I have a vivid imagination. As a child, I would often have one foot in my imaginary world, and another in reality. I never felt fully present in both, except in my dreams, in which I could soar. My imagination allowed me to climb the Himalayas with a Sherpa as my guide, magically stumbling across Shangri-La, hidden in a secret valley that only I could discover. I could cross the open prairie, traveling through tall, waving grasses, in a Conestoga wagon. I remember making my own covered wagon with pillows and blankets and being able to feel each dip and jostle on the well worn path west. I could imagine myself to be a lady in waiting in the court of Queen Elizabeth, bowing to her Majesty and wearing gowns of brocade, silk and pearls. In my thoughts, I was a Chinese girl, working in the rice fields, an Ancient Egyptian, feeling the heat off the baked mud walls of the low buildings in the marketplace or a Russian girl, living a "Fiddler on the Roof" existence of musical joy, mixed with fear of the cossacks. I attended a progressive Montessori school, and was allowed to finish my math quickly in order to hide myself in the window seat of the library, and lose myself in books about young women from long ago. This practice both fed my insatiable curiosity for the words to describe the actual world around me, and also gave me more secret windows in which to enter another, hidden world.
Albert Einstein once wrote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." I heartily agree. Without imagination, there would be no progress. There would be conformity, uniformity and one method of thinking that leaves no room for improvement. There would no light, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no printing presses, no cars, no structurally sound buildings, no heat, other than fires. There would be no irrigation, to bring water to feed crops and there would be widespread famine. There would be no understanding in medicine, and extraordinary strides to save lives. Diseases like Smallpox and Polio would still leave mothers in fear for their babies. The Plague would still run rampant and populations would be devastated. Creative thought has enabled civilization to communicate more effectively, remain healthier and to travel much further in shorter periods of time.
However, with creativity comes responsibility. Just because we have active imaginations doesn't mean we must always enact each and every idea that crosses our train of thought. Overactive imaginations have also led civilizations astray. Would there have been slavery, had it not been for the imagination for those who believed they were *better* than those they had enslaved? Would there have been witch trials and the Inquisition, had it not been for people's imaginations run amok? Just because we can imagine something that seems fantastical, does it make it a real and accurate possibility? Therein lies the great philosophical question of all the ages.
In Yoga, we explore imagination balanced with controlling our thoughts. The most challenging aspect of learning to become a Yogini for me were not the physical "asanas", or poses. I quickly learned how to practice Sun Salutations, Tree Pose, Shoulder Stand and the entire Warrior series. I marveled at how quickly my body was becoming stronger, more toned and more flexible. A lifelong Klutz, known to all as being able to trip over my own feet for no reason, I gained confidence in my ability to control my body. I fell down stairs less often and had fewer experiences of hitting myself in the head every time I closed the rear hatch of my car. This alone was a minor miracle! And yet, when it came time to control my thoughts, even as happy daydreams, the skill alluded me. During times of meditation and relaxation, I experienced what the Indian Yogis refer to as "Monkey Mind": my thoughts skipping from tree to tree, branch to branch, never alighting on any one place for long. The class around would be peacefully focused on nothing but the breath, and I would be experiencing the hyperactive Chihuahua thought sensation of "What if I go to the market before I go home? Do I have enough money to pay bills today? What if Josh doesn't pass his English test? What if Caroline doesn't get the part she wants in The Nutcracker? Do the dogs need to go to the vet for their ear infections? Do I look fat today? Do at least my thighs look fat? Did I return the movies? How much laundry has piled up? Seriously, am I fatter than that woman in the corner wearing blue?"
Thankfully, I had a wonderful master teacher. She helped me to use my restless and "bouncing Golden Retriever chasing ball" imagination to help conjure images that I could then control...thereby, controlling my thoughts. The technique she helped me to employ was that of carriage driver with four horses. My imagination was traveling in so many different directions at once, that the use of four separate horses gave me the ability to see each train of thought in those different directions those thoughts wanted to veer off the course. As the carriage driver, it was my job to keep an eye on those horses. I needed to be aware of where they each wanted to go, to understand their choice of direction, and yet, when the time was right, to have the secure ability to rein each one in separately. If Horse A wanted to go to the left, and Horse C wanted to turn off to the right, it was my mind's job to keep them heading straight where I chose for them to go and not off course. Perhaps Horse B was nervous and just wanted to turn around and backtrack, and Horse D just felt bored and wanted to race ahead, far in the future at full gallop. Then, I needed to slow my breath and reiterate the slow, steady, calm and direct pace in the correct direction, at the correct speed.
This mental game, or technique, allowed me to gain mastery over my thoughts, but did not kill my individualism or creativity. It simply allowed me to have use of a tool to know where and when to be creative, and where and when to focus my thoughts sharply on one thing: being at peace. Did this hurt my imagination or creative process when I did call upon it? Quite the opposite. I have found that my imagination can be called up more fully and more clearly at my command. I still have moments of random sparks of creativity, and I still daydream. However, I also have the ability now to use this technique at my disposal to ask "Horse A...where would you like to go today?" when working on a creative assignment. I find myself being taken on a wonderful journey, but on my command. Rather than kill my imaginative instinctive process, yoga has given me a way to to focus it and utilize it far more effectively. I have been able to squeeze the metaphorical creative juices out of the bottom of the tube, rather than just skimming off the top, and completely changing directions. It's been a fascinating, and energizing, skill sharpening exercise.
So, as an immense fan of imagination, I encourage all to explore this side of your personalities. Write! Draw! Paint! Play music! Sing! Dream! But, be the master of your carriage, and allow it to take you where you decide, all the while knowing that you can steer your chariot in whichever direction you choose.