Well-being: Yoga and Art with Kate Hiley

I had a chat with Artist and Yoga Teacher Kate Hiley about her relationship with well-being and creativity. Her responses, as you will read, are rich in exploration and insight, as she opens up about how yoga has impacted on her life and subsequently, how it proceeds to influence her creative process.

As you will discover, Yoga is more than movement; it is a way of being. It shows up in the lighter moments, and in the darker ones; it provides a healing tool, teaching us to lean into pain and discomfort in order to grow. It asks us to breathe through things and remain mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually present. Some could say, it is the ideal companion to creativity, encouraging artists of all kinds to trust the process.

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You are an Artist and a Yoga teacher, how do you find the relationship between yoga and art?

I could write a book about the relationship between yoga and art! To be honest, they started off as very separate elements in my life. Art was the thing I studied and it was my work, yoga was the physical class I went to once or twice a week for my body. I wasn’t really comfortable with the more spiritual elements of yoga straight away, I just wanted to see what my body could do. It was only after yoga became a bigger part of my life that I started to see its relationship to my practice as an artist.

Art has been a part of my life for so long and it’s a love hate relationship. All of my shadows have manifested themselves in my artistic practice creating a lot of struggle. Yoga has given me the tools to work through that resistance and to be more present. I feel like yoga has helped me to make art in a healthier way. Before, if I had a bad day in the studio, it would affect me on a deeply emotional level. Not that that’s a bad thing but it isn’t very conducive to a productive and rewarding artistic practice. Now I’m able push through those difficult days without feeling like it’s the end of the world. What I’ve taken from yoga has allowed me to really enjoy making art again and move away from any weighted expectations I might have put on myself in the past. Don’t get my wrong, it’s a constant work in progress and it’s easier some days than others, but I am grateful for the lessons yoga has allowed me to take into the art studio.

But I think the real yoga shows up in the darker moments. It’s being able to sit with pain, with discomfort or grief. To breathe deeply and accept the difficult moments without resisting them.

As practices, they feed each other. Art makes my yoga more creative and vibrant and immediate. Yoga makes my art more fluid, present and productive. They teach me to be more self aware and emotionally intelligent. They have given me community and a comfort in being alone with myself. They teach me to work through and lean into discomfort and learn from it, to find creative solutions in any situation. They also keep me physically and mentally strong. The more I deepen both practices the more entwined they become. I’m eternally grateful that I was able to find a way to earn a living sharing the practices that I love and that have helped me to grow. If I didn’t need to earn a living from them, I would continue to practise and study them both for myself and that’s the beauty of it. I make sure to remind myself of that everyday.

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How, when and where do you like to practise yoga? How does it make you feel?

I guess it depends how you’re defining yoga. As a physical practice I don’t really have a regular pattern. It totally depends on how I’m feeling and what’s happening in that moment in my life. It can be anything from a studio class to a morning stretch when I’m making my tea, to 2 hours on my mat in the middle of the day – it changes all the time. Whenever I feel like I’m too much in my head, yoga has helped me find ways to move and breathe that bring me back to my body and away from my thinking mind.

As a way of life, I’d like to think that yoga is a part of my everyday. It’s the ability to be present at all times, which let’s be honest, is really hard work. It means doing a lot of work on and off the mat. Sometimes it comes easily for me, for example the ability to take some deep breaths on a busy tube (on the memories of busy tubes!) to calm my anxiety, not reacting to someone who’s rude to me in the street, making nourishing decisions for my body like eating a plant based diet or not drinking alcohol.

But I think the real yoga shows up in the darker moments. It’s being able to sit with pain, with discomfort or grief. To breathe deeply and accept the difficult moments without resisting them. I know this probably sounds a like a heavy answer to your question, but honestly if someone comes to my class and wants to learn yoga, the best thing I can teach them is to let go of expectation and to lean into their pain, to learn from it. The same way when we physically injure ourselves, in the process of healing, we can understand more deeply the part of our body that has been hurt. When we grieve or we struggle, it’s only through the painful work of healing that we can learn ourselves more deeply. That we can be more present. So I guess how, when and where I like to practise yoga is in those moments of darkness. That’s when I really need it the most. How does it make me feel? It makes me feel empowered and connected. It allows me to take up space, even when things are uncomfortable.

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Any tips for beginners or those looking to get into yoga?

My advice would be, don’t be afraid to try lots of classes / teachers until you find the right one. With so much being online at the moment it’s a really wonderful time to explore, especially if you’re a little nervous to go to studios or if it’s not financially viable for you to try out classes. It may be that online yoga at home suits you better than a studio class, hopefully you can try both at some point so you can decide. If you’re unsure about all the different styles of yoga (it’s confusing even for us teachers sometimes) you can always have a search online, or better yet contact your local studio and ask them for advice / tell them you’re background, or if you have a friend that’s a yoga teacher, ask them if they would mind going through them with you.

It’s getting to know yourself fully as you grow each day, and loving yourself even when you are uncomfortable or in pain.

I think the most important thing though is finding the right teacher / teachers. You are stepping into a room and being vulnerable with this person as they guide you through your practice. You want to feel not only comfortable with them, but to enjoy their energy and be excited to go back. Don’t be embarrassed to try a teacher’s class and not return if they aren’t right for you. Not only are there so many different styles of yoga, each teacher will have a different style and energy as well. You’ll know when the teacher feels right for you because you’ll feel comfortable with them. My yoga journey really started when I found the right teachers and I’m forever grateful for them and still close with both of them to this day.

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How does yoga influence your art/creativity?

I think I kind of answered this in the first question… they are both so interconnected with my everyday life, at this point it’s almost impossible for them not to influence on one another. As the newbie, yoga has definitely influenced me as an artist in more obvious ways. It’s helped me to be okay with the more difficult parts of my artistic practice. To sit with unfinished or unsuccessful artwork and to learn from them instead of throwing them away or ignoring them. It’s helped me to stop comparing myself to other artists, to stay present and to stick to my own path. It’s allowed me to be more meditative and present in the studio, to be less reactionary so that I can have a more consistent practice and produce more work instead of having huge ups and downs.

At the same time, my years of artistic practice have allowed me to be more creative on my mat and with my sequencing, to be comfortable doing something physical and unpredictable, to be self-employed for a living! And so many other things that I probably haven’t even noticed yet.

It makes me feel empowered and connected. It allows me to take up space, even when things are uncomfortable.

And lastly, what do creativity and well-being mean for you?

For me, creativity means pleasure, it means freedom. It’s seeing the world from different perspectives and finding excitement in questioning everything. It’s also the ability to embrace change – to embrace change we have to think creatively, and to think creatively we have to be present! Well-being for me is health; mental, physical and emotional. It’s getting to know yourself fully as you grow each day, and loving yourself even when you are uncomfortable or in pain. It’s also the ability to set clear boundaries to protect your energy.

To view Kate’s art and join her Yoga classes! Visit her on Instagram @katehiley

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