Allow your creative conduit to open with ease by using a few ancient healing practices to quieten your inner critic, ground and centre you, refresh your thinking, spark inspiration and refine your focus. Spending a few moments aligning your being before you begin brings clarity to your creativity, so you can create unfettered by distractions or doubt but with gentleness, calm equilibrium, and aplomb.
It’s also a perfect practice to do during breaks to your reignite passion especially if you feel your motivation flagging. The connection between how you hold yourself, and your internal state is so intricate that attending to this simple but powerful process naturally enhances your creativity.
Unless you relax into the process, it’s far harder to enjoy it. Unless you are present in the process, it can become more irksome than fun. Unless you are inspired through the act itself, nothing happens, and that’s not good for you, or your writing and art. Put a little pep into your process, a little zing into your creative thing with this 7-step process to optimise creativity.
7-Step Process to Optimise Creativity
1. Empty Yourself
Start by emptying yourself. This is a simple matter of relaxing your whole body, noticing then letting go of any tension and allowing your thoughts to drift, without you engaging with them. It can help to think of those thoughts as leaves on a stream, gently floating by, with you aware of them but not picking them up, instead a distant observer, watching each one pass.
Even the humblest meditation practice can enhance your creativity, while the simple act of taking time out for a moment to still, and return you to centre, enables you to write and make your art with far more clarity and ease.
2. Be Aware of Your Breath
Breathe slowly, evenly, smoothly, much like a child. Keep a steady flow between each inhalation and exhalation, without trying too hard to control the process. Instead allow it to find its own natural depth and rhythm, ensuring that you breathe using the full depth of your lungs. Maintaining an awareness of the breath is the swiftest means to altering your internal state, and keeps you present.
3. Soften Your Face, Loosen Your Belly & [Regularly] Scan Your Body for Tension
Regularly scan your body for tension, so it swiftly becomes a habit, and notice where you are tight, mentally attending to it by letting your body relax. If feeling the pressure, it’s natural to subconsciously tense your muscles, or shorten your breath in response. Maintain an awareness of how you are holding yourself. Keep your body loose, tap the keys gently, caress the canvas as if it’s your most treasured brush.
3. Wake up Your Brain with This Ancient Technique
To wake up your brain and stimulate your thinking processes, this ancient Taoist technique, known as ‘banging the heavenly drum’ or ‘sound the heavenly drum’ (Ming Tian Gu), clears the mind, brings fresh energy, and inspiration, while enhancing your cognitive faculties. It is ideal before you begin, and also very useful when feeling your energy or concentration wavering.
- Relax your shoulders and cover your ears with your palms, so that the middle fingers touching and cover the base of the skull.
- Place your index fingers on your middle fingers and snap them down with force, hitting your head, roll all over the rear of your skull and ‘drum’ with your fingers, generating a drumming sound in the brain cavity. The ‘heavenly drum’ is the head, which you drum ‘awake’.
- When you do this exercise, its best to not let your pinkie fingers touch your head as it can muffle the sound. Instead focus on the sound, ensuring your ears are covers so the sound radiates throughout your head, and allow each beat to bring your attention more fully to the vibrations in your skull and brain.
- When you are finished and take your hands off your ears and enjoy feeling like you just woke up refreshed, and ready to work, write, create.
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware – joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” Henry Miller
4. Be Aware of Your Posture
How you are holding yourself has such an intricate relationship with how you feel that simply shifting position considerably affects your creativity. Straightening your posture can cause a shift of perspective. While good posture keeps your body aligned, and gives your internal organs more room, especially your lungs, which means you can take deeper, more nourishing breaths, delivering more oxygen so you can think clearly to create.
- If uninspired, ensure you are sitting straight. Imagine there’s pole running down your spine keeping you in alignment.
- If unmotivated, use the Taoist twisting technique in step 6, below, to get your energy moving, and clear your mind.
5. Use Acupressure for Instant Focus, Inspiration & Calm
The Yin Tang point increases circulation all over your face, where all of the meridians are subtly stimulated, which is balancing and restorative. It also balances your endocrine system. It feels nourishing and reassuring, offering you a moment of stillness before you begin or during a break between creative sessions.
- Press the two acupressure points GB 20, which are found just below the skull, in the hollows on both sides of the neck, between the two vertical neck muscles and about three inches apart.
- Slowly tilt your head back as you gradually apply pressure by resting on your fingers and the points, so that you feel a dull but almost pleasant ache radiate throughout that region.
- Then, taking the index finger of your dominant hand, place a finger on the Third Eye point or Yin Tang (GV 24.5), pressing gently but firmly, then gradually lessening this pressure as you let your finger lift off the point.
- When I first learnt this fusion of points, I was also taught to visualise a stream of chi rising from the third eye point (Yin Tang), and running back over the top of the brain to the back of the skull, where it joins the neck, in a smooth flow, and in sync with the breath. In the ancient Taoist arts, this is said to wake up your brain, creativity and enhance your thinking process but the points alone work effectively.
- To do this, visualise a channel of energy beginning in the centre of your forehead, as you breathe in, imagine you can feel the breath enter through the centre of your forehead and travel over and through the channel to the midpoint on the base of your skull. Repeat this back and forth for a few minutes.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by work or deadlines but cannot think clearly, another very useful point to know and combine with the above to calm your internal state before you begin is the Inner Gate or P6 (pericardium 6).
- It’s located three finger widths up from the wrist creases, in between the two tendons. This point balances your feelings, calming your mind and spirit, and returns you to a state of equilibrium if you are feeling overwhelmed.
- Press gently for a minute or so on each wrist.
6. Move for Inspiration
Sitting at a desk for a long time, or being sedentary dulls your inspiration and own energy levels too. If you are feeling uninspired, you can inspire action, clarity of thought and your creative expression by doing a few movements, such as the Taoist twisting technique below, often used as a warm-up before t’ai chi, chi kung, or other martial arts. Among many other healing benefits, it wakes up both body and brain.
Alternatively, nourish both your body and being with a few yoga asanas. Yoga is the ideal antidote to creative block, with the added benefit of banishing any resistance to the process on the yoga mat. If you are not a fan of yoga, this Taoist twisting exercise is the ideal antidote to feeling inflexible in your art and prose:
- Stand up with your feet apart, just wider than your shoulder-width.
- Feel your feet connect with the earth.
- Centre yourself and breathe gently, slowly, and evenly.
- Let your arms hang loosely by your sides. Really relax into this stance.
- Then twist at your waist and, as you do so, swing your arms so that with each turn, your hand hits your kidney region on each side of your back.
- You’ll find that your whole body is involved with this motion (for clarity, here is a video).
- Continue to keep turning and twisting from side to side for a couple of minutes.
- Keep loose, relax into it. Enjoy it.
This twisting exercise is a technique with many benefits, from increasing your willpower to releasing anxiety and fear. Physically, twisting movements in t’ai chi and chi kung open the meridians and channels to improve chi circulation, keep tendons flexible and also help to loosen and relax joints.
See this T’ai Chi/Chi Kung warm-up video for guidance and other simple but beneficial movements, ideal before, or in the breaks between, your writing and creative sessions. You may like to alternate this or fuse it with a yoga asana practice: Try these: 7 Powerful Yoga Asanas for Writers and Artists. If you are blessed with the use of your legs, walk in between creative sessions, especially in nature, which has also been shown to truly enliven creativity.
7. Be Present in the Process
Stay conscious of your internal state. How you feel as you write and make your art offers clues on both your connection to your work, and its direction too. Be aware of how you feel as you create. Notice what sparks your interest.
When writing, follow tangents, allow yourself to discover your writing in the act of writing. It’s often only when we get out of our own way, and trust the act itself, that it comes alive. As a writer who like author and artist, Henry Miller, turns “to painting when I can no longer write,” the same process of discovery applies.
No matter the medium or method, when creating anything, in allowing yourself to be present, you connect with your work, and discover it. Letting go of all that exists beyond this moment is helpful because we no longer are in the critical, refining or editing mode, which comes later. Instead it’s just us and our work, present, doing the thing we love most, and creating.
For your writing and creative offerings to feel at ease, and you too, no matter the medium or method, be present in the process to enhance that process. Soften your face, relax your body and slow the tempo of your breath. Inhale gently, evenly, always aware of how you are holding yourself, keeping your belly loose and posture straight. From this space of deeper stillness, awareness descends, and with it, inspired creativity does too.
“If you never sit still, it does not even hint to that deeper self in you that you are interested. By practice, by showing up, we are signalling that deep motor, that hum of life, that we are ready: Help us. Pay attention and lead us out of our confusion.” ~ Natalie Goldberg
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