We had a chat the other night at the beginning of class about whether yoga is creative or not. It sprang from someone asking my teacher if his classes were creative. He then got thinking about what that actually meant and brought the question to class for a little discussion.
Immediate reaction from the class (yes, a vinyasa class, so there’s a certain inbuilt expectation of ‘creativity’) was that āsana sequences are definitely creative. The teacher creates them rather than inheriting them as part of a tradition. Even surya namaskar is varied rather than remaining a clear A or B type. Interestingly no-one mentioned the teacher’s creativity of imaginative cuing in poses, though now that I’m clearer on the basics I’m increasingly realising how powerful this can be in sparking off a new way of experiencing a pose or a transition in or out.
But of course yoga is more than āsana and someone reflected a little on how creative yoga was in the sense of promoting change within, because we feel and behave differently as a result of our yoga practice. Though I tried to argue that in terms of yoga philosophy that’s simply about revealing what’s already there, your inner truth and natural state (purusha), rather than a creation of something new. I think in my culture and time we’re keen to put ourselves and our personalities at the centre of everything. If we change, it’s because we choose to and so we seem to have created something new. Bravo us! But possibly this idea is a modern creation in itself, based on our understanding of psychology and the self.
My teacher mentioned the importance of repetitions as part of yoga — repeating āsanas, mantras, rounds of prāṇāyāma, even the simple repetition of inhale/exhale if you can keep focus on just that. I found this an interesting twist on the talk about the importance of creativity. In my experiences there’s something about repetitions that is very powerful. It’s through this that my mind enters a different mode of experience, allowing the analysing mind and the ego to take a bit of a back seat. It’s here that the magic of yoga can happen. The point at which I’ve gone beyond even wanting to beg for the repeating cycles of āsanas to stop (one extreme memory of what seemed to be an hour or so of surya namaskar!), when I’m reaching the almost-sleep stage in meditation (is hypnogogic the right word?), when I’m down to a private whisper in japa… That’s it! That’s it!! That’s where the state of yoga is if it’s anywhere for me. And this isn’t so creative. No, this is repetitious, disciplined, binding. My will subordinated to the practice. It’s in no way about what I want and it’s not a creative expression of myself. The constraints of these practices, the very lack of creativity — it’s actually there that freedom resides for me.
Of course it’s possible that I can only surrender into that once I’ve been allowed some creativity and freely-flowing movement first! Vinyasa practice sometimes feels a bit like morning break in a primary school — lots of rushing around, burning off excess energy before settling down for some serious work in the classroom! Except that yoga class doesn’t extend long enough for me once we’re through the āsanas. I crave more time resting in the stillness we’ve cultivated through our released energy, our movements, and all that sweating. But that’s the crunch of studio timetables, alas. And here’s always home for this.
More broadly I often think about how one draws the line between creativity and authenticity and I wonder how much yoga these days is a bit mix and match and what we gain or lose from that. But then I remind myself that yoga has always, in my understanding, been an evolving practice and one that is inherently personal within some loosely defined, but broadly agreed, common framework. I can’t even decide how much this matters. My understanding of the practice of yoga, never mind the state of yoga, feels like a tiny drop in a vast ocean.
Sometimes I have lofty aspirations (samādhi, yes please!), but mostly I’m just grateful for the journey.
Understanding it is optional, simply experiencing it is more important.
If understanding is a luxury, sādhana is the necessity.