Everyone I know loses touch with their practice sometimes. Their yoga practice or their art practice, or their practice in any other form. The thing that makes them feel complete. Life gets busy or hard, or both; distractions become more appealing than discipline; and sometimes they genuinely need a break, to unhook the weight of pressure and to be something else for a while. Eventually though, their ‘thing’ tends to call them back – but feeling the pull alone isn’t always enough, and getting back to work can be really really difficult. So they put it off for a bit, and then for a bit longer, and it gets harder and harder to pick up where they paused. But I think that an art practice can be brought back to life by a yoga practice, and that a yoga practice can be brought back to life by an art practice.
I recently had a complete break from physical yoga work; I was in the early months of pregnancy (also the reason that the video I promised has yet to materialise – baby has just arrived, so bear with me on that one!) and exhaustion, along with anxiety, meant that I completely stepped away from the mat for a while. When I was ready to get back to my practice, I was upset by how different it felt to begin with. My muscles felt different, my whole body felt different (of course!) and I didn’t quite know how to move with these changes. The feeling was similar to how it feels, sometimes, to come back to making your art after a break – it’s uncomfortable. More self-conscious. The rhythm that used to be so settled in your body is disjointed. It’s temporary, and you know that, but it sometimes feels like it might not be.
About three months ago a letter came in the post from a friend of mine. It was pages and pages of words – words are her thing – and although it wasn’t exactly meant to be poetry, it was. She’d just reconnected with her art and remembered how important it is, after a long period of not writing very much. The thing that seemed (and she can correct me if I’m wrong!) to be responsible for this reconnecting and realisation was a week of intensive yoga and meditation practice, after some time away from that, too. Her letter was full of excitement and huge ideas, the overwhelming happiness of getting it back.
My immediate thought was that it wasn’t a coincidence at all that time spent in meditative movement had come just before my friend remembered that she needed to write. When you study yoga, you learn about subtle and energetic bodies as well as the physical body, and when you create, you make something that often seems to come from beyond yourself as you know it – you sometimes tap into something which is hard to put into words. When you practice yoga, you begin to work on an energetic level; the practice is said to positively alter the flow of energy the the nadis, or energy currents, in the subtle body – of which there are 72,000, according to the ancient texts that are the foundations of our practice. Paths are cleared, blockages eased. And as energy begins to move more freely through the body, maybe the lightness that comes can help you get back to channeling your energy into the other things that support lightness and freedom and release – like making stuff. Physiologically, too, yoga – whether your practice is strong or gentle – acts on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; stimulating and relaxing the body’s organs and blood vessels to create equilibrium.
If you’re going through one of those out-of-touch times with your art practice, do yoga. Go to a class, or find a video online, or if you have an established self-practice or want to build one, just go with your body and do your own thing – move how you want to move. As a place to start, I recommend doing ten surya namaskara (sun salutations): five surya namaskara A, and then five surya namaskara B. And then sit down comfortably on the floor (cross legged, or in sukhasana, or vajrasana, whatever feels best) with your palms to your knees to focus your energy inward, and watch your breath for ten minutes. All kinds of thoughts will come into your head, which is fine – notice them, and don’t worry about about the fact that you’re thinking them, and then come back to the breath. Over and over, gently come back to concentrating on the breath: on the way it travels into and out of the lungs, the temperature of it, the depth. If it feels comfortable, you can lengthen the breath gradually, and aim to breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in – so if you breathe in for two seconds, you breathe out for four. Breathe in for four, you breathe out for eight. All this will take half an hour at the most, and then take a few moments to observe how you feel afterwards. And then take another half hour to write something, or draw something, or play something – paint something, make something, sing something, dance something, anything at all – with no expectation. It doesn’t have to be part of anything you’re working on (can be, if you want!) and it doesn’t even have to be your usual mode of making…just something. And repeat for a few days; see how it goes.
If you’re going through one of those out-of-touch times with your yoga practice, you can use art to get it back. It’s less obvious, but it works; find motivation to practice from somewhere that you wouldn’t expect. Amongst regular yoga practitioners, there tends to be a feeling of guilt that comes with not practising, and the first thing to do is to ask yourself what that’s all about and try to let it go. Your practice is yours, and you do it for you. It doesn’t have to look a certain way or last a certain length of time or happen on anyone’s schedule, and if you don’t feel like doing it for a while, that’s kind of alright. You’re not hurting anyone. You’re not losing yourself. A break is not a crime. But, practice feels good and usually makes life a bit better – so when you want to get it back, try reversing the art-reclaiming process above. Spend half an hour writing about your yoga – anything, for your eyes only – or drawing or painting or even talking to someone about your practice. If none of that feels like what you want to do, find a good book or a good blog about yoga (some recommendations below!) and read a little. And then after half an hour, roll out your mat and make the decision to spend half an hour on it, moving in whatever way you like (or just sitting or lying on it and watching your breath). Rugs/floors/grass work too, if you’re not attached to the rectangular rubber sanctuary of the yoga mat. And repeat for a few days; see how it goes.
Reading recommendations for yoga practice inspiration…
Yoga of the Subtle Body by Tias Little (here)
The Heart of Yoga by Sri K. V. Desikachar (here)
Elephant Journal (here)
Daily Cup of Yoga (here)
Five Minute Yoga (here)