Here’s the fantasy: You step into your sacred workspace on a peaceful morning just before dawn, fully rested and ready for your uninterrupted date with the muse. You pick up your pen or paintbrush or guitar pick with optimism, and the words or lines or notes come rushing from your subconscious as creative inspiration flows through you like water.
The reality: If you’re lucky, you get a few good sentences down on the page, pick the colors that speak to you, or nail the first two measures of a new song. And then… nothing. Your smartphone pings, and you reach for it instinctively. Before you know it, you’re scrolling. The coffee you poured is cold. You’re hungry. Your cat is hungry. You should probably shower. Did you even brush your teeth yet?
The truth is, no matter how many times you start, stop, and start again, your creativity is never dependent on how much you produce in an hour, a day, or even a decade. Ingenuity and imagination are defining characteristics of the human experience. We are all creators, whether that creativity manifests traditionally as great works of art or discovery—or as quieter moments and expressions of imagination and inventiveness. We simply need to give ourselves permission to create and establish practices that help us find the time and the confidence to do so. Your yoga mat is a good place to start. Your practice will help you get out of your thinking, judging, procrastinating mind and into your body, where you can begin to move stuck energy and awaken the muse within.
THE ART OF SELF-STUDY
Although creativity is often defined as a process that generates something novel and original, any creative endeavor requires us to cultivate a strong and sincere relationship with ourselves before we can begin to express any of that outwardly. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, creativeness (his preferred term) is a necessary component of self-awareness and self-actualization. In The True Secret of Writing, author Natalie Goldberg writes, “underneath everything we long to know ourselves.” The ancient yogis say that’s precisely why we practice—to uncover the truths that lie beneath our judgments and fears.
Yoga gives us the discipline (tapas) we need to keep showing up, even when we’ve hit a roadblock; the opportunity to examine the obstacles that get in the way of knowing our true Self (svadhyaya, or self-study); and the ability to let things unfold as they are meant to (Ishvara pranidhana).
GETTING INTO THE BODY
Nailing a Forearm Balance isn’t the most difficult element of a physical asana practice. No, it’s calming the so-called monkey mind and establishing a sense of contentment in Child’s Pose or surrender in Savasana. Navigating the emotional disease and discomfort that may arise when you’re in a posture and coming into stillness can provide the foundation for finding repose and acceptance when struggling through the not-so-Instagrammable creative block.
When you’re stuck, get on your mat, even if you aren’t in the mood. Feel your feet on the ground and begin to move, letting go of the need to do the pose perfectly. After a while, you may even find yourself in “the zone” or in “flow,” a space described by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of consciousness and total immersion in the moment, where all external sensory stimulation melts away. This renewed focus will propagate a greater appreciation for whatever it is that you’re doing. Afterward, you may emerge feeling more confident and energized.
WAKING UP THE MIND
Almost every person has an editor on their shoulder, scolding, tsking, and offering unsolicited advice. Learning to approach creative practice as ritual, much like you do other meditation or mindfulness practices, will give you plenty of tools to hush the critic and move past any creative resistance.
Opening your newly discovered toolbox, you’ll first find conscious breathing. Each full inhalation is an opportunity to create space, while each exhalation is an opportunity to explore that expansion. Breathing sends fresh oxygen to the brain, filling the control center of our bodily vessel with life-force energy to improve overall function, boost cellular activity, and wake us up.
Next, you might find boredom. When your brain has all that life-force energy at its disposal, it’s awake and ready to create. In order to do that, however, it needs to be left to its own devices. Let your mind drift off into space. It may sound counterintuitive, but if necessity is the mother of invention, then boredom is the mother of creativity. In a 2019 study published by the London School of Economics Business Review, researchers Guihyun Park, Beng-Chong Lim, and Hui Si Oh found that boredom has a unique effect on creativity. Their research found that when people are bogged down with a mindless task, they encourage their brains to explore new patterns of thinking and problem-solving. This is similar to what happens when we sit quietly in contemplative inquiry—we’re embracing boredom.
Which leads us to meditation. Research shows that people who practiced both yoga and meditation have elevated levels of alpha brain waves, which boost creative thinking. Studies have shown participants’ brain waves became “rhythmic and orderly” as their minds settled into the practice. The solution for busting through a creative block, then, is simple: Move your body, free your mind from distraction, and the rest will follow.
That doesn’t mean that doing some Sun Salutations will automatically invoke the muse. But yoga and meditation, as rituals, can help us find steadiness and stimulate the senses—not unlike keeping a gratitude journal or strolling around your neighborhood sans phone. It’s the disconnection and subsequent tapping in that work wonders for the creative process.
Daily Ritual: Early Morning Freewriting
Do this exercise without expectation or the desire to achieve a certain outcome or goal.
No matter what your creative calling is, freewriting can help you loosen the grip of insecurity and get into the flow before your mind yields to the more pressing matters of the day. Wake up 10 minutes earlier than you normally would, grab your journal, and begin writing while still in bed. Write whatever comes to mind without worrying about whether it makes sense. Try this every day for at least a week, and notice whether the path to your creativity changes. Are you able to relax into the rhythm of your process at the end of the week more easily? Does inspiration come from new sources? It might be interesting to read over what you’ve written to see what surfaced—any surprises or insights into your creative process? If so, be sure to reread what you wrote to reflect on what helped get you there.
Weekly Ritual: A Creativity-Boosting Yoga Sequence
One of the biggest hurdles we face when creating—or practicing yoga—is learning how to get out of our own way and plug into the flow of the present moment. Whenever we’re lacking imagination, we can always come to the mat to move energy around and distill the chatter.
For a sequence that taps into the source energy of creativity, rousing the sacral chakra (svadhisthana) to channel the muse, try this asana practice for creativity. The poses in this sequence also stimulate the throat chakra (visuddha) to hone authentic self-expression, open the heart chakra (anahata) to rekindle the flames of passion, activate the crown chakra (sahasrara) to awaken us to higher insight, and energize the solar plexus chakra (manipura) to increase motivation and confidence.
Monthly Ritual: Vision Boarding
A vision board physically identifies what it is you seek and acts as an intuitive road map to get you there, harnessing the powers of manifestation and the law of attraction. Olympic athletes use imagery and visualization techniques to focus in on what they aim to accomplish. These techniques help activate their senses in such a way that imagining their desired outcome gives them a greater chance of achieving them. Neuroscientific studies have proven the effectiveness of this approach.
On your own or with friends, gather a stack of magazines, photographs, and printouts, along with scissors and glue. Choose images that inspire you and align with your goals—what you wish to magnetize into your life. Cut out phrases or letters to string together your own affirmations or mantras, especially if you have limiting beliefs (think money, work, or your abilities). There is no wrong way to make a vision board, as long as you’re giving yourself permission to express your dreams in physical form. This is a great monthly manifestation exercise—particularly near a new moon, a moment that’s ripe for intention-setting. You can choose to make a new vision board each month or continue adding to what you’ve begun. This is your opportunity to flex your creative muscles and make something with your hands—if your inner artist is inspired, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Ongoing Ritual: Media Detox
The addictive 24-hour news cycle can inhibit your imagination’s ability to flourish. Consider what may be blocking you: listening to the radio or podcasts on your commute, scrolling through news feeds, or using the TV for background noise. Create parameters around screen time and audio disruptions by designating technology-free hours.
Then pay close attention to the moments when you feel compelled to fill the void with noise or other stimulation. Is being alone with your thoughts uncomfortable? Take note of those feelings without judgment—and then watch how your mind begins to replace them. Keep a note-book nearby, and write down the random thoughts that float to the surface. Try drawing a picture or coloring to fight off the urge. Over time, notice how your creative process transforms in the absence of outside distraction.
Additional reporting by Linda Sparrowe.