On Partner Yoga and Creativity...

Is anyone else feeling a little heavy and out of shape, mentally and physically, in this post holiday season? I know I am. The scale has certainly let me know, as has the waistband of my jeans, but it's more than that. It's that feeling that I need to get clarity and lightness on a whole host of things. So, with this in mind, my husband and I, total yoga beginners, signed up for the four week Partner Yoga class at Halls Pond Healing Arts in South Paris, Maine, which is the creation of the amazing, creative, loving, nurturing Katey Branch. If you're local, I highly recommend checking out the wonderful yoga classes and healing opportunities Katey offers. Partner Yoga is not just for couples. With us in class were a pair of friends and one grandmother/granddaughter duo. But regardless of who you are with, you learn a lot about yourself, your partner, and the notion of collaboration and unity in general. It occurred to me that there are strong parallels in this practice to the practice of creativity in our lives. Creativity is not always a solo act. In fact, it may never be a solo act.
Yoga2 For some reason I can't do this activity without cracking up. So much for centered tranquility. Photo credit: Katey Branch, Halls Pond Healing Arts
Normally when I think of yoga, I think of it as something that is done by a single body, albeit in harmony with everyone else in the world who practices it, but you know...without another person IN the pose with you. A rather strong feature of my personality is that I'm very much the "loner." I like working alone. I like exercising alone. I like making decisions mostly alone. I really like thinking and/or meditation alone. Most of the time, I like creating alone. Or so I think. I may be suffering from what I could call "the alone delusion." Do we do anything alone? For an avowed introvert like me, this is an unnerving question, and I think I have to answer it in the negative. NO. No, we really don't do anything alone. The romantic image of the cloistered artist, hermit-like in his studio, undistracted by "the world" is, well, BS. Because no matter how physically alone we are at any given time, no matter how much we've taken ourselves away from the world (I confess I was running from a certain brand of civilization when I left suburban NJ for rural Maine), we are still in the company of everyone we've ever known, living or dead, who's had any influence at all in our world view and our vision. Of course, it is up to us to choose the partners who will share our poses, and reject those who are stunting or harmful to us, or continually pull us out of our best alignment, but we simply never truly practice alone; not in yoga, not in art, not in life. Why would we want to? The examination of that question is the subject of full length novels and psychology books. Suffice it to say that every time we consult a mentor for our art, business, or life, we are bringing a partner in to our creative pose. I have one primary mentor in rug hooking, and several others who I consult when it's clear my work and my life will be the better for it. There are times when I want the only voice to be my own (or as my own as it can be), and other times when I want a chorus of opinion. Like a great yoga instructor, our creative mentors are there to suggest gentle adjustments, new creative poses, and remind us of the fundamentals of our art when necessary. They are also there to stand back when we say, "No, that doesn't feel right for me right now" and let us find our current best orientation. Creativity involves falling over sometimes.
Yoga1 This is a great way to fall over. Photo credit: Katey Branch, Halls Pond Healing Arts
As you can tell from these photos, when it comes to yoga, we're total noobs. We can't find perfect alignment (not even close); we can't even always stay vertical in the vertical poses or properly horizontal in the horizontal ones. We fell out of the pose pictured above multiple times. Like, literally fell out of it. Our instructor is, of course, expert in yoga, and there was a couple there who have been practicing for around seventeen years. One of the other newbies described them as "flexible as hell." We all laughed because this was the perfect descriptor. Yes, yes, they are. We are not. What makes them flexible as hell? Practice, dedication, attention. I thought a lot about the term "flexible as hell" and it came to me that perhaps that couple is beautifully, humanly flexible and the rest of us are actually frozen in place. We are frozen in place by sitting at desks, walking with our shoulders stooped by the weight of our lives, by the absence of play, by not fully inhabiting our bodies. We are frozen in place by lack of practice and INattention. The analogy to our creative lives is clear. Creativity can't draw its first breath without an openness to patient practice, dedication, and attention. When we first start with something we're likely to fall over a lot. We're going to miss the alignment we want sometimes. We may even get frustrated and walk away until we can try again. We're going to take work apart and start over (our Maine studio hookers call this "reverse hooking"). I recently hooked the face of a dog three times before it looked right to me, with breaks in between attempts to calm my nerves. I also dyed four colors for that dog to get two that were right for it. I'm not saying that you have to be an expert to be creative. In fact, you do not, and maybe that's the ironic point of what I'm saying. An absolute beginner can create something wonderful if he or she is ok with the possibility of falling over...the possibility of failure on the first try, and the second, and maybe the third and beyond. Paradoxically, the cheerful acceptance of imperfection and the application of persistence during the journey is what will lead to perfection down the road. I'm still falling over a lot. I teach classes in those things I feel I can and bring in teachers with more time on this road for those I feel I can not. I'm ok with that. One day I too will be flexible as hell. Creativity requires you to stand up for yourself...and to yield.
Yoga3 With apologies for minor midriff exposure. We're a little chubby right now. Photo credit: Katey Branch, Halls Pond Healing Arts
In order to correctly get in to the pose pictured above, you have to maintain the integrity of your own pose, while also accommodating, as you are able, the pose of the other. In much of partner yoga, there is a balance to be found between standing your ground and yielding. As you can see, we're not too good at this yet. Draw what life analogies you will. In this particular pose, at least we've gotten our heads together. There's this magical collaborative "getting of heads together" that happens in the Maine studio with the Tuesday group on a regular basis. It begins with a hooker looking puzzled, stumped, possibly putting her frame down on the floor and walking away from it to view her work from afar. Sometimes she sees what she's looking for. Other times she doesn't. When she doesn't, something collaborative often ensues. The whole group is brought in to the process:
  • "Do you think the value jump between these two colors is too much?"
  • "I don't think this color is working. What do you think?"
  • "I just don't think this background makes my elements pop the way I want them to. Thoughts?"
  • "I don't like this part of the pattern. Do you think I could just hook over it or change it?"
  • "This is not working. HELP!"
The Parris House Hookers are NOT shy about answering these questions. Almost everyone has an opinion, and while those opinions are always expressed with respect and affection, they do get expressed. At this point, the hooker (the creative) will take it all in to account (we never really create alone) and make a decision. The beautiful thing about this is that everyone ends up happy. Whether our advice is taken or not is completely immaterial. In fact, the only thing that matters is that the hooker whose piece it is is happy with her decision and outcome. In creating anything, there are times to stand your ground and times to yield. Sometimes you are not only strong enough in the process to hold your own, but you absolutely must. A well-intentioned peer may look at your piece and offer up an alternative that simply won't work for your vision of it. Other times that alternative might feel like just the adjustment you were looking for, that for whatever reason wasn't going to come through you that day. In my own creative life, I am feeling the need this year to yield quite a bit less. As beginners in anything, and I am not far off from a beginner myself, we often lean heavily on whatever solid foundation has helped to build our skill and thus we find ourselves in safe and familiar territory. Creativity, though, wants us to be flexible (as hell), and I find myself with quite a few projects in mind this year that may help me get there. Winter is long in New England. It's a great time to reflect. Look for ways to let creativity live in your life, ways to melt what's frozen in place for you. Yoga does this for the spirit, the mind, and the body and is a creative practice all its own. Creativity can live in as simple an act as cooking dinner, and in endeavors as complex as the finest art forms. The point is, it's available to all of us and it's good to ponder its nature from time to time. Happy post-holiday regrouping and happy hooking! - Beth

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