How Yoga Helped Me Be a Better Artist

I have always been an active person. My body’s natural inclination is to burn, burn, burn – often until I wear myself out completely. In order to feed my system’s desire to expel energy, I have found it necessary to integrate exercise into my daily life to balance and center me. For years, I chose running to relieve stress and untangle this highly wired system of mine. I also incorporated weight lifting into my routine, and got so involved in it, that at one point, I could bench-press 150 pounds- a count more than my own body weight. At the time, I was rather impressed with my newfound Herculean strength, but in focusing on building muscle, I had abandoned flexibility. The diminished pliancy in my form was never more apparent than when I was at work in my art studio.

My approach to painting is an undertaking of a minimum of 3 hours at a time, but more often than naught, that evolves into 6, 8 or even 10 hours of standing, squatting or in genuflection to my creations. Needless to say, investing that kind of time, bent over panels as large as 48” – 60” long, pouring and sculpting paint, can be physically unforgiving. It is necessary, then, for my personal welfare as well as my livelihood, that I attend to my body, so it is capable of accomplishing the tasks I demand of it. I had thought, by running and lifting weights, I was caring for my physical self, but through those disciplines, I continued to struggle to move the way I remembered I once could. I was left feeling frustrated and spent- both physically and emotionally. What I was expecting from my body, based on what I was giving it, was not sustainable. Something had to change or it would not be long before the parts of me rebelled, and my ability to practice art abated. As if by design, I stumbled across a women’s gym, where I attended my first yoga class, which forever altered the relationship I had with my body.

Yoga opened my eyes to an entirely different perspective of the human form, so much so that, after that first yoga class, I quit the gym, where I had been running and weight lifting. I spent the next ten years exploring numerous yoga studios in an effort to comprehend the differences in what each practice had to offer. Hatha. Vinyasa. Iyengar. Kripalu. Ashtanga. Bikram. Each beautiful, mysterious name defined ancient practices that, in varying degrees, focused on breath, balance, alignment and stability. In yoga, I could be a tree. A cat. A warrior. A child. It gave me a lens with which to see the body, not as an enemy I must conquer, but as my closest ally to encourage and support. Yoga challenged me to find my center and revealed to me strength I did not know I possessed.

I have been a practitioner of yoga now for 18 years. In addition to the strength and flexibility I have gained, allowing me to physically create my artwork, there have been numerous, unexpected benefits which have arisen from the tools and skills I have developed through yoga’s teachings. These tools continue to aid me both personally and professionally and one is a metaphor for the next. Each move in a yoga practice dictates the one that follows in allowing or preventing parts of the body to open up. It is not something that can be forced and one cannot expect it to be accomplished all at once. Yoga, therefore, requires meditation of each moment as unique from the one before or after it, yet recognizes they are interconnected. The practices with which I most align encourage me to be kind to myself and dispense with judgment. If I am unable to perform a position I could have even two weeks prior, instead of getting angry with that scenario or myself, I seek to understand why the change occurred and give thanks to my body for what it was able to offer me that day. When necessary, I am reminded to take a break to honor what I need and continue to allow energy to flow throughout, so it does not get blocked. When I am frustrated, I employ breathing techniques to quiet my system. This, in turn, aids me in my studio by keeping me centered and focused on what needs to be accomplished and helps me better understand the intention and position of each of my actions. I am able to face new situations, knowing there are multiple ways to undertake them and believing I can risk trying something new without fear of failure. Perhaps the best lesson yoga has taught me is to plant my feet firmly, grounding myself to the earth, while I stretch my arms high towards the sun, always striving to maintain the balance in between.