviting yoginis (female yoga practitioners) to acknowledge the truth of how they feel each time they come to the mat. A woman with regular menstrual cycles attending class once a week will have a different experience each time. Maybe she will feel spring-like and energized during her pre-ovulatory quarter, or autumnal and scattered come the pre-menstruum. Instead of wishing things were different and forcing constancy on her body and mind (as our culture often dictates), she can engage with the yogic concept of ishvara pranidhana– or the surrendering to what is, allowing creativity to ebb and flow naturally and at its own pace.
An excellent way to become more familiar with ebb and flow, whether we are in a male or female body, is to observe our breath. As we come to realize that there can be no refreshing inhalation without letting go of the exhalation, our understanding of the creative pattern deepens. Old paradigms break down and new ones replace them in an inter-dependent dance of release and renewal, of manifestation and change. This, coupled with the Vedic knowledge that breath-flow through the nostrils (swara) can influence left and right brain activation, makes the yogic focus on breath a powerful tool when engaging in creative endeavour.
The comedian John Cleese claims that "creativity is not a talent, it's a way of operating". Testing our boundaries in yoga practice, balancing rest with activity, becoming self aware and cooperating with our inner rhythms are all gifts that will enhance our ability to lead more creative lives and make more creative decisions in the wider world. So if you have a problem to solve, an idea to come up with or a personal identity to reinvent, head to the mat, practice without distraction and all will be well!
Image by Karmym
First published in 2015 to accompany a series of yoga workshops to encourage creativity