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Yoga for Creatives: Combining Mental and Physical Exercise to spark inspiration

When I started my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training at the Yogaraj studio under the direction of Christine West and Emily Lowry, I had no idea how teaching yoga would intersect with every single aspect of my life, from my writing to my personal relationships.

As I unrolled my mat next to the other women taking the training, I was expecting the next few months to be a thoughtful and informative look into yoga philosophy, poses, and how to teach. What I didn't expect was for both the practice and the act of sharing the practice to revolutionize the way that I see the creative mind.

Yoga for Creative Clarity

For those of you who don't know, I'm a total creativity nerd. I gave a talk for USC's version of Ted Talks about the creativity research I conducted, and I've written articles on my writing blog about the 5 basics of creativity and 9 creative approaches to screenwriting.

Because creativity is at the heart of my craft, I've always tried to dissect how it works and how to create environments that foster creativity. Whether it's the app Coffitivity that creates the right decibel level of background noise to optimize creativity when you're working at home or brainstorming exercises based in creativity research, I'm always on the hunt for new ways to prime my brain for my writing sessions so that my drafts are as good as they can be.

Until I started my yoga training, I had quietly thought that in order to create great art, you had to embrace chaos and welcome suffering through gritted teeth. The artists who cut off ears and drank themselves to death were also the ones who seemed so highly creative. I even wrote an article about how creative people sometimes exhibit traits similar to schizophrenia.

Then, I started practicing yoga more than I'd ever practiced before, and that mindset completely shifted.

I discovered that it's positive emotions, mental clarity, and the ability to feel the full extent of your emotions and then let them go that's the true secret to optimal creativity. Yoga teaches us to open up in the face of extreme emotions instead of hiding: and that mental exercise allows us to write more fully about the human experience.

One of the books that I read as part of my teacher training is The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. In it, he writes this about dealing with powerful emotions like loneliness:

"If you maintain your center, you can learn to appreciate and respect even the difficult experiences. For example, some of the most beautiful poetry and music have come from people who were in turmoil. Great art comes from the depth of one's being. You can experience these very human states without getting lost in them or resisting them. You can notice that you notice and just watch how experiencing loneliness affects you. Does your posture change? Do you breathe slower or faster? What goes on when loneliness is given the space it needs to pass through you? Be an explorer. Witness it, and then it will go."

We can't access that full "depth of one's being" without training our mind. And that's what yoga does: through breathwork, meditation, and moving through poses, we're asked to link the physical and mental, to exercise our minds just as we exercise our bodies.

Mobility and Reducing Pain through Yoga

Now, I get it: not everybody wants to get into the more mental or even spiritual side of yoga. The classroom became my church, but people still come simply because they want a six-pack. No reason is less valid.

There's a practical side of yoga and its benefits to writers and creatives, and that's how it helps to reduce pain and stave off conditions like carpal tunnel.

When we're constantly sitting at a desk, in traffic, or scrolling through our phones, we put a lot of strain on our backs, wrists, and start to store tension and frustration in our joints.

In yoga classes I've attended, people have actually started crying during deep hip stretches because of the amount of tension and emotion they were releasing just bubbled to the surface. Even if that kind of extreme emotion doesn't come up with you, the feeling of bliss after you walk out of a good yoga class comes from that sense of releasing tension patterns we've learned from sitting all day. It's true: our generation's "smoking habit" is how many hours we sit every day.

As writers, we're sitting in writers' rooms, or at our desk all day. Yoga offers twists and backbends -- which we don't do in our daily life -- to help with back pain, and I incorporate a series of mobility exercises to help warm up and stretch our wrists to combat carpal tunnel.

Some of my favorite poses to help reduce pain include active and passive twists, pigeon, restorative bridge, supine twists, and all sorts of wrist stretches and strengthening exercises.

Pain is an interesting thing: I've found that by stretching certain hip muscles, I was able to relieve back pain. Everything is connected, and if our physical body is distracting our creative mind, we won't be able to do our best work.

So it's completely fine if you don't ascribe to yoga philosophy and don't want to engage in meditation. But as our long careers will mean we'll probably be sitting at desks for many years, it makes sense on a physical level at least to give yoga a try.

Join Me for a yoga for writers & creatives Class

I started teaching because I wanted to offer a free yoga for writers. Every Saturday at 11am, I offer a free community class at the Harold A. Henry class in Mid-Wilshire so that anyone can take advantage of this practice. We've got a nice little community, and if you're curious about the practice, would love for you to join!

I'm adding new classes to my schedule, and will be teaching at this beautiful little co-working space and arts and movement community called Aunt Bessi's Creativity Center on Pico near Century City. If you want to come move with me, I'm teaching Wednesday and Friday mornings at 7:30am, and on Wednesdays I'll be hanging out and working at the co-working space and then teaching again in the afternoons at 12:15pm. You're welcome to come and do yoga and write with me if you'd like! Those classes are are a suggested donation of $15 and open to anyone. I'll be incorporating journaling and creativity exercises into my classes to help you dial into creative problems you're solving.

For my up-to-date teaching schedule, check out my website here and follow my yoga Instagram.

Even if you just take a few moments out of your day to stop, reflect, and breathe, it'll start to change your life.

Namaste, friends!

photography by Lauren Buckley


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