Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yoga for Creativity

JAN: I used to say I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I was trained as a reporter, after all, and we wrote on deadline, on command. It was all a matter of self discipline.

But that’s because I was defining writer’s block as a long period of time in which you wrote absolutely nothing. Now I define it differently: As certain days, or even a week, when writing is difficult and not all that productive. Now, I suffer from it.

Although I've always loved to practice yoga, up until last week, I wouldn’t have necessarily believed that yoga postures could affect creativity. That unlocking a stuck chakra, or energy field of the body, could affect the mind. But after a full day at a yoga retreat at Easton Yoga Center, with studio owner and yoga instructor extraordinaire Liza Keogh,(pictured above) I’m willing to give it a try.

I also got advice from one of the most creative people I know, Lees Yunits (pictured right). Besides being a yoga instructor, she is a musician and composer who has produced three CD’s of original music, and the author of a memoir about the ten years her husband was mayor of a city facing financial decline. We, The Mayor (available at )

So what postures do they believe spur creativity? And why, exactly?

LIZA recommends:

A sun salutation first thing in the morning. A sun salutation is a flow of poses, always beginning and ending in what’s called a mountain pose: standing straight, feet rooted in the ground, hands hanging by your side. You raise your hands over your head, eyes upward “connecting with higher realms for inspiration,” as Liza describes it.

There are a number of variations, but most involve a plank pose (which looks like a pushup), lunges, cobra or some form of backbend, a downward dog, and another forward bend. See the video below.

Liza calls says this fluid motion of poses helps open the body and the mind and gets at two important chakras. The chakra near the throat that can block “the voice,” and the chakra just underneath the sternum that affects. “willpower.”

Liza, who is also a designer and visual artist, says that if you can center yourself through awareness and exercise, it quiets the busy “to do” list maker inside. She says you need to silence this "monkey mind" to go to a deeper level and hear “the voice” that will inspire those brilliant ideas.

LEES recommends: The reverse table top posture, which is a form of bridge. You start in a sitting posture, your feet in front of you, hip distance apart, hands at your sides. You raise your pelvis and back, lifting your belly button to the ceiling so that your abdomen is level with your knees. Your weight is on your hands and feet, your arms are straight, and your knees are bent close to the body. You look like a desktop. Let your head fall backward and breathe.

This posture unblocks the chakra near your throat the affects voice, and also your pelvic area chakra, which represents procreation and thus, creativity.

Lees also recommends “the breath of fire,” which is a very rapid inhalation and exhalation from the diaphram (and through the nose) for three minutes. This kind of breathing is also called skull shining breath – "because you can sense after you’ve done it your brain feels open and alive and refreshed."

Lees suggests this not just before you start writing, but whenever you start to feel stuck.

And for the advanced, there’s the headstand. But that’s another blog.


  1. This makes a lot of sense. I'm going to put the sun salutation on my pre-writing schedule. I've just started a weekly Kundalini class where we do breath of fire frequently, too. Cool stuff.


  2. Hi Edith,
    I had an amazing breakthrough after the yoga retreat. And I think we all get "stuck" in different ways, and at different times, so I'm a believer.


  3. The language of yoga poses a problem for me. It identifies and heavily involves concepts that have not taken precedence in Western thought. But just because words and ideas are unfamiliar, doesn't mean they should be discounted, and yoga is a first-rate example of healthy ideas sometimes cloaked (to me) in unnecessary flummery. I learned yoga long ago from a man who never described what we in his class were doing in non-Western or mystical terms. Perhaps that is my loss. But it allowed me to begin the practice at a time when I would not have considered it because of what I then thought was "mumbo jumbo." Since then, I haven't found a yogi to match his plain-spoken way of encouraging breathing and stretching, but I still try to practice yoga precepts constantly, and your post encourages me to again practice some poses. Thanks!

  4. I used to take Pilates classes. But I still like playing solitaire to unwind before writing. :-)

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  5. Terry,
    I had to take Solitare OFF my computer because I'd start and NEVER stop. You must have willpower that I don't have. (especially when it comes to cards) I do Pilates, too, which is great for the body, but doesn't do the same thing for my mind. ~


  6. Gene,
    I've had all sorts of yoga instructors that ranges from its mostly just an exercise leader to those that are more heady. The also have different names for the same poses, which throws me from time to time.

    Back when I used to write about health I was always hoping there would be western research to back up the Yoga concepts -- now its everywhere.

    Being skeptical about everything, chakras were always a little "iffy" to me. But I had an experience that made me a believer.


  7. I THINK yoga is just an exercise and then when I do it - dang, if I don't feel different afterwards. I should try to make it a part of my life but I have a natural inclination to want to move fast, not slow.

  8. Greetings! It was lovely to have Jan at the recent retreat day held at my yoga center, and quite good news to hear she's making some progress on getting 'unstuck'.
    As a former designer/visual artist, I've employed any number of techniques to get me where I wanted to be in terms of connecting to an idea then creating the space where I could 'make it so', as well as figuring out which medium might best express what was trying to get out.
    In college, a bit of alcohol, punk rock cranked loud, + late late nights helped drown out the 'monkey mind' and get me deeper access... but that kind of wear and tear on the body wasn't going to keep me going in the long run.
    Finding a yoga practice I could stick with was revelatory; but I do truly understand that to each his/her own in terms of what unlocks the creative process (as well as what gets it bound up in the first place).
    In class, I use Sanskrit terminology when applicable- I LOVE languages. And I use a lot of plain English, nothing cutesy (I'm too old for Bunny Pose, frankly...). I have also let the concepts presented in yogic philosophy grow on me until I have felt I understood what I was then trying to present. Seems to be working pretty well so far; test drive before buying/selling, as it were! The 'chakra' system has been very helpful for me and other students and groups I work with, because it is so very visual, and lends itself well to those who are more visual, tactile learners. Ultimately, depending on emphasis, it can be applied to learners of all kinds.
    So thanks again, Jan, for letting me babble away about yoga and for posting some of that here. Tchuss! I am off to the wilds of western Mass.

  9. AH. What a lovely lovely post. And poses. I know it's a good thing. It makes sense. My friends love it. Why don't I do it?

  10. ..because you move too fast to slow down?

  11. It will be great to pair these suggestions with the writing challenge--thanks Jan and Lisa! Now I'm off to yoga class....

  12. I have to thank you again. This year I became interested in writing mysteries. In April I started a short story and every other week I putt it on hold. Today, I finished my 1st draft of "Sex Lust and Murder" because Saturday I took the writer's challenge.

  13. Gina,
    I'm so glad its working for you!! congrats!!!