How Yoga Screwed Up My Creative Life

Note: My mode for this blog is about your optimal creative workflow – not my humdrum life (You can glimpse doses of my mostly undramatic life in my personal essays). But many queries lately about yoga and Yoga As Muse prompted me to recount this one. I hope it encourages you to share your own.

By my early thirties, Suffering and I had a good thing going. A pinched nerve in my right trapezious that paralyzed me some mornings. A shock of graying hair. And my mind’s faculties straining like a car running only on a generator. Concentration was all but shot. Words on the page grew hazy. My imagination was ready to call it quits.

Then I got the message. One Saturday afternoon in November, determined to sit in meditation for five minutes, I cried. I cried because I was losing my mind, the one I thought I had cultivated so deliberately in my 20s through intense focus, asceticism, a vegetarian diet, and occasional Zen meditation.

Could there possibly be a better way to live a creative, deliberate life?

What was missing? A lot. About 95% of the equation of having an optimal mind, I would later realize.

That afternoon, I got an answer. An old part of my mind said, “Yoga.” Yoga had been – when I was 19 years old in college – the only thing that helped me feel at home in my body. But I had abandoned the practice as soon as I had started it.

I knew that afternoon, in my early thirties, I needed to return home without going back to an old self.

A few weeks later, I found a free yoga class on the floor above a funky Indian restaurant. The next morning post-class, I already felt better. So I went back. And back.

My body buzzed electric, and so did my mind. My imagination lit up with images and feelings “inside” all the way down to my right big toe. Within weeks, traces of my focus returned. And for the first time, this adult man started to feel, really feel nuanced emotions. Scary stuff.

All that buzz charged my writing with a wide-open access to metaphors and images and emotional nuances and cadences – without losing the critical faculties necessary to discriminate  mania from what works.

And with a new fire and focus, I could do something with that mystery box.

But something else happened, too.

I started to listen. I started to listen to what mattered, to what this one wild life was really about. Within the next two years, I immersed my analytical self in my first Yoga Teacher Training, resigned from my comfy job, and set sail on my own journey into embodied creativity.

From those experiences, I started paying attention to how specific yogic tools were affecting my creative mind in specific ways. I experimented, took notes, a lot of notes as I sought wisdom from two complementary sources –ancient sages and contemporary scientists.

 The sages: The Upanishads, the Yoga-Sutras, the Bhagavad-Gita, and especially the Siva-Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

The scientists: Current researchers in psychology and in neuroscience. (This was in the early 2000s, when brain science was having its own renaissance and before positive psychology was common parlance.)

And I found numerous correlations between both worlds.  Those studies helped explain to myself what the hell was going on with me.

Since yoga screwed up my life in beautiful ways over a dozen years ago, I have found in yogic and Buddhist psychology and practice a series of tools that keep me from getting lost in the woods. I have studied with numerous yoga iconoclasts, have earned certification in Scaravelli Yoga and Bliss Vinyasa Yoga, and have studied in Chennai, South India Sri TKV Desikachar whose father helped bring yoga to the West.

I understood productive creativity and what it meant to be a creative professional from a whole new foundation. When I started this practice, I thought I was an alien.

Now there’s a whole planet of creatives and creative professionals who “get” that they must tune up the body’s attendant functions, feelings, and impulses to work and live fully optimal.

These creatives know they can become more aware of how their own minds work best – and that one direct way to cultivate that awareness is through accessing and altering the embodied mind.

And don’t worry: Yoga won’t necessarily make you a lavender-loving, “way-shanti,” bead-wearing peacenik who has lost his creative edge (although I respect and love New York designer Christoph Niemann’s take on his yoga experience). You can have your YOGA AS MUSE and keep your edge, too.

During this journey I started designing the YOGA AS MUSE Programs and later the YOGA AS MUSE TRIBE Facilitator Training. I practice Yoga As Muse on the mat every morning and on some afternoons. But the hours aren’t important. The quality, intention, and design of the practice are. 15 to 20 minutes of Yoga As Muse – sometimes shorter – is all it takes to stop waiting for inspiration. And to start showing up for it.

And Suffering? Well, she and I still have a connection. We always will. The difference is she’s not the one dominating the relationship every single day. And that’s made a huge difference.

Consider joining me in November 2015 on Paradise Island, Bahamas, for lectures on the art & science of wonder and for open-air workshops in yoga & creativity or in July 2015 at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference for a weeklong workshop on creative mindfulness & writing (no mats).

How do you engage your body to work and live optimally? What connections have you made on your own about how your body’s movement, posture,  and functioning does indeed affect your faculties?

See you in the woods,

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  1. Marcie – good to know you’re part of “the planet.” 🙂 If yoga aids your stunning photography, then that’s another feather in yoga’s cap. Cheers.

  2. I sort of have a “Oh so now you’re doing THIS to me?” relationship with yoga. I stepped into an intro to yoga class for no reason, except that I was turning 40 soon and wanted to become the person I always wanted to be. So I did that about 6 years ago, and sit here riveted by your narration of what yoga has done, reflecting on my history with it and what it has done for me, often without my consent or participation for that matter. I never considered myself creative, but thanks to hanging out in my body so much for a few years, I see that I’ve been immensely creative, and have some salacious fantasy now of honing that ability and repainting the universe with it.

  3. Antoinette: Wow, I love the sound of that salacious fantasy. Can’t wait to see what the universe will look like in a few years after you and yoga are done with it. Cheers.

  4. For some reason, I’ve never been able to connect with a regular yoga practice. Probably should try again, no? But I am a consistent and avid walker and if I miss a day of walking, my body and my mind feels it and I know I need to move.

    1. Charlotte: Walking works for many people, including many of my clients. Running works for others. Yoga might work for you. The important thing is to find the teacher, style, and rhythm that works and that can help you craft your own home practice. I can offer some suggestions of where to start, or send me links to studios in your area, and I can help you make a choice.

  5. Yoga was a mystery to me until I took a class from Jessica O’Keefe in Dallas, Texas. Jessica is a former ballet dance and practices a combination of various yoga methods. Her class is a loving, slow moving, breathing, stretching till you feel yourself grow a few inches. I learned an inner strength of myself that makes me feel connected and alive. Since moving to Lubbock, Texas the yoga instructors make yoga feel like an aerobic exercise. My point is to find a teacher that matches your needs. Having taken classes every week for two years from Jessica I do at home what I have learned from her. Yoga as a practice for creativity including writing, golf, flexibility (I am now 61 years old) has become a way of life. Thank you Jeff for writing “Yoga as Muse”. I gave Jessica a copy of your book. She loves it.

    1. Grace – How kind of you to give Jessica a copy of The Journey from the Center to the Page. I’m glad you’ve found your teacher. That’s essential, as you said. It’s perfect, too, that you can take home what you learn. Thanks for dropping in at the Hut.

  6. This all sounds amazing. I managed to experience a small glimpse into what could be with a coupon I received. Would you recommend ashtanga yoga?