Make Creative Writing a Part of Your Yoga Practice
For me, yoga is the secret to unlocking creativity. (One day, I imagine it may even help me write a best-selling novel!) As a writer, it has always seemed natural to set a creative intention before the start of my practice. I often place a notepad and pen right next to my mat, just in case life-changing metaphors reveal themselves in pigeon pose. From time to time, I have even experienced this kind of creative explosion on the mat, and it always feels like magic.
Yoga is the secret to unlocking creativity.
I have felt that this magic must be explored deeply, and I've wanted to uncover the secret behind it. But when I started researching at a University in Germany (where I am from), I discovered that very little has been written about yoga and writing. Through further exploration, I also found that the situation in the United States is comparable. “Why aren't there huge academic studies devoted to this subject?” I wondered. So, I decided to take another route to answer my yoga and writing questions: I turned to yogic scripture itself. And what I found is that the timeless philosophy behind this practice offered solutions for many of the challenges that I've encountered as a writer.
We all experience “writer's block” every now and then, but imagine if we were to use the tools Patañjali offers in the Yoga Sutra to re-ignite our creative energy? Perhaps words would flow out of us like never before! I find the way Patañjali explains overcoming the nine obstacles (antaraya) through developing a one-pointed mind (sutra 1:32) and regulating the breath (sutra 1:34) to be especially powerful. Even as I began writing this article, the obstacle of doubt (samsaya) that I felt (particularly as to whether or not I would translate each word perfectly from German to English) was soothed when I applied the above methods.
Bearing this in mind, I started offering workshops at the university I was attending and at a yoga studio where I teach, and I began to do some research of my own. I developed questionnaires for the participants based on a research project conducted by Harvard Medical School entitled, “Effects of a Yoga Lifestyle Intervention on Performance-Related Characteristics of Musicians: A Preliminary Study.”
I asked participants to respond to these questionnaires before and after practicing yoga and writing. To make it easier for those who don't write on a regular basis, I gave everyone two simple creative writing exercises to try after the yoga session. Rather than creating a set structure (like outlining chapters and key plots for a best-selling novel), the writing strategies were based on spontaneity and getting into the subconscious mind.
The idea is to keep your pen moving the whole time, even if you don't know what to write.
One exercise consisted of five minutes of “automatic writing” (writing from the subconscious) which I used as the “writing warm-up.” In this method, the writer has to write everything down that comes to mind, without censoring grammar, punctuation, or ideas. The idea is to keep your pen moving the whole time, even if you don't know what to write, or if your thoughts seem too fast for your hands; you just keep writing. (This technique is inspired by the écriture automatique of surrealism.)
The other writing exercise was based on Susan Perry´s Clustering Method. During their yoga practice, participants were asked to write down upcoming ideas, inspiring words, or significant thoughts. For the Clustering Method practice, they chose one of these words as the center of a “mind-map.” Then they had about three minutes to write related words in a cluster around the center word. Then comes the third step (what I find to be the most interesting part of this exercise): Perry states that by performing word association and then observing the cluster, a so-called “felt-shift” happens, and writers simply feel, see, or know what their piece will be about.
And the results? What I read in the questionnaires amazed me far more than I anticipated. Even participants with little writing experience said they felt inspired into a state of creative flow when they wrote after yoga. It seemed that the yoga practice itself might be a key to unlocking the ease and confidence required for writing! (An interesting aside: I also got several paragraphs on pigeon pose. One practitioner wrote a particularly impassioned essay on how much they hated the pose. As their teacher, I made a mental note to give that pose a break for a while!)
Not only was everyone able to write something, but 71% of the practitioners surveyed stated that the writing helped them to clarify their thoughts. And this is why I recommend that every yogi place a notepad next to their mat.
By taking time to write down some of our observations on our own physical and spiritual development, we can gain greater self-knowledge and clarity.
As yoga practitioners, the phases we go through and the themes that arise during our asana and meditation practices often remain abstract and can quickly become forgotten. By taking time to write down some of our observations on our own physical and spiritual development, we can gain greater self-knowledge and clarity. For instance, my notes revealed to me that whenever I get too ambitious about mastering any kind of asana, my spirit feels weaker, ultimately making it even more difficult for my body to open up.
And for writers, the movements, asana names, yogic stories, and relaxations can often create the perfect atmosphere for creativity to arise. Especially during the times that I've felt blocked or “stuck,” yoga helped to reignite my creativity. In fact, some of my best ideas have come up while lying in shavasana.
A Few Things to Consider
For yoga teachers who want to try these methods with their students, there are some risks of writing and yoga that are worth noting. It's my understanding that writing exercises that focus on flow, and automatic writing in particular, can reveal both “light” and “dark” aspects of the subconscious. In fact, free-writing methods are often used as part of gestalt psychotherapy, and they can be very powerful for anyone experiencing emotional disturbances. I suggest teachers inform their students of this before teaching these practices.
Furthermore, a writing practice is definitely different from a tranquil morning yoga practice, and it may increase mental activity rather than subdue it. Take this into account and find what works best for you. Do you prefer writing during practice or afterward? Do you prefer setting a creative intention before practice, or letting your intention come to you during the process?
And finally, as with every practice, this one will be most effective when it's done regularly!
Have you tried combining yoga and writing? What's your experience? Please leave a comment below.