It was a dark and stormy night when…when…the rain fell like…like cats and dogs, and the wind howled like a wolf that…that…Oh, heck, forget it. I gotta do laundry, anyway.
Getting vibrant, unique expressions onto paper can be tough. The same is true for creations in the visual arts, music, dance, or any imaginative expression. It’s no fun when the inspirational well has run dry—rather, when the universe of creative stardust has been sucked into a black hole. When that happens, it’s tempting to force progress by thinking about how stuck we are, and how we must make ourselves get unstuck. Then the analytical mind becomes another barrier—or worse, a hostile critic.
“I’m a freelance editor,” says Daia Gerson of Marbletown. “Language comes easily to me, and I’ve worked on others’ books for years and years.” But she also longed to write her own material. “When it came to doing anything from my own imagination,” she recalls, “I always got stuck right at the beginning. I was always thinking, ‘This is not worth anything.’”
Then she found Yoga as Muse, a process created by Jeff Davis. Davis is an Accord-based writing coach, workshop leader, consultant, and author of The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing. Since Daia joined Davis’s once-weekly summer workshop, she’s seen a turnaround. “This is the first time in my whole life I’ve been able to enjoy writing,” she says. “It just comes out, it just flows.” Davis’s consulting service, Center to Page, has helped many professional writers of fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, speeches, and poets birth richer, more satisfying (and acclaimed) creations. And Davis is currently running the first longterm study of yoga’s effects on students’ creative productivity, with students from the Masters of Fine Arts program at Western Connecticut State University.
“Yoga helps writers become more aware of how to elicit insight from their own imagination, their intellect, and their emotions,” Davis explains. The process takes you to “the borderlands of consciousness, where boundaries of interior and exterior, joy and sorrow, self and other, and of magic and reality all overlap.” To reach those borderlands, Davis guides people in a three-step sequence: Set an intention for a creative session; engage in yogic upaya (skillful means) to breathe life into the intention; and then express what emerges through your chosen form (such as writing, song, dance, or photography).
Using the example of enriching one’s writing, the steps of a Yoga as Muse session would go like this: First, sit in a relaxed position (adamantine pose, or vajrasana) and take several full breaths as you set your intention. The intention might answer the question, “What am I writing for?” Your response might be “I intend to describe a thunderstorm as though it were really alive” or “I intend to receive insight to improve the opening of chapter three.” Even something like “I intend to listen to my body” will birth a different outcome to one’s writing than would sitting at a piece of paper with the thought, “I have to conjure up something remarkable to describe a storm!”
Next is the upaya segment of the session—a series of activities to bring the intention into the creative work. For instance, in a recent Yoga as Muse session, Davis led participants through a yoga asana (posture) sequence and breathing patterns to specifically boost concentration, stamina, and persistence. Davis says of the sequence, “It’s situated in the lower body. It works to quiet the congress up there [in the mind] if it’s loud. This is what I do every morning. If I don’t, I write for maybe an hour, and then I get tired. And then I fall into all my old patterns. I go eat something, I’ve got to alphabetize my books again, or get my study really clean,” he laughs.
After perhaps 20 or 30 minutes of upaya, including additional techniques such as meditation and imagery to focus inward, and on the senses to expand awareness outward, the writer begins to express in words what is emerging. Returning periodically to upaya activities helps keep the flow going, or boost it in a different direction. The results are often startlingly different from an analytical approach to writing.
Of the power of yoga to inspire, Davis says it doesn’t take much. For instance, simply taking the yoga position of downward-facing dog—supporting oneself on straightened arms and legs, bent at the waist and head downward—can shift things. “Forward bends generate images from a more intuitive insight,” Davis explains. “They are calming, and you’re not projecting your persona, your self, into the world. You’re moving within, moving some parts of the back, and the back of the mind, the emotional, limbic system.”
Carrie Ward Kelly, a certified kundalini yoga instructor in Beacon, agrees that “yoga is an excellent way of tapping into your core spirit and letting it shine.” She gives retreats jointly with her partner, Stacey Ward Kelly, to nourish creativity through yoga postures, breathing techniques, meditations, and exercises in writing and in art, including clay sculpture, painting, and mixed media. “The essence of each human being is creative,” says Carrie. “Yoga finds that creative potential. You are connecting to your essence on a very spiritual and energetic plane, and expressing that in the fullest way possible.” And it doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a creative person or not. “In being yourself utterly,” she assures, “the creation comes.”
Stacey Ward Kelly is founder and director of the Beacon Art Salon and The Art Room, also in Beacon, and is a professional photographer, visual artist, teacher, and creative writer. “One of the ways I’ve learned how to teach art is to teach to multiple intelligences,” she explains. “Each person has many different strengths, including kinesthetic.” She likes using Brain Gym exercises, a type of movement sequence that gets the body energized. “I get students standing, then squeezing themselves from head to toe, then patting themselves, then smoothing themselves. It’s a way to signal not only to your body but to your psyche that you are now doing something on purpose, specifically, for yourself. It’s a really good way to start with a clean slate, to begin your creativity.”
Denie Whalen also uses movement in her art classes. An Albany-based occupational therapist with an MA in expressive arts, she is director of New York Expressive Arts, part of an international network of professionals whose goal is “to create opportunities for the use of the visual, kinesthetic, written, and performing arts as a way of opening to the deeper dimensions of life and the universal need for self-expression.” In her classes, Whalen might begin with authentic movement, a form of kinetic expression inspired by inner impulses. “We might have an introductory warm-up, then go into a period of free movement,” she illustrates. “It helps us get in touch with our inner landscape.” She has found that asking people to simply move a piece of fabric around is beneficial. “It helps people lose their self-consciousness about moving their bodies. We start with the fabric, and then, all of a sudden, we’re moving our bodies, too!”
Whalen often draws on Gabriel Roth’s ecstatic dancing approach, using Roth’s “wave” sequence of five rhythm patterns—flow, staccato, stillness, lyric, or chaos—to inspire improvised movements. Each class participant finds the pattern that feels right for the day, and takes that into paint, clay, or other forms of expression. An example of how this can open deeper dimensions is exemplified in her class with a group of women who are working with serious personal issues. “They are turning their lives around,” Whalen says, and she is awed by the art they create. “Now they have imagery to work with. They are able to make visible what is invisible inside them.”