Healing and creativity through movement

As we march on to a new year and commit to new fitness goals, it’s important to remember one thing — there’s no substitute for movement

By Tamreez Inam

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Published: Sun 31 Dec 2023, 3:17 PM

In Urdu we have a saying ‘harkat mein barkat hai’ (there is blessing in movement), which in a metaphorical sense can mean to keep going or keep trying, but it also holds true in a very literal sense. I’ve always understood it to mean that when we are feeling stuck in life, some form of movement can help to snap out of our ennui. This is in line with prevalent notions of exercise being good for us, not just physically but also mentally.

Lately, I’ve been turning to movement – stretching, a session in the gym or a walk – as a way of shaking off my immense feelings of grief and frustration over what’s happening in Palestine.

I’ve been finding it hard to wake up in the mornings – as a freelancer, I need to depend on my own reserves of self-discipline otherwise I would not get any work done – or I wake up from strange nightmares. Either I feel completely listless or otherwise so restless that I don’t know what to do with myself. At times like these, it becomes very hard to write or get any work done. One day, out of sheer frustration, I put on my trainers and walked out the door just to get rid of my pent up energy, and it greatly helped.

Usually I’m a huge multi-tasker and think I need to maximise the productivity of everything I do. Inspired by books like Atomic Habits that encourage pairing something you don’t want to do with something you want to do (such as exercise with Netflix), I’m always doubling up each task. For example, when I’m driving, walking or tidying up my room, I usually listen to a podcast or an audiobook, or call up someone. Two birds with one stone. And while this multi-tasking approach works well most of the time, sometimes the sensory overload can make me feel even more restless. It helps, then, to just do one thing quietly or mindfully.

It is in these moments of stillness or mindfulness that we not only heal ourselves, but also surprise ourselves. What I’ve found is that if I do my exercise without any distractions – especially if I go on a walk without my phone - then I not only feel calmer but also get new ideas for my work.

You don’t have to be an artist or writer to benefit from more inspiration or creativity, but especially if you are someone working in a creative field, then it is a gift we can give ourselves. When we undertake some form of movement without distractions it can open up new avenues in our writing or creative practice. The idea is that when we are present in the moment, connected to our surroundings and let our minds wander, then we tap into new reserves of creativity.

Haruki Murakami, in his memoir What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, wrote: “As long as I can run a certain distance, that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly.”

Julia Cameron, bestselling author of The Artist’s Way and a pioneer of creative recovery, believes that “inspiration comes to a body in motion.” She advocates ‘a solo, phone-free, dog-free, friend-free, twenty-minute walk’ a few times a week as an essential tool for creativity.

To writers, in particular, Cameron suggests in her book Write for Life: “You may wish to walk out with a question – it is likely you will return with an answer. Walks will help you to metabolise this process, as well as provide inspiration and clarity in your writing.”

Over the years, I’ve become a fan of this spiritual approach to creative practice and have found there to be surprising blessings in movement combined with mindfulness.


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