May 9, 2015

Yoga and the 4 Pillars of Creativity.

Yoga teacher

Creativity is innate. Every time we make a choice, dream of a possibility, say no to someone and yes to something else, we are using our creative power to shape the waking dream that is our life.

Artists harness creativity in a unique way to create works that carry and convey beauty and stir our souls—but everyone has it in abundance.

If creativity is a channel coursing through us, it’s either flowing freely, or somewhere the water is blocked. People, life events, beliefs, trauma, stories, habits and, most of all, our own self-concepts and perspective can become boulders in the stream or, if significant enough, full-on dams.

Whatever the cause of our creative blocks, it is up to us to take responsibility for freeing them. While creativity can’t be forced, there are tools that we can use to gently coax it along.

The ancient art of living we call yoga offers a myriad of them.

The creative process can be broken down into four ever-expandable and explorable stages: Inspiration (the spark of the idea), Motivation (the will to pursue this idea), Dedication (the intent behind the idea) and Manifestation (the physical expression of the idea).

Each stage has its own set of common blocks or dams, which can be opened by particular yogic practices to help move us into the next stage of a project. Find the point of stasis that you are in now, or repeatedly get stuck in, and work with that particular practice.


This stage of the creative process is perhaps the most mysterious of all: where do our ideas come from? Like spring, artistic inspiration often seems to come out of nowhere but, like a tree, the mind and body of the artist are in eternal motion. Just as the seeds and buds can only burst through their shells and pods after the necessary hibernation, so creative inspiration needs the same quiet space, emptiness and stillness in preparation for the immense work of bursting forth and growing an idea or aesthetic concept.

In a world obsessed with information and production, there’s pressure to be in a permanent creative upswing, and it can feel defeating to let the fields lay fallow.

But if we are constantly filling up with information and exposure, when do we find time for the seed to take hold?

If you are uninspired, practice Pratyahara (‘control of the senses’)

This meditation practice is done by blocking your ears with your thumbs, covering your eyes with your index and middle finger, and blocking your nose with your ring fingers. Sit in meditation for at least five minutes. The silence and stillness we find in meditation gives us the emptiness we need to hear ourselves, and inspiration bubbles up from our creative unconscious.


Motivation is in large part about curiosity—to see what huge fire a little spark could become. Motivation is also part of our natural compulsion to nurture and grow something, as well as to play. Play is spirit expressing itself in physical form, and creative work takes on a very different form and experience when we are motivated by spirit, not by stress. Stress-motivated work is filled with anxiety, which blocks the creative flow, while spirit-motivated work taps us directly into our power stream, an infinite source to draw from. Motivating through spirit actually means that we are doing what fills us up with energy because we are absorbed in the absolute love of what we are doing; it’s the archetype of the scientist so impassioned by his work that he forgets to eat for days.

If you are struggling with motivation, practice: Mantra (‘sacred utterance’)

Recall the feeling in your body of doing something you want to do, and not something you have to do, and adapt this mantra to suit you: “I am creatively and artistically motivated by spirit, not by stress.” Use your mala beads, or the number of letters of the keyboard, or paint colors on your palate, or notes on a scale to decide the number of repetitions. Use this mantra before or during your creative work time, or as often as you need and feel the difference in your body as you work.


What is your heart-felt reason to write a song, a poem, or turn brush strokes into a masterpiece? What is the impassioned message and feeling you want to convey? Dedication is the “why” to the inspirational “what,” but can easily be hijacked by compliance. Its enemies are peer pressure, conformity and the fear of being rejected or disliked. These are some of the biggest creative dams out there, and they revolve around how and where we build and support our sense of self-worth.

Dedication sits at the heart chakra, symbolically the center-point between me and you, inner and outer, reality and possibility. The heart of dedication lies in the power of balance: loving ourselves without being self-important; being compassionate without giving away our time and vision. Can we forgive ourselves—in times of self-pity, for not creating, for not trusting, for not self-motivating? Can we forgive others—for hurting our artist-selves, for bursting our precious bubbles of creative vision, for trying to change us?

If you are struggling with dedication, practice: Vrksasana (tree pose)

A little symbolism goes a long way for artists, and it’s no stretch to see how honing your physical balance overlays where you struggle for personal balance in your life. Notice the self-talk and emotions you feel when you struggle to stay standing; how do these feelings speak to your creative practice and your relationship with yourself and others directly or indirectly involved with your work?


This is the stage where dedication to your creative practice and your yoga practice is critical to get you from fantasy and illusion to reality and success. This is where so many artists (including myself) fail time and time again. Inspiration? No problem. Message? I am a writer, when do I not know what to say! Getting to the studio before noon? Well, winter makes me tired. Producing five thousand words a week? My day job is so stressful and I don’t have time. Sound familiar?

Derived from the root word tap, meaning ‘heat’, tapas, in modern yogic terms, is the inner fire stoked through discipline, austerity and integrity needed to achieve enlightenment. Tapas is one of the ten ethical yogic principles for skillful living. For the modern artist, tapas is instrumental to the final stage of the creative process.

If you are struggling to manifest your artwork, practice: Tapas (‘sustained effort and discipline’)

Choose your least favorite pose and, despite all desire to run away, stay, stay and stay in it. Get deep into the physical fire and the mind game of resistance: what are you telling yourself? Are you making excuses? How do you justify your likes and dislikes? When you approach your art, start with the thing you dislike about it the most and do it until it’s done. Do you feel stronger after staying in the tough spots? Have you produced tangible results? I would wager a yes.


Author: Mara Munro

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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