March 27, 2013
BY VALERIE EASTON
Whidbey Life Magazine guest contributor
Long ago, my gardening, writing life, and yoga practice became so deeply and inextricably entwined that I can’t say where asana begins and potting up plants or composing a sentence ends. Lately I’ve made an attempt to gently splay apart those intimately bound threads of creativity, so I can more consciously teach my students how yoga can breathe new life into their inventiveness, as well as their bodies.
It all starts with the feet; well of course it does. Picture how babies wave their feet in the air, wiggling each tiny toe as individually as a finger. We lose connection with our feet, stuffing them into socks and shoes. No wonder our balance is impaired, our connection to the earth fractured. It’s a revelation just to stand barefoot on your yoga mat; feet placed hip distance apart and parallel, feeling the soles of your feet firmly on the ground. That rootedness – the ability to press your feet evenly into the ground, to lift and spread your toes and draw energy up your legs – can change your life.
But what does wiggling your toes have to do with creativity? The ability to channel your vital life forces, to draw prana (breath) through your body and to move your limbs and digits freely can expand your universe within and without. The sense of being embodied, the visceral understanding that we live in our bodies, allows us to more safely stretch our imagination out into the world. Yoga helps us appreciate the subtle, within us and without.
In yoga, we make space in our bodies, stretching our spine long by rooting down with our tailbones and pressing up through the crown of our heads. I’ve grown more than an inch in the 30 years I’ve been practicing yoga. We increase the flexibility and strength of our muscles and our imaginations as we stretch our calves, our shoulders, our hips. In restorative postures and in savasana (corpse pose) we drop our weight heavily into the floor or a supportive bolster, and we deeply, consciously, learn to rest. Repose, stillness, going deep – all help us renew and tap into our creative selves.
Fiber artist and Half Moon Yoga student Danielle Bodine found that her yoga practice inspired a creative breakthrough in her work.
“I had an epiphany when I was in the middle of doing a standing twisted pose… I thought… WOW… this is where the inspiration for my new series came from. The openness and expansiveness I felt in my body had transferred to my art,” Bodine said.
In every yoga pose, we pull our energies into our core, feel our strength, and then expand out. In the kind of yoga I practice and teach, this is called muscle energy; it draws our energies toward the midline into our bellies and our hearts. Radiating energy out through our arms, our fingers and toes is called organic energy. We bathe ourselves in this vibration of the universe (called spanda in the ancient language of Sanskrit) inside us, outside us, all around us. The more we catch that pulse, the more we can ride it to our creative potential.
William Broad, longtime yoga practitioner and a science writer for the New York Times, recently published “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,” a book both seriously flawed and fascinating. My favorite chapter is the one on creativity; Carl Jung, Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau all studied and practiced yoga. Broad details how musicians, actors and artists have relied on yoga as muse.
Then there’s the comforting idea of feeling the liquidity in our bodies as we move; that warm slosh of water that makes up at least 60 percent of our inner world (our brains are 70 percent water). Having a sense of our own watery nature helps us to feel that we’re fully three-dimensional human beings; gives us a sense of our ever-changing selves in the world.
From the first class, a yoga student learns in his or her bones, muscles and viscera that yoga, like any creative endeavor, is a process. On the mat, you meet your own limitations and strengths, you push and pull your energies, you massage your organs and your brain.
The quality of your yoga on any given day isn’t important. What matters is that you’re practicing. Some days you stand on one leg in tree pose as sturdily as a vast oak, your body calm, your mind centered. Other days you’re more like a poplar in the wind, swaying, touching your foot down, half falling over. Yoga teaches you to try, and then try again; every day on the mat is different.
As you try, and fail, and try again you’re cultivating so much more than just your yoga practice. You’re exploring the relationship between inner and outer worlds, while reaching a deeper understanding of wind, rain, springtime, your own endurance and flexibility, the exact right word, the perfect shade of blue….wondering, learning, and trying again tomorrow.
We begin our lives with an inhale, and leave this world on an exhale; our lives are bracketed with our breath. It’s been said that disease never begins in an oxygenated cell. In yoga, we breathe deeply, drawing the breath into congested, closed down, and immobile areas of the body. As we move in and out of postures, we energize the very cells of our body with our breath. For the first time we may become aware of a closed-fist-of-a-knot between our shoulder blades, cramped toes, our folded-in shoulders. Whether because of an injury, stored up emotion, or just habitual holding patterns, there are areas in our bodies we may not have felt or noticed for years.
As we free our muscles, our joints, our fascia and our ligaments, we free our minds and our imaginations. Tuning in to our breath connects us to the present moment, where all art and yoga take place. As rap artist Macklemore sings:
Yesterday, forget it.
Tomorrow is nada.
The present is, right here, through the breath, watch it.
Valerie Easton owns Half Moon Yoga Studio in Langley Village, where she teaches Anusara style yoga. She is a weekly columnist for the Seattle Times and Crosscut.com, and has published five books on gardening. Val will teach a “Yoga for Gardeners” workshop from 10:15 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 6. Everyone is welcome; from beginners to more experienced students. Get in touch with Easton at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 206-226-6055.