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5 ways to become more creative: Learnings from Yoga

Yoga and meditation have helped me grow tremendously as an artist. Here are some things I’ve learnt from the practice that have enhanced my creative output:

1. Conserve prana ruthlessly
Yoga places great value on prana, the universal energy that flows in every life form. Prana is the condition of being alive, the source of all life processes and the fountainhead of thoughts, activity, creativity, vitality, everything. Many Yogic techniques eg, pranayama and bandhas help increase this vital energy. Even though I didn’t practice these until recently, I did learn to stop the outflow of prana early in my Yogic journey by understanding that prana was a bit of a zero sum game. The more energy I spent in unsatisfying activities like empty socializing, surfing the net, seeing more, doing more etc. the less I would have for my creative task. The same prana moves both the physical and the mental universe. Just forcing myself to sit still and keep the mind vacant vs. rushing around wasting vital energy was a terrific enabler to creative output.

2. Develop a strong everyday routine
Contrary to the cliché of the scattered artist, research shows that creative people have a very disciplined everyday routine. This is connected to the above perspective on prana. A routine saves the energy dispensed in thinking about when to work and when to play, what to have for lunch and for dinner, and other daily maintenance activities. More mental space can thus be directed to the creative endeavor. Earlier, I used to seek a lot of variety in my everyday life. Now, I have a very consistent predictable routine for work, play, food, everything four or five days a week, allowing myself experimentation in the rest of the week.

3. Cultivate Curiosity
This could mean going for a once-a-week artist date to a museum, a theater or an art gallery, all of which are terrific inspirations. But perhaps there is even more power in embracing the Yoga ethos that the very purpose of life is to constantly stretch one’s boundaries. Every interaction with the world then becomes a journey of personal exploration and growth. Some of the strongest characters in THE SEEKER, for instance, came from deep conversations on life, death, religion etc. with strangers I met in my travels.

4. …but remember to relax
This was the Buddha’s advice for a monk striving hard for enlightenment but not making as much progress as he liked:

“Without tarrying and without hurrying, I crossed the flood of suffering.
When I tarried, I sank; when I hurried, I was whirled around.
Only when I neither tarried nor hurried did I cross the flood.”

I’ve learnt to force myself to relax and meditate—even though I hate to when I’m in the rush of a creative project. Consciousness seems to connect its dots in periods of idleness generating powerful new insights.  Of course, too much tarrying doesn’t work either. A Yogi unites the pair of opposites, purusa with prakriti, openness to experiences with closed obsessive persistence, and hard work with rest.

5. Research
Research always works to unblock me. When stuck with something, I read everything about it until a mental image forms and takes a life of its own. For instance when I was struggling with the beginning of my novel, I read four books by the insightful Jonathan Kozol on kids in the Bronx projects (where my protagonist grew up). A sharp mental image of my character’s childhood formed. His sub-conscious desires became apparent and the story propelled forward by its own accord.

Have you ever faced a creative block? How did you overcome it? I’d love to hear your tips.

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