Yesterday was the 50th day in a row I’ve practiced yoga in the morning. I’ve learned lots about yoga, myself, and creativity in this short time, and wanted to share some of the most valuable lessons.
1. Daily practice trains the memory.
By doing yoga every day, my body has learned how it feels to be in new positions it’s never been in before. After being in those positions just a few times, it starts to remember them, and each time becomes easier to get into them and hold them. With your creativity, if you only create once a fortnight, your creative mind will have forgotten much of what it learned and experienced last time you created. By creating every day, you teach your creativity that this is the new default state. It makes it far easier to get into your creative zone more quickly and regularly, and far easier to gently stretch your creativity to new places.
2. Discomfort leads to growth.
If you could capture some of the expressions on my face during yoga, I doubt that unbridled pleasure and relaxation would be the impression you’d get from them! Some of the positions are really difficult, especially when doing them for the first few times. I waver and wobble, but I know that with practice I’ll improve. I’m no expert but I know I feel stronger, lighter and calmer since I started yoga. Same story with creating. The first time you pick up a paintbrush or guitar you’re not going to be instantly proficient. We all begin as beginners. But each time you try again, you get a little better, a little more experienced, a little more expressive.
3. Your mind will always be highly active.
Yoga is obviously a very physical activity, but very mental too. There are times when my mind does relax and I go to what I call “the soft white space” fleetingly, but even then, I know in the background my creative mind is generating a thousand thoughts and ideas per second. If we try to fight this or switch it off, we’ll never win. It’s impossible to completely empty or still your mind, like it’s impossible to stop having new creative ideas. The key is to pick one idea, pick one activity and give it as much focus as you can. Acknowledge that you will have other ideas in the background, but leave them there, just out of earshot. The important ones will be there when you need them, they’ll keep coming back. Relax and focus on the project at hand.
4. Ritual breeds energy. Maybe even magic.
When I begin each yoga session I have a little ritual. At the core, if I do nothing else, I set my timer (see lesson no 7) and unroll my mat. This symbolic gesture tells me I’ve begun, it’s time for yoga, nothing else matters for the next 20 or 30 minutes. When I finish, I roll up the mat again carefully, which means the session is over and the rest of life continues. Without getting too woo wah about it, I believe that by using this ritual I capture the energy the yoga has given me each time in the mat, so next time when I unroll it again, I have that energy to draw from. With creating we can do just the same. A tiny symbolic ritual like taking out three pens and lining them up, or hanging a red scarf on your door handle (be imaginative!) can be very powerful in signalling that this is important creative time now, it’s game on, nothing else matters.
5. Start with small expectations and build.
My aim was originally to do at least ten minutes of yoga a day when I started my daily practice. But as I comfortably did about 25 minutes every day the first week, I now set my expectation to at least 20 minutes a day. Often it extends into 30, 40 or 50 minutes. If I had begun though from day one expecting to do 40 minutes a day, and only done 35, I would’ve felt disappointed, rather than celebrating the 35 minutes I did do. As with daily creating, by setting yourself an achievable little chunk of time – even just 5 minutes – and reaching it for just a few days running, your confidence grows, and you can soon extend it. It’s far more important to gain the habit of regularly creating everyday, than worry about creating for hours each time you do.
6. Sometimes it’s just about showing up and doing the work.
Yoga isn’t an unmitigated joy from start to finish. Some days it’s easier than others. Some days in the midst of Trikonasana where I feel a split second away from collapsing in a frustrated heap, I ask: “exactly WHY am I putting my body through this again?” But, like creating, you simply have to show up and do the work. If I only did yoga when I felt amazing and fully fit, I’d probably never do it. If you only created when you had the perfect idea, exactly the right materials, hours of free time, pretty flowers in your hair and a gorgeous sunrise in the background, you’d never get started either. By showing up and doing the work daily, we get stronger, fitter, braver, whether it’s yoga or creating.
7. Using a timer frees us to find great focus.
When I begin a session, I set a timer for 30 minutes, unroll my mat, and just get on with the yoga. This means I forget all about the time and can fully focus on the matter at hand. If I didn’t do this, I know I’d be glancing at the clock after every pose to see how much I’ve done, and I’d never get anything like as focused and absorbed in the yoga, I’d never let myself be fully engaged. I do the same when I’m writing. This was the main creativity tool I used to finish my book – How To Get Focused And Create What Matters – writing without distraction in one hour chunks. It’s leads to amazingly productive creative sessions. Set and forget your timer, get on with creating. It’s one of the most powerful yet simple creativity enablers there is.
8. You can only ever be in one moment at a time. Enjoy it.
One of the benefits of actually struggling with some of the poses in yoga means it takes great concentration. The more energy and focus I’m giving the pose I’m in, the less distracted I am by other things. It’s a great way of living more in the moment and experiencing fully what you’re feeling right here, right now. With creating, this is so important too. To be able to create at your best, your fullest, your most authentic, you need to be fully focused and involved in the current project you’re working on. If you’re not, if you’re flitting around between a handful of different things, you’re never fully present and being as creative as you can be. Enjoy what you’re creating right here, right now.
9. Great pride comes from daily discipline.
My first 50 day streak of yoga has gone by in the blink of an eye. I average about 30 minutes a day, so this amounts to 25 hours of yoga. Think of how much better I am, how much I’ve gained from it from putting that time in. I’m proud I’ve been so disciplined, aside from the direct benefits I’ve felt too. However much you enjoy creating when you’re lost in the midst of it, there’s the added bonus afterwards of the pride you feel about having made your artwork the priority it deserves to be, and given it regular time it needs. As well of course as the pride in the art you’ve actually created.
10. You create your own life. No-one else can make it happen.
Although I go to a yoga class once a week, my teacher doesn’t turn up on my doorstep every morning at 630 and say: “Right Dan, let’s go, it’s yoga time!” I do it myself. No-one else is going to do it for me. If I want to do yoga every day, I have to make it happen. And I do. Same with creating. You’re the only one that can make yourself show up to the page/screen/canvas each day. Rather than seeing this as a chore it’s in fact an incredibly liberating fact. You are in control, it’s your life to create the way you want it. The more often you choose to show up and create, the easier it becomes, and the more empowered and strong you will feel.
I fully intend to continue my daily yoga practice because as you can see from above, the benefits are profound and many. (And it might just save the world.)
Today can be the day you start your new daily creative practice.
It’s your choice, it’s entirely in your hands, but what I can tell you is it’s possibly the best thing you can ever do for your creativity and happiness.
And if you all create like this, together we might just save the world too.
Go hit the mat. Go create.
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