If you practice yoga regularly, you might be more similar to great artists like Picasso and Beethoven than you think. The brain waves of both yogis and creatives have been the subject of much scientific study in recent years, and it turns out that they have quite a bit in common.
Creativity is a wonderful yet elusive part of the human experience, seeming to abandon us when we need it most. As a result, creatives are constantly in pursuit of “the zone”—the headspace in which they produce their best ideas—and recent research is showing that practicing yoga can help them tap into it.
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Yoga for Creativity?
While the connection between yoga and enhanced creativity seems self-evident to many yoga practitioners, what’s the science behind it? Which parts of the brain are active during creative work, and are they the same areas that are stimulated by yoga and meditation?
In their book The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain, John Kounios and Mark Beeman explain what happens in the brain insights arise and whether we can use science to deliberately replicate those conditions. According to their studies, there are three conditions that correlate with “aha” moments, or moments of creative insight and clarity:
- Relaxed focus, in which brain activity slows from rapid beta waves to more relaxed alpha waves
- Humor and a positive emotional state
- Meta-awareness, or being aware of one’s own awareness and thoughts
Kounios and Beeman observed that when someone enters a state of relaxed focus, their frontal cortex brain waves slow down to alpha rhythms, creating an elevated ability to solve problems and call upon new insight.
Brain researchers Elmer and Alyce Green, known as pioneers in the biofeedback space, made similar discoveries as they studied the effects of yoga on the brain. The Greens studied the brain waves of yogis and found that their brain wave patterns slowed down to alpha rhythms within minutes of beginning a yoga session. What most surprised them, however, was that these rhythms slowed even further to theta rhythms.
In another study that involved examining pictures of the brain taken during Yoga Nidra, Dr. Hans Lou and Dr. Troels Kjaer uncovered that deep meditative relaxation, as in Yoga Nidra, also creates theta brain activity. Theta brain waves are associated with deep relaxation and inspiration, and some researchers even believe they are more conducive to creativity than alpha waves.
In other words, practicing yoga and meditation can slow brain wave patterns to alpha and theta rhythms, creating the brain states associated with creativity and insight. But how can we harness this knowledge to foster more creativity?
How to Harness Your Inner Creativity
Theta Brain Waves
If you’re looking to get out of your own head and spark some creative thought, give Yoga Nidra a try. According to the Lou and Kjaer study, it will help you enter a theta state in which you may experience great inspiration and profound creativity. Other options for encouraging theta brain rhythms are mindfulness and zazen meditation.
Alpha Brain Waves
To encourage alpha brain waves—the ones that help you solve problems and have “aha” moments—try mantra meditation or enjoy an extended Savasana during your next yoga practice. To test whether these practices improve your creativity, try them first thing in the morning or during a break from work, and observe whether new ideas come more easily to you.
When creative frustration is holding you back, don’t force yourself to be productive. Instead, try yoga for creativity. Find your way to your yoga mat, relax, and let your brain waves do the work.