IT’S ALL TOO EASY to find yourself on autopilot, simply going through the same-old motions: work, eat, yoga, sleep, repeat. And while sometimes sticking to your routine is a good thing – like showering every morning, without which you might start to lose friends! – it can also make your life (and, let’s face it, you) a bit boring. This is why there are tremendous benefits to stepping outside your go-to box, whether that box includes eating the same bowl of porridge every morning or going to the same yoga class every other night. The path to your escape: tapping your creative self.
Now, before you start having ashbacks to those miserable, parent-mandated clarinet lessons of your childhood, take a big breath. We’re not suggesting you need to develop the musical skills of Mozart, write the next great novel, or innovate a best-selling app. Rediscovering the creative genius inside you is actually much simpler than all of that.
“We all have many seeds of creativity in us,” says Gail Brenner, PhD, author of The End of Self-Help: Discovering Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life. “We just have to make the space for them to come through and ourish.” Of course, our yoga and meditation practices can help us do that. Read on for expert advice, techniques, and more to help you step fully into your creative flow.
First – Some incentive to get creative
Not sure exactly how dusting off your old guitar or buying a blank canvas and some paint is anything more than a distraction? Theo Tsaousides, PhD, a neuropsychologist and author of Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success, says creative ventures like these actually prompt our brains to produce and combine ideas, making us more likely to adapt, change, and grow in other aspects of our lives. “Creativity is the key that unlocks our brain’s potential,” he says. “In fact, when we don’t allow our brains to think creatively, we court a variety of problems that can affect everything from how productive we are to how much enjoyment and satisfaction we get out of our lives.” By letting your brain go freestyle and get creative, you could:
Consider the nature of depression, a condition that the Australian initiative Beyond Blue reports is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Beyond Blue states that in Australia alone, it’s estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime. Depression also affects at least 16 million Americans at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Depression often involves looking at the world through a glass darkly but being unable to change that perspective, says Tsaousides. “But if you’re in the habit of thinking creatively and coming up with options for solving problems, it can lead to a sense of hopefulness that can help stave off feelings of depression,” he says.
When we become overwhelmed with worry, it’s often because we fear one particular outcome, says Tsaousides. But if you’re able to imagine alternative scenarios, it helps to put your mind at ease.
Creativity involves taking risks – and, often, failing at what you set out to do. However, allowing yourself the freedom to try and to fail can help you discover what doesn’t work, which also shines a light on what does work, ultimately leading you to greater success. And that can fuel your hunger for more success, which in turn increases your productivity, says Tsaousides.
Take the (mental) road less travelled
We all have ways in which we think of ourselves – and ways in which we believe others define us: smart, athletic, type A, scatterbrained. “We get so attached to these labels that it can be incredibly difficult to do something outside of them,” says Tsaousides. In the Yoga Sutras, these patterns are called samskaras – mental and emotional habits through which we continuously cycle. Repeating our samskaras only reinforces them, creating little ‘grooves’ of thought and feeling that become our go-to patterns. Yet it is possible to steer out of these negative grooves, says Brenner, by reframing how we view the world, our relationships, and – perhaps most importantly – ourselves. Try these expert-approved exercises to help you find freedom from the negative samskaras that might be hindering your realisation of a more fulfilled self.
Realise that your ‘rules’ can be the exception. “We get used to our usual thought patterns and feelings, but it’s important to understand that staying in them is a choice,” says Brenner. So, recognise whatever your storyline is and become more aware of it – ideally, when you’re playing it on repeat in your mind. Maybe you habitually beat yourself up after receiving constructive criticism from your co-workers or boss and tell yourself you’re not smart enough to do a great job. Or perhaps you have a long to-do list but can’t seem to get started because you’ve failed to complete those tasks in the past – so why would this time be any different? Simply looking at the confines of your typical thoughts and behaviours will make you more likely to see their limits, and in so doing, come to recognise that other options are always available. “When you realise your self-imposed boundaries, that’s when you can work toward making a change,” says Brenner.
Sit with yourself.
All too often, we’ll exercise or attend yoga class just for the physical benefits or to connect with friends, which is great.But it’s also important to carve out time for quiet reflection, whether that’s sitting down to meditate every morning or simply having a cup of tea each night in relative silence. “Collaborative thinking and community support are great ways to help fuel your creativity and move you in a positive direction, but in order to implement changes, you need to get quiet so you can process that input and determine your next best steps,” says Christine Whelan, PhD, a professor at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Make small changes.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a new habit or do a complete life turnaround – say, by quitting your job or moving across the country – in order to tap into new thoughts and ideas. “Start by trying something as innocuous as driving a different route to work or mixing up your usual breakfast menu,” says Tsaousides. Yes, even such seemingly minor changes can help train your brain to be open to – and get ready for – bigger shifts. It’s like building up your tolerance to change so that when something big comes along, you can handle it with ease, he says.
Get comfy with discomfort.
Part of the work of shedding old patterns involves embracing the fact that you might
feel awkward or even slightly miserable in your new, unfamiliar world. The best way to practice this acceptance is to repeatedly expose yourself to situations or ideas that don’t feel easy. For example, you might volunteer to go first when presenting ideas at a work meeting even though you hate public speaking or fear that your co-workers will judge you. Or you could say “yes” when your best friend invites you to their favourite Saturday-morning dance class instead of going to your usual yoga class. When you feel uncomfortable or a little out of your element, remind yourself that your efforts are ultimately broadening your current comfort zone, outside of which new ideas await.
Repack your baggage.
“Life is a journey, and the stuff you needed in your bag to get to where you are now may not be the stuff you need on the journey going forward,” says Whelan. That means it’s time to dump it all out and really assess what’s there: material possessions, your friends, your emotions, your job, and so on. Then, ask yourself: “What’s serving me and what’s not?” And: “What’s helping me break free of my negative samskaras and strengthen the positive ones?” Once you have assessed everything in front of you, you’ll be in a better position to decide what stays and what goes.
A Meditation to cultivate your creative self
Creativity flows most readily when there is space, time, and consistency, which is what
meditation helps us achieve, making it a wonderful tool for tapping our inner creative genius, says Elena Brower, a yoga and meditation teacher in New York City and co-author of Art of Attention. “Our privilege as practitioners of yoga and meditation is to consciously create that space and time in which to dissolve limitations and receive our creative inspiration,” she says. Try her meditation below, designed to help you move beyond your usual boundaries and open yourself up to new and different possibilities. “This meditation is a simple exploration that connects you to the central channel of your body, where creativity lives and where confidence and clarity can arise,” says Brower.
- Begin by sitting comfortably, hips elevated higher than your knees. Inhale into both nostrils, all the way down into your belly. Feel light descending as you breathe in. Exhale up from your belly and out through your nostrils, and feel light rising as you breathe out.
- Next, add the elements of receptivity and listening through a simple mudra and af rmation to enhance your creative clarity. Place your hands into the shape of a bowl in front of your heart space, with your pinkies touching, palms facing up.
- Breathe deeply into your belly through your nostrils and feel a quality of receiving in your hands. Invite the source of your creativity into your physical body, noticing any thoughts or sensations as they arise. Welcome your breathing and watch it become longer, steadier, and more patient with each successive inhale and exhale. As you nd more stability in both your breath and your body, you produce rich soil in which to place the seeds of your creativity. Breathe long and fully for 3 to 11 minutes, your choice.
- To end, imagine you’re moving light all the way down into your belly, and bring your hands to prayer (Anjali Mudra) in front of your heart. Exhale up from your belly and out through your nostrils, drawing your navel centre back toward your spine, imagining light rising and emanating brightly throughout your being and into the space around you.