Last spring I took a series of yoga classes that were both amazing and deeply challenging. Usually about twenty minutes in, I would be ready to fall on my mat in a teary, muscle-trembling heap. But my pride would never let me collapse, or leave. I kept going to classes, and I’m glad I did. My downward dog got better, and my creative life got one of its biggest boosts ever.
Each yoga class had a theme. One week the instructor told us we would spend the hour expanding and contracting. One pose would open us, the next would pull us closed like a flower at night.
“There are times to expand, and times to contract,” she told us. “In life you can’t do one or the other all the time, you need both.”
Expand and contract? I almost fell off my mat!
Expansion has never been my problem. My go-to state in life is, well, go. But in that moment on the mat something clicked in me. A willingness, an attraction to this idea. Expand and contract. Open and close. Okay, I’m game.
I started looking for small ways to expand and contract in my life, started noticing when I felt the need to move one way or another. At one point I even took a hiatus from my creative work entirely, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I rested, played, explored other facets of my life, and returned utterly focused and inspired.
I’m not suggesting you drop everything in an instant. I think the notion of expansion and contraction is just as relevant to our day-to-day creative work. We get down on ourselves when we are not brimming with ideas, we feel stuck. But maybe we just need a little down time, a little contracting. Maybe our blocks are just a self-imposed break.
Breaks are vital to our creativity.
In yoga, at the end of every class, we do something called ‘corpse pose’. We lay on our backs on our mats and just let our bodies sink into the floor. We relax, we contract, we expand internally. If you looked in on a class during corpse pose, it would probably look like nap time for grown-ups. But it’s actually the most important moment of the whole hour. According to yoga, the rest in corpse pose is what allows our bodies to assimilate all the benefits of the hard physical work we have just done.
All that work is lost without rest.
Creative rest resets us, allows us to fill the deep well that we draw from whenever we make something. Engagement with our daily lives keeps us fresh, gives us space for new ideas.
Expansion and contraction. Our lungs do it. The tides do it. The seasons come and go.
Expansion and contraction. I’ve even heard the universe does it. So why wouldn’t we?
So here’s my Creative Call to Action for you: expand and contract.
Maybe one of these states is more comfortable for you. So try the other. Remember to take action, or remember to rest.
Maybe you are trying to create perfect balance in every moment.
But balance really is just a moment, a split second between yoga poses, a brief pause between rest and action in our lives.
So just go for it. Expand deeply, really stretch yourself when it’s time to act. Make that deadline. Burn those candles. Check off that impossible to do list when it really counts. Dig deep. Go mad with new ideas. Turn your life into a short-term creative retreat.
On the flipside, make your rest truly restful. Turn off everything that has an off switch. Take a bath. Read a novel. Put all your work away to be present with yourself and those around you. Do small things that bring you joy.
Expand and contract. Like an inhale and exhale, you can’t have one without the other. Expansion is your opportunity to make the work you love, to turn your dreams into reality. It’s a harvest. Contraction is the space you need for more inspiration to take root.
Now I’d love to hear from you!