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. .