As a yoga teacher, I consider myself a pretty creative person. I’m constantly designing, making, shifting, adapting. My body is the paint, my yoga mat the canvas. Sometimes my sequences are pretty black and white, other times I add a few splashes of red, and sometimes the whole class is one glorious sweep of colour. And sometimes – more often than not, admittedly – it feels like I have the equivalent of artist’s block. I can feel it, there, this amazing new sequence, bubbling underneath the surface, but I can’t access it. I don’t know why, and it’s frustrating as hell. So that’s when I dig into the “archives”, repeating the same things, the same paintings, the same colours from months ago.
(Cover Image by Alex Beattie)
Not very satisfying.
And then I came across this quote:
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” ~ Scott Adams
This hit me hard. In a culture that doesn’t easily accept mistakes, where does that leave creative life? Having been brought up to be a perfectionist – when anything less than was considered not good enough – where did that leave my creative life? And as a yoga teacher, what did that mean for my classes and for my practice?
The short answer? It meant a complete overhaul of the way I approach my mat and my life.
When habits are ingrained almost from birth, they can be horrendously tough to break. My habit – my almost subconscious habit, by now – was to believe that I had to be perfect to be any good. Whatever I created had to be just so. If there was a line out of place, a glare on the photo, a hollow in the middle of the cake, a song that didn’t really fit in the playlist, or an asana that didn’t quite work in the sequence, it could put me out of joint for the rest of the day worrying and grumping about it.
But the result wasn’t the perfection that I craved. The result was that I became almost too scared to create anything.
To create, you have to let go. To create means to surrender to whatever comes up, and then try and express that as best you can in whatever way you can. It can be as terrifying as it is liberating. And most artists don’t actually have to share their work. If they don’t like it – if it’s one of those mistakes that they decide not to keep – the world never has to see it. But as a yoga teacher, you’re creating in the spotlight. Even the most carefully planned class has to have an element of spontaneity and surrender to circumstances. Going with the flow and being willing to make mistakes in front of a room full of students who are looking to you for guidance is a whole different ball game to painting in your living room, but I realised it had been striking the fear of God into me both on and off the mat. No one can create when they’re wound up and anxious.
Giving yourself permission to make mistakes isn’t an easy thing to do. Giving yourself permission to admit that you actually like those mistakes and want to keep them is even harder. It involves a huge amount of trust in yourself – not trusting that you won’t make a mistake, but trusting that when you do you’ll be able to adapt, be flexible, and flow with it. We are yogis, after all, and those tings are what yoga is supposed to teach us. Because without trust, without risk, without a bit of playfulness and imagination, and yes, without a few mistakes, even the most technically perfect asana sequence / painting / poem / cake (delete as appropriate) will be dry and a bit boring.
Mistakes are how we grow, and growth is, naturally, creation. And since Nature never worries if there’s a tree out of place, then why should we?
Ali is a yogini, writer, photographer, and professional day dreamer. When not on the mat, she can usually be found either with her nose in a book or planning the next adventure (or both).