Creativity and the Mind Body Connection

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From the time I was a child I dreaded gym class. Gym class was when I had to wear unattractive clothes, get picked on and picked last by the jocks and jockettes, play sports I wasn’t any good at, and ultimately get dirty, sweaty and smelly. As a true child of the arts and humanities (and a bit of a girly girl to measure) gym class seemed to be the opposite of beauty and artistic ideals. Furthermore, as a fairly intelligent kid I tended to (and still do) live in my head quite a bit. My body was there but it was more of a vehicle for my mind and vocal chords. However, as I am getting closer to my mid-twenties with a few too many pounds and a quite a few artistic blocks, I’m finding myself reevaluating the mind-body connection and what it can do for me as an artist.

For centuries in western society people have believed the mind and body were separate and more importantly that the mind was superior to the body (Montgomery). After all, the mind was viewed as the being the center of reason, identity and spirituality while the body was seen as home to untamed emotions and primal urges (Ibid). However recent studies in neuroscience and cognitive science have found that this division is not the case. Mind and body, rather than being like two separate cliques who tolerate each other’s existence, are made to coexist harmoniously. Physical activity can, among other things, boost mood and stimulate brain growth (Siegfried). However, the most exciting discovery is from the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience which showed that regular exercise could boost creativity.

At first glance this might sound like bad news for artists and intellectuals who may still have nightmares about gym class. However there are ways that we can exercise to tap into this potential and none of these have to involve getting picked last for volleyball.

1) Dance: This might be the most obvious way to get physical activity for people who love the arts considering dance is an art. You can either find classes or you can do it at home with video instruction. There are several different branches of dance you can choose from (ballroom, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, belly dance, African dance, clogging…). Dance has been found to boost memory, improve balance and flexibility, increase energy, reduce stress and depression, and help the heart (in fact an Italian study found dancing helped people with heart disease improve more than biking or walking on a treadmill) (Knight). Dance can also help to make friends and expand socially (ibid). After all, knowing a few moves can probably do quite a bit to boost your confidence at the next wedding or high school reunion you have to attend. Of course for artists it can also be an opportunity for performance.
2) Walking/Jogging/Bicycling: I included these together because in many ways they are very similar in their benefits though they have their differences as well. All are aerobic exercises meaning that large groups of muscles are active which requires support from the heart and lungs (Lidor). You can either walk/jog/cycle around your neighborhood or if you’re an indoor type you can do them at a gym or at home on a treadmill. They all reduce weight and can prevent various degenerative diseases though cycling puts less stress on joints and thus is often recommended for people who are overweight (Ibid). However, as an artist you might take different approaches. Some (particularly if you are doing this outdoors) might use the time to gain inspiration from your surroundings or as a time to clear your mind. Others might listen to music or an audiobook for inspiration (safety note: if you are outside try to remain aware of your surroundings, especially be mindful of traffic).
3) Yoga: The term Yoga actually refers to a variety of physical, mental and spiritual practices to transform the body and the mind (Wikipedia). The type of Yoga that spread to the west and is most popular in America is a style known as Hatha Yoga (Ibid). However there are many types of Yoga a person can choose from. They range from the very physical styles of Ashtanga and Power Yoga to the more relaxed Iyenger and Hatha (WebMD). Yoga can have many benefits to health including increases in flexibility and strength, better posture, lower blood pressure, and better breathing (Ibid). It’s also been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and better immune system function (Ibid). However Yoga can also have huge benefits in quieting and clearing the mind which can help artists (or anyone for that matter) relieve everyday stresses and perhaps find the inspiration for that next great project (Ibid).
4) Swimming: Swimming is great for those of us that are especially concerned about the icky sweaty factor of exercise (and considering we only have about one more month of summer, now is a good time to take advantage of it). The benefits of swimming are numerous. First, you can work practically all the muscles in the body with a variety of strokes (Luebbers). Additionally it can develop strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness (Ibid). It’s great for people who are overweight or have joint problems or injuries since it doesn’t involve as much impact stress on the body (Ibid). There can obviously be social benefits (hanging out with friends at the beach or by the pool). However, like yoga, swimming can also allow for meditation which can lead to an artist being able to clear their mind and gain some inspiration.

I offer a challenge to my fellow artists; let’s get off the couch or up from our desks and truly explore our mind-body connections. Let’s dance, walk, jog, cycle, swim, do yoga, or do something else entirely if none of those work for you. In finding our mind-body connection we can be lead to a better understanding of ourselves as artists. Thus we can become more creative, productive, and can truly live up to our artistic ideals (even if we are a little sweaty).

Bibliography and Works Cited
Chan, Amanda L. “Regular Exercise Could Boost Creativity.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Colzato, Lorenza S., Ayca Szapora, Justine N. Pannekoek, and Bernhard Hommel. “The Impact of Physical Exercise on Convergent and Divergent Thinking.” Frontiers. N.p., 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Davis, Jeffrey, M.A. “Science of Creativity Moves Into the Body.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Dean, Jeremy. “20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind.” PsyBlog RSS. N.p., 09 Oct. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Knight, Madeline. “9 Health Benefits of Dance.” EverydayHealth.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Lidor, David. “Running Vs Cycling – The Similarities and the Differences.” Running Vs Cycling – The Similarities and the Differences. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Luebbers, Mat. “What Are the Health Benefits of Being a Swimmer?” About.com Swimming. N.p., 02 June 2014. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Montgomery, John, Ph.D. “The Body in the Mind.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Siegfried, Juliette, MPH. “How Exercise Affects the Brain.” How Exercise Affects the Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
“Yoga Health Benefits: Flexibility, Strength, Posture, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.
“Yoga.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .

So You Want To Be In The Arts (A Letter To The Class of 2014)

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Dear Graduating Students,

 You are probably looking forward to finishing up your final classes, preparing for graduation (and any respective parties you may be having), and getting ready to kick off that final summer at home before you head off to college. You should definitely have some fun. You deserve it after all the hard work you’ve put in. However, as someone who has “been there” I would like to take this time to give you some (hopefully) helpful advice. Especially to those of you who want to go into the arts.

 First, I want to congratulate you on having the guts and spirit to go after what you want. Believe me that is definitely a hurdle that shouldn’t be underestimated. If you’ve got it in you to stand up and say “I want to do this” in spite of your parents, teachers, extended family, friends, politicians, and even your own self-doubting thoughts trying to steer you on a different path, then you just might have what it takes to make it as a singer, writer, actor, or whatever it is you want to be.

 That being said, let me give you my first piece of advice, prepare for difficulties. When I say this, please don’t think I’m insulting your intelligence. The first thing any of us hear when attempting to have a career in the arts is how hard it is. However, when I was in that place (that place being seventeen years old and deciding to major in music business) I knew there would be challenges but even I underestimated how many there would be. I think part of the problem is we tell ourselves that one day it will get easier; that all we have to do is get the record contract, write the perfect script, or star in the feature film. The hard reality is not that it’s difficult to get there. It’s that we believe when we do reach that point that things will suddenly get easier when that’s not the case. You got the record deal; great now you have to put out some quality albums (or at least what the label might think is quality), tour constantly, be interviewed by the press, and while you might have a more comfortable lifestyle then you did as a starving artist there are more responsibilities too. The sooner that you realize things won’t become “easier” the better off you’ll be. In the same way that your graduation doesn’t mean you won’t be facing new challenges in college, becoming a best-selling author or musician doesn’t mean that your life will be easier and that you’ll always create great work.

 My second piece of advice would be to get as much hands on experience as you can and build as many relationships as possible. You are probably aware that you will be required to complete an internship at some point during your time as a student. If I could go back and do things over again I would get an internship or volunteer with an organization every summer. Heck, start this summer. Call up an indie record label, music journal, publishing house, whatever organization you are interested in and say “I’m interested in this field and I’d like to intern or volunteer with your organization.” The best part? They’ll probably say yes. After all what person in their right mind is going to turn down free help? These internships are not to be underestimated, especially in the current economy. A secret that most people don’t realize about getting a job or career is that many organizations might not even post in the classifieds when they have a position open. They promote from within their organization or hire someone they know (Bolles, 8). If you start doing an internship or two every summer, then by the time you graduate college you will have gained a great amount of experience in the field you want to work in and you will have made deep connections with people who have the power to hire you or can recommend you to someone who can. I might add working for free now is going to be a lot easier then working for free with tons of student loan debt hanging over your head.

 My final piece of advice would be to not forget to have fun and take whatever opportunities you can to expand your horizons. College is one of the few times that you have enough freedom to make your own choices and do what you want but fewer responsibilities then you will have once you get out into the working world. While you should study hard, don’t forget to have fun and have as many new experiences as you can. Looking back on my college days, I tend to think I played it a little too close to the vest. While I did a very good job academically it does get to me at times that I don’t have any stories of wild road trips with friends or tales of studying abroad. Then again it’s never too late…it just might take me longer to scrounge up the time and money, so again have these experiences while you can.

I hope this advice can help you in your artistic journey. Best of luck to all of you and congratulations.