Movement helps us to think. You’ve probably experienced this in lots of different ways, consciously or unconsciously – maybe staring at a page/screen trying to work and getting frustrated with nothing happening, and then getting up and moving around a bit and finding that the idea which was just out of your grasp before takes a shape that is translatable from your brain to whatever format you’re trying to translate it to. Maybe walking side by side with another human being, and having a conversation that goes deeper and wider than the conversations you have when you’re sitting down with them. When we’re still everything slows down; when we move, our thoughts are stimulated and they move, too. One of my yoga teachers once said something during practice that stuck with me, and I sometimes talk about it in my classes, too: that you can use your practice to slow the mind down, or to wake it up. A yoga practice can alter your state of mind; for most people a gentle, slow practice will be calming and help to slow down racing mindstuff, and a more dynamic practice will help to shake off sluggishness and get your head in gear for thinking-work.
Anthropologist Tim Ingold writes about walking; how the ways in which we walk are tied up with our human social lives, and also about what Maxine Sheen Johnstone (1999) calls ‘thinking in movement’. A way of walking, Ingold says, “is itself a way of thinking and feeling, through which, in the practice of pedestrian movement, these cultural forms are continually generated” (Ingold 2008:2). That is, thinking and feeling are part of a method of walking; our ways of physically moving are not separate from our thoughts and feelings, they’re not two separately occurring aspects of humanity, but two parts of the same thing. As human beings we move in the world with feelings and with thoughts, and our feelings and thoughts generate movement and are generated by movement. “Walking is not just what a body does; it is what a body is’ (Ingold 2008:2); and if we change ‘walking’ in that sentence to ‘moving’, maybe we can see a yoga practice as a way of understanding – haptically, through movement – what it is to be human. We start to learn about the world as infants through our bodies; through our senses and through movement. We experience our environment with the whole of the body, and adapt our initial movements as we grow based on our experiences, and to suit the identity that we piece together for ourselves. So to lose our connection with the way we move our bodies as we grow older, surely, must be to lose our awareness of something that is part of who we are.
It’s always there – of course. Whatever our range of movement, it’s part of our lives every day. But by developing more awareness of how and why and where and what we move, we can also start to reconnect with how our particular ways of moving affect our particular ways of thinking. And when we start to understand those connections, we can use the understanding to move in ways that help us with the things we want help with – including our ability to access the fantastical creativity whirlpools inside of us. In Light on Life, B.K.S. Iyengar writes that in our practice, “each pore of the skin acts as an eye”; the entire body becomes a research vessel for exploring the self. So to come back to the whole point of this – yoga and creativity, and how they’re connected – how could developing our understanding of the interconnectedness between mind and movement be a part of a creative practice?
Well, firstly the undeniably thought-stimulating effects of movement. It’s an idea that’s used in loads of places, and that’s gaining more credibility in workplaces and schools; that to have a static body means to have a static mind, and so to move the body is a simple way to get out of a rut. But I think there’s something else, relating to creative, artistic work and movement: that part of what it is to be creative is to be able to connect. To make things that make people feel something. And to create things that are powerful and that touch other people’s inner-ness and make them feel something, you have to be able to connect with them – which is probably easier to do if you’re able to connect with your own self, your own thought-and-movement patterns and the unexplainable things that you feel. So maybe by using a yoga practice to connect with yourself, you are better placed to transcribe that stuff beyond your own body and mind to make art: connect inwards in order to connect outwards.
Tim Ingold. 2008. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
B. K. S. Iyengar. 2005. Light on Life. New York: Rodale
Maxine Sheen Johnstone. 1999. The Primacy of Movement. Amsterdam: John Benjamins