Each late March my mind explodes. Like earth, it becomes bloom-happy, indiscriminately popping out one idea after another. The Canadian Arctic Inuktitut have a word I relate to creative spring mind – Puijilittatuq. For these seal-centered people, Puijilittatuq is “he does not know which way to turn because of the many seals he has seen come to the ice surface.” That’s a writer with spring mind – Puijilittatuq – he or she with too many ideas coming to the surface.
From a Yogic point of view, spring mind stems in part from having too much upward life force. Your bones jitter. Your thoughts ping and pong from one project to another with little priority. Few creative bursts bear fruit. The spirit is unharnessed and unfocused, a garden of ideas gone to seed. Your life force consequently gets dispersed, and you feel drained.
How can you ground this flighty creative spirit? Hatha Yoga works on the spirit from the physical level inward. Its tools work on the creative mind at a subtle level, a level that several contemporary psychologists are beginning to articulate. Professor of psychology Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia, for instance, describes the mind as generally having two parts – the rational, conscious part and the emotional automatic part. The rational, conscious mind makes up only about five percent of the mind’s activity, according to cognitive scientist Mark Johnson (Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenges to Western Thought). The other 95% is that emotional automatic mind that influences and shapes the tiny rational one.
The emotional automatic mind includes not only all of our unconscious impulses and raucous images but also the body’s subtle autonomic processes such as blood circulation, heart beat, cellular functioning – activities that the rational mind could not possibly be aware of at all times if we were to go about our daily lives.
Did you get that? 95% of emotions and impulses, stray images and intuitions, oxygenated blood and metabolism, digestion and indigestion shape the 5% of the mind that reasons, makes decisions (we think), and shapes how we consciously articulate our view of reality. Haidt describes the rational mind as a rider atop an elephant. The goal for increased happiness, he says, is to find ways not to control but to understand, harness, and even change the emotional elephant.
So here’s the thing: If you want to shift, even transform, your creative energy and mind, don’t will your way rationally by analyzing your mind. Go to the source. Find practices that help you become more aware of your
automatic thoughts and emotional impulses. And find practices that help you alter the autonomic and para- sympathetic nervous systems in ways that benefit your creative energy.
Enter Hatha Yoga. Yoga’s tools of harnessed breathing coupled with particular yoga postures can shift the emotional automatic mind’s activity. They can help us harness the elephant.
This March, I recognized the symptoms and did something about them. If your mind bursts with too many ideas simultaneously, here are five ways to change your Yoga as Muse practice for fifteen days.
1. Think With Your Feet. The Chinese thinker Lao Tzu writes that the wise teacher thinks with her feet. Moving through a few Yoga poses each of the next 15 days trains the elephant mind to focus on something other than all of those great ideas. By flowing through a few simple standing poses, you can instill groundedness, focus, and priority. Try these three simple poses each of the next 15 days:
Tree Pose – Shift your weight to your right foot. Lift the left foot and draw the heel either to ankle, calf, or thigh – but against the knee joint. Keep gently pressing the heel and thigh or calf against one another to help you balance. Bring the palms together at the chest’s center to aid balance, too. Keep the eyes anchored on one steady spot, and keep thoughts aimed at the feet – not the head. The more you try to think or will your way into balancing, the more off-balance you’ll likely become. At first, try to hold the pose for five easeful breaths.
Warrior II Pose – From Tree Pose, lift the left knee n front and then bring that foot back three to four feet so that your pelvis and torso now face to the left side. Plant your left foot with the toes facing forward at about 45 degrees. Extend the arms to the front and back, keeping elbows straight but relaxed and the arms lifted at shoulder height. keep softness around the neck. Bend the right knee directly over the right ankle. You should be able to see your right front toe. If not, draw the knee out to the right until you can. At first, hold this pose for five easeful breaths. Observe how this pose affects your quality of mind, heart, and spirit. This warrior is a warrior for discerning clarity about what is important for your creative life.
Intense Side-Angle Pose – From Warrior II Pose, cross the right arm across the right thigh, and extend the left arm diagonally so that the bicep comes near the ear. Again, keep softness around the neck. Gaze either to the side or under the left arm. Keep the back left heel firmly planted and observe how the lower body’s grounded-ness naturally helps the upper body aspire upward.
2. Suck in Natural Kool-Aid. An overactive creative mind might stem in part from too much heat in the subtle body. A quick, effective way to instill cool-headedness so you can focus creatively is with Cool Breathing (called Sitali Pranayama). This practice has not been officially studied in isolation for yogis’ centuries of anecdotal claims for its effects. My repeated experience is that it has helped reverse sudden heartburn, nervousness, and
jittery mental fluctuations. In 2004, this practice was included in a series of yoga therapy treatments for patients with pulmonary tuberculosis. The patients did report dropped fever after practicing this and other yogic
activities. Try it:
- Sit in an upright position. Elongate your spine from your tailbone to your neck. Relax your shoulders.
- Open your mouth and extend your tongue.
- If you can curl your tongue’s sides like a straw, do so. If you cannot, then keep your lips open and bring your tongue tip behind your upper teeth.
- Breathe in slowly either through your extended tongue or through open mouth with tongue behind upper teeth. With your inner vision, follow the inhalation down to your
fiery belly. This inhalation should sound like a hissing through a straw
and should feel like your sipping a glass of refreshing water.
- Repeat. Beginners: 3 cycles. Intermediate: 5 cycles. Advanced: 10 cycles.
- Sit and observe how the quality of your mind, heart, and spirit.
3. Sniff Moon Shadows. Sometimes the mind’s over-activity is reflected in the left frontal cortex’s over- stimulation. Breathing in only through the left nostril and out through the right nostril might quiet activity in the left hemisphere and stimulate activity in the right hemisphere. Some neuro-scientific studies from the 1980s especially have identified the arousal of the right hemisphere with intuition, spatial intelligence, and visualization (however, the real research paints a more complex picture simply saying something reductive such as, “Intuition is a right-brained activity.”). Because this breathing can instill a reflective, cooling quality that you might associate with a moonlit night, this type of breathing is called Moon Breathing (Chandra Bhedana Pranayama).
Try it yourself: Use your fingers to close off one nostril at a time as you inhale solely through the left nostril and exhale solely through the left. Repeat 10 times. Do not expect an instant shift. Practice this exercise at approximately the same time every day for 15 days. Observe.
Warning: Observe how this practice affects you. If after a couple of days, you are feeling more listless and sad than calm and grounded, stop the practice and seek a teacher’s guidance.
4. Root Your Mind. At the very base of the spine, between the anus and the genitals, is a muscle called the perineum. in Yoga, we call this area the “root center.” By using your focusing mind to contract this muscle on each exhalation, you can facilitate the body’s basic functions of digestion and evacuation. Keep this muscle
strong and this area clear, and your elephant mind may not be as distracted and distract-able. It can clear space for your most important, top-priority ideas and projects. This practice is called the Root Lock. With
practice, your focusing mind will be able to refine the contraction to the perineum. When you notice your mind begin to pop, pop, pop with ideas or when you have difficulty determining which project is a priority, drop the mind to the root. Practice by sitting in a chair or on the floor. For five breath cycles, draw up the muscle on each exhalation. If you have difficulty doing so, begin by contracting your anus.
5. Ask Dharma Filter Questions. Several creative people need filters to select and prioritize their many ideas and projects. This year I have been working with two such “filter questions” and have posed them to the writers who attend my workshops and retreats. The first question is, What is my dharma for 2010? “Dharma” might sound like a heavy word. It’s related to “duty,” but not obligation. It’s kin to a wise calling that brings out the uniquely best qualities in you in this lifetime.
So one way to re-phrase this question is, What is calling me to act well in the world this year? The second question is What quality of body does my dharma need? or, phrased another way, What quality of body do I need to manifest this calling this year? These questions instantly crystallize my mind. I remember what is important. What is important helps me say “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” “now,” “later,” or “never” to my myriad creative ideas. The second question related to the quality of body instantly hones and adds direct purpose to my Yoga as Muse practice.
Take a few minutes each morning to do this: Place your palms on part of the body where you feel your center. Direct your thoughts to that place and ask these two questions. Observe. Act accordingly. Repeat for at least 15 days.
These practices should be simple enough to practice without immediate supervision, but if in doubt email me or work with a trained yoga teacher who knows well the intricacies of breath work as they affect the mind and physical energy.
What is important is that you choose and try out such practices consistently for 15 days. Observe both the immediate and potential remote effects on the quality of your mind. Ask yourself these questions:
Ø What differences if any do I observe in how easily or not I can witness, halt, and alter
the flow of thoughts?
Ø What differences if any do I observe in how calm my physical energy is?
Ø What differences if any do I observe in how clear I can make decisions and take
May many seals continue to emerge, but may you gain the wise know-how to discern which seal to seek and when.
Do you ever have creative spring mind? Have you tried to work with it in other ways? How do you keep rooted while still thriving? Share your experiences. If you try out some of the above or have questions, post your responses and queries.
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Thanks Jeffrey. That makes sense! On a humorous note, I burned my tongue yesterday on some soup that was too hot. I was in my car shortly afterwards with no access to ice or anything else to cool it down, and I suddenly remembered what you wrote about sucking in natural kool-aid. It did wonders for my tongue! In the long run, I’d say it was even better than ice. But what the other drivers must have thought as they passed and saw me making a natural kool-aid straw with my tongue! Ha ha. I’m still laughing over that!