By Azriel ReShel on Tuesday January 5th, 2016
Practicing yoga can rewire your brain for innovative thinking
It is well known that the ancient art of yoga promotes health and wellbeing, but a great side benefit of regular yoga practice is it dramatically supports and broadens creative expression.
Yoga practice and the refining of the inner emotions, while bringing balance to the body, mind and soul, leads to a vivid vibrancy of artistic expression in a person. Certainly when you’re used to standing on your head, or twisting your body into interesting shapes, it has an effect on your brain and your sense of yourself.
I remember the first time I successfully practiced a headstand. I’d been building up to it for months and then one day my Ashtanga teacher said: “you’re ready”. The combination of his belief in me and the ease in which my head supported my body, was a leap in consciousness for me. I felt unstoppable, superhuman, and brave. By achieving this king of asanas, especially after so much regular practice and months of solid preparation, I vicariously understood the creative process – practice builds success.
Stretching your Creative Expression
Do your practice and all is coming. – Sri K Patthabi Jois
This is true of writing, art, music, and any creative discipline. The more you practice, the better you get, but also the more you experiment, trust and step out of your comfort zone, the better the result. You get that resounding wave of creative energy as you reach your edge and transit into the unknown world where genius awakens.
The specific benefits of yoga on creativity and self-expression are many. The expanded consciousness, insights and elevated perspective gained through being on the mat, have a profound effect on your creative expression.
The practice of mindfulness long shared by spiritual teachers, especially Buddhist experts, is increasingly becoming more mainstream and has been shown to greatly reduce stress, increase wellbeing and happiness and promote innovative thinking or the thought processes that generate and explore creative ideas. The mindful synchronisation of breath and movement in yoga brings clarity and focus.
Creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment, we are timeless. – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
Practicing yoga unblocks the energy channels in the body and leads to greater life force and vitality, increased circulation of blood and prana, which has a wonderful effect on the brain and the heart. A regular yoga practice balances the hormones, tones your organs and enlarges your chakra system enlivening the energy system of your body.
A freedom of spirit, always leads to a certain creative wildness and expression. The greater mental clarity and aliveness one has, and the more your spirit is unrestricted by mental or societal constraints, the greater your creative expression. Through the increased energy flow and suppleness of the body, the mind and creative force is expressed more as a torrent than a trickle.
Yoga and the Brain
Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees. – BKS Iyengar
Research is showing that meditation changes the physical structure of the brain in significant ways. Meditation and reflection have been shown to increase frontal cortex activity (linked to focus, calm and concentration) and even enlarge that part of the brain.
There have also been a number of studies showing how yogic breathing practices increase the Alpha brain waves associated with lower levels of stress and greater levels of creativity. Alpha brain states are where brilliant ideas arise, and where athletes find their zone.
Yoga practitioners consistently enjoy much more time in the Alpha state and have increased memory, creativity and intuition.
In a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in Feb 2012, researchers at UCLA studied the brains of people who had been meditating for years as well as the brains of short-term meditators or people who had never meditated. Through MRI scans they discovered that long term meditators showed higher levels of gyrification (a folding of the cerebral cortex associated with faster information processing and brain effectiveness). The longer a person had been meditating, the more gyrification showed up in their MRIs.
Opening the portal for inspiration
Sitting on the mat in meditation after practicing intentional movement connects us to something greater than ourselves, to the cosmic force of the universe, the source of all creative power. By plugging into universal consciousness and experiencing ourselves as more than our bodies and our individuality, we expand into a higher reality where inspiration resides.
The feeling of wellbeing we have after yoga practice is both the experience of the vital force flowing through our bodies, but also the palpable connection to something greater than ourselves. This expanded perspective births original ideas and visionary creations.
When I am silent, I have thunder hidden inside. – Rumi.
Yoga helps me to be more receptive, and open. Practicing yoga has softened the edges of my ego and the rigidity that keeps my perspective closed and limited. Being an empty vessel for divine inspiration, by being present and receptive, the mysteries of the universe can flow out through your hands.
Discovering your authentic self
Most of us through the traumas of life and the taming of our instincts, have drifted away from our authentic selves. Yoga encourages us to be real. It helps us to connect with our true feelings and our deepest selves. Yoga supports us to tap into the yearning of our soul and the unique creative expression wanting to flow through us. It has the effect of aligning us with our authentic selves: that inspired place where the inner child roams freely and self-expression is uninhibited and natural. When the body, mind and spirit are in harmony, our creativity flows with great clarity.
BK S Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, founder of Ieyngar Yoga and responsible for popularizing yoga in India and the world, was a householder, who practiced yoga for over 70 years, teaching thousands of students and he says:
It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.
Balancing emotions blocking creativity
According to Julia Cameron, author of one of the definitive texts on creativity, The Artist’s Way, the most common impediment to creative expression, is fear. This thief of joy, can stop us in our tracks before we’ve even attempted to express ourselves.
The fear of exposure, failure, judgement, or not getting it perfect, is crippling for artists. Even world famous writers or artists fall prey to this fear, and report suffering from anxiety when attempting a second novel, or new artwork, despite a history of tremendous success with a previous creative work.
The practice of yoga helps release stress and emotions held at a cellular level. Most emotions are held in the hips, heart area and shoulders and yoga is unique in supporting deep release in all these areas. Many studies now show the profound ability of yoga to release trauma from the body and the positive effect yoga has on people suffering from PTSD. The more we heal our nervous system and come to a place of inner calm and reflection, the greater our creative expression.
On a more practical level, yoga irons out the physical toll our creative expression can take on the body. Many artists, photographers, or musicians stay in the same position for hours on end: a simple yoga practice releases the emotions, stress and contortions of the body, easing repetitive strain and bringing the body and mind back to equilibrium.
As a writer, my favourite go to asanas to support the creative process are Down Dog, Rabbit, Wide legged Forward Bend, Shoulder Stand, and a few sets of Sun Salutes. Inversions refresh my mind and arm balances help me find my motivation and inner strength to write, and the conviction that I have something valuable to say.
Here and now is where yoga begins. – Yoga Sutras