Even the most creative among us experience moments or even extended periods of creative blockage. I know that I feel my least creative when I’m bogged down by the details of living—managing my time, budgeting money, trying to follow Siri’s directions in the midst heavy traffic…in other words, “adulting.”
As it turns out, recent research in yoga and meditation points to a reason why these subjects of focus make anyone feel uncreative–or at least unbalanced—and why yoga may be the remedy for a slump in creativity.
The connection between yoga and creativity isn’t new, however. Notable artists and performers have turned to yoga to channel their muses and summon intuition. Actress Greta Garbo, conductor Leopold Stokowski, classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and even Sting have celebrated yoga for its ability to enhance pleasure in artistic endeavors and promote fluid expression. As Sting puts it, “I don’t think you write songs. They come through you…Yoga is just a different route to that same process.”
Even though creativity is a hard thing to measure in quantitative terms and therefore may seemingly elude the grasp of scientific understanding, a few studies have helped confirm what yogis have known to be true: Yoga whets the intuition and turns the details of the world into sumptuous brush strokes that simply make living all the more glorious.
Openness, Relaxation, and Emotional Release
Writing instructor and yoga enthusiast Jeff Davis explains that yoga helps artists (in this case, writers) refine their creative process: “ Yoga won’t make writing easy because well, writing is difficult. But yoga is helping thousands of writers to facilitate and design their own creative process—rather than to be at the whim of random flashes of inspiration, moods, or energy peaks.” In part, this has to do with yoga’s ability to restore calm to whoever practices it. Considering this inherent quality of yoga, it makes sense that by quieting the mind and releasing tension, yoga may help creatives approach their work from a grounded state, making it easier for them to see the big picture.
But yoga’s calming effects are just the first step. Emotional release—or the opening of the path between our emotional and rational elements facilitated by a calm state of mind—is a necessary ingredient of fluid creativity. Renowned yoga instructor Mel Robin explains that when yoga lessens tension, buried emotions can suddenly burst through mental blocks, sometimes prompting yogis to shed a few tears on their mats.
Brain researchers Elmer and Alyce Green explored this phenomenon in a study performed on college students. The students practiced a combination of progressive muscle relaxation (like that practiced in Savasana) and mindful breathing. The practice gave the students an inner quietude that helped improve their concentration, confidence, and ability to organize materials while moving past difficult emotions to more capably handle life’s challenges.
We have gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to thank for this state of emotionally-aware calm acquired through yoga and breath work. Practicing yoga triggers the release of GABA. GABA slows the firing of neurons, which has a relaxing, anxiety-dissolving effect. One study found that in metabolically matched walking and yoga routines, participants who practiced yoga experienced a greater increase of GABA than the walkers. (But walking is good for you, too, so don’t give that up!)
The Right Brain
Although the distinction between the right and left brain is often oversimplified (a neuroscience sin I’m probably about to commit in the following lines), the two hemispheres do, in fact, play different roles. The left brain, governing language and logic, helps us power through the bits and pieces of everyday life (like figuring out your schedule and paying for things, as I mention above). The right brain interprets the world more holistically. Intuition, emotion, spatial awareness, and aesthetics are all part of its territory.
Being creative—and successful at your creative endeavor—requires both kinds of perception. As any artist knows, a beautiful work is made manifest with the help of both a big-picture aesthetic sense as well as attention to detail and technique. Unfortunately for many of us, the details of living demand so much attention that it can feel like our right and left brains are, at least figuratively, out of sync.
Enter yoga. According to William J. Broad, author of The Science of Yoga, yoga and meditation can increase blood flow to the right hemisphere of the brain. Moreover, yoga helps us hone our proprioception (awareness of our bodies in space), which is controlled by the right brain. In other words, yoga helps develop the right brain. Not only does this aid artistic creativity, it may also enhance our ability to see the big picture and find surprising solutions to difficult problems. Thus, by improving our proprioception through yoga, we improve our sense of balance—both literally and figuratively—on and off the mat.
Has yoga brought out your inner artist? Or helped you creatively approach life’s challenges?
Related: Yoga Sequence for Creativity
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