Pursuing creativity: Inspirational ventures on and off the mat

Rayna Gasteiger of Rayna Art + Co works on model yogini Julia Abbott of Cedar Falls. — Photo by Melissa Stuckenholtz

Photo courtesy of Julia Abbott

Julia Abbott

New Dawn Yoga, Cedar Falls
Years practicing yoga/meditation: 10

I started playing the violin when I was 5. Since high school, I’ve played on a violin that my grandpa made. He passed away when I was just a baby, but from what my dad said, Grandpa never thought he did the instrument much justice by playing it, but he enjoyed the process of seeing a project from start to finish, crafting instruments with his own hands.

My yoga and music studies evolved very similarly. I started practicing yoga when I was 17. I enjoyed the escape that I found on my mat, but it was the impressive physical practice that hooked me. I was fairly flexible to begin with, and I had a good amount of upper body strength. Being able to do a handful of advanced poses from day one was exciting but really distracted me from learning the nuances of the basic poses.

Violin was no different. Since I started so young, I hadn’t considered the importance of how much consideration I put into what I was doing. Like most young people, I didn’t enjoy practicing the basics. I would play through my exercises mindlessly just so I could check them off my to-do list. I didn’t understand their purpose—only that they were required for my next lesson.

I enjoyed playing robust, romantic, expressive pieces. The more passionate and energetic sounding, the better — also similar to the way I treated my yoga practice. When I was faced with a classical, lighter piece of music, I had no motivation to practice. To me, it wasn’t entertaining, and I didn’t consider it challenging or fun. I had zero concept of subtlety.

“An artist paints, dances, draws, writes, designs or acts at the expanding edge of consciousness. We press into the unknown rather than the known. This makes life lovely and lively.” – Julia Cameron

My evolving yoga practice has helped my thought process on fundamentals and creativity. Embracing the details and subtle energy you can bring into a pose changes the entire attitude of the practice. Things can be intricate and expressive without being overt sounds or movements. Taking seemingly simple poses and pieces of music and taking the time to break them down in order to perform them with care and intention helps develop both to a deeper level.

Playing notes and rhythms on a page without consideration or energy is a lot like moving through a yoga practice without intention or breath. For me, this is the biggest takeaway from being a musician and a student of yoga.

Photo courtesy of Brandy Leuders

Brandy Lueders

Chef and Restaurant Owner
The Grateful Chef, Des Moines
Years practicing yoga/meditation: 10

My creations in the kitchen are an outward expression of who I am. I believe cooking, and life, should be led with a light-hearted, fun approach, and that’s what you’ll see in my work. I like to incorporate many different colors and textures in my dishes, as this is what inspires me when I step outside and immerse myself in the many different elements of nature.

I was led to yoga many years ago, first as it was the “new” and “cool” thing to do at the time. But I’ve stuck with it over the years because it’s what centers and grounds me. When life gets hectic, I know that just by getting my mat, all that melts away, and all that matters is the here and now. It’s also what helps bring me to a place of inspiration with what I choose to cook. In the moments of quiet, the answers come. The movement element of yoga encourages playfulness and flow in the kitchen.

To enrich my spiritual practice further, I was introduced to Vedic meditation five years ago. Learning to sit in stillness regularly is one of the best acts of self-care and self-love that I practice.

Yoga has helped me physically by keeping me flexible and limber, and helps offset the jolting moves of my work, being on my feet all day, and lifting heavy things. As I’ve gotten older, it’s even more necessary than before to move through yoga. My body craves it. Being a very active person, it’s just what I need to slow down, take time for myself and honor the needs of my body. Yoga has also led me to some of my most precious friendships! You just never know who you’ll meet by walking through those doors.

My biggest life lesson so far is to sit quietly, listen to life’s gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) cues, and to not get dragged into the drama that the ego wants us to feel. Instead of letting what feels like a hurdle bring me down, I now just ride the wave, knowing that there’s a lesson in the challenges, and getting worked up doesn’t really help in the end. My personal life mantra is to just surrender.

The blending of yoga, meditation and cooking is synergistic, and all help me to be in a space to share my creative gifts with the world.

Making of the Cover

YogaIowa worked with artist, Rayna Gasteiger of Rayna Art + Co, and photographer Melissa Stuckenholtz, of Gorman House Photography to create the cover of our Summer 2017 issue. Take a look behind the scenes as Rayna worked on the beautiful henna we featured on our cover!

Photo by Madeline Huff

Shawna Salter Harrington

Custom Woodworker and Furniture Restorer
The Handy Hen, Sioux City
Years practicing yoga/meditation: 8

I found “Ms. Fix-it” skills after the passing of my dad in 1999. As a tomboy growing up I was my dad’s shadow. But with no brothers or family in town, I took it upon myself to attempt crossing some things off an ever-growing “honey-do” list.

I did a lot of puzzles as a kid and always excelled in spatial reasoning and problem solving. So the more projects I attempted, the more I continued to learn and grow. I wanted a shelf, so I built one. I decided to get chickens, so I built a coop out of a broken ping-pong table. I needed a headboard, so I got scrap boards from my neighbor’s burn pile and created a new form with screws. I followed my interest in utilizing salvaged materials, and expanded my craft refurbishing and repurposing old furniture.

My husband, Adam, and I powered through a lot of weekend warrior projects for our first home, which was a real fixer-upper. He’s my constant supporter. It takes a confident man to not feel emasculated by a woman who can handle power tools.

I found yoga in 2009 as part of a P90X program and quickly fell in love with it. I adopted a practice just once a week at first. Yoga taught me to open myself, and things will come. The universe showed me the signs. As my practice deepened, I found more courage to try new things. I learned to honor the pause and trust that solutions will find me. So last year after a yoga class, my instructor stated a desire to have a cabinet for the studio. With zero thought, I blurted out, “I can build you one!” but inwardly whispered, “What am I doing?”

Then I remembered yoga also teaches us that growth happens during times of discomfort. This massive project started my interest in custom woodworking.

I got another sign from the universe when I entered a DIY $10 or less project contest online. I submitted my headboard project, which was technically free. I won a power tool package, and came to the realization that I’m on the right path. So I created a garage workshop and opened a new business.

I also started yoga teacher training in January 2017, yet another “What am I doing?” moment. I’m excited and passionate about teaching, eager to share the healing, confidence and promotion of self-love that comes with yoga — as well as the physical benefits, which are an added perk.

I was 19 when my dad passed. I spent most of my 20s lost and broken. I’m 37 now and can confidently say yoga saved my soul. The healing. The love. The supportive community I have. Words cannot begin to express my gratitude for all this practice has done for me, and how it led me to what I do now. In the words of my teacher, “Yoga ruins your life,” and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Photo courtesy of John Paul Schafer

John Paul Schafer

2-D Studio Painter
Studio John Paul, Cedar Rapids
Years practicing yoga/meditation: 5

It seems I’ve always been making art. I was an imaginative, inventive child. I loved to engage my imagination, and I naturally began drawing as a way to express it. I enjoy my solitude. I’m comfortable with it. It’s where I do my best thinking. It’s where I do my best work. And when I’m engaged socially, I tend to prefer quieter engagements with one or two close friends.

So it follows that I would seek some sense of community, but among a peer group with whom I share mutual interests in the esoteric realms of healing, balance and transformation. Naturally I’m led to yoga and other modalities like reiki, shamanism, acupuncture and meditation.

Yoga is a practice that balances and integrates the mind, body, and spirit. My studio work also engages these. My mind engages as I think about what I’m going to make, how I’m going to make it, and how I think through the process once a project has begun. This is intention, right? Likewise, my body is engaged as I stand face-to-face with my canvas. I use the full extension of my arm when I wield the brush, plus my eyes are engaged as I look intently at the imagery as it’s unfolding. And, of course, my spirit is engaged because what is self-expression without spirit, without soul? What is self-expression without a concept of self?

My art is rooted in existential philosophy, which naturally leads me to ponder the origins of matter, dark energy and consciousness through the lens of theoretical science. This is where art and science overlap because both are journeys into unknown realms of manifestation. Both are products of wonder, intuition, creative/critical thought and mathematical logic.

I think what my artwork says about me can be expressed by the popular phrase “still waters run deep.” I say that because my demeanor is usually perceived as rather reserved and understated, despite the wild, high-intensity color, contrast and movement that I express in my paintings. The process opens me to a dimension of space and time where I’m most able to dive deep within myself, where I’m free to play, experiment, and invent my own way of experiencing existence.

Mind. Body. Spirit. That’s why I practice yoga. It focuses my mind, restores my body, and soothes my spirit. And I see this balance as the Eastern version of the Holy Trinity observed in Christianity — that being the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Each set of words describes the same energy. “Father” and “Mind” alludes to God or a divine source of awareness. “Son” alludes to the body as a manifestation of mind, like in the phrase “body of Christ.” And “spirit” and “holy ghost” suggest a soul essence or some animating force like will. So practicing yoga is restorative for my sense of self, and the yogic movement is its own form of holy (holistic) observance or worship. It’s where I express gratitude (rejoice) and set my intentions (pray).

I sign my paintings “Johnny Paul Johnny Paul.” The notion came forward in a flash of insight — the kind of insight that you know is undeniably purposeful, authentic and timely. The double notation of Johnny Paul represents my physical body and my etheric body — my earthly self and my higher self, my outer self and my inner self.

Photo by Lindsey White

Laura Housel

Art Therapist and Fiber Artist
Ankeny and Milwaukee
Years practicing yoga/meditation: 19

Art and yoga have been constant tools I continue to return to in order to return to myself. Hopefully I return to a better version of myself or at least am better able to accept and love what is not yet “better.” Self-awareness, development and care are ongoing, and art and yoga have tremendous depth in what they can offer on the journey.

I enjoy most forms of art, and felting fiber is what I’m currently focused on. The repetitive and rhythmic pattern is soothing, grounding and meditative. Rhythmic and repetitive art making creates a structure that frees and quiets the mind for awareness and insights. Art making becomes a container and a form of self-regulation.

One of the most profound things that I experienced after completing yoga teacher training was the impact of repetitive patterns, whether it be the patterns of negative thinking or what we find through repetitive breath, movement, words or sounds. There’s an intelligence that can be discovered within us when we stop the ruminating thought long enough to create the space for a smarter version of ourselves to emerge. I’ve seen the way this impacts how I approach difficult situations, how I can see things and my ability to have compassion for others.

Art and yoga are both containers and capacity builders for awareness, acceptance, connection, compassion, healing, growth and change in our individual selves, our larger selves and our communities. Art and yoga communities often overlap and collaborate, especially in the areas of improved public health, quality of life and social justice.

I’m drawn to use my creativity to help others. I advocate for the under-served and for the arts. I worked in the field of therapeutic recreation at a non-profit serving adults with intellectual disabilities for ten years. I served on the board of Art for Ankeny as a co-founding member of a small non-profit, born out of a service project of the Ankeny Leadership Institute, working to bring the experience and the benefits of public art to the community. I was also a member of the Ankeny’s Cultural Art Board, and chair of the Ankeny Unplugged music and arts festival, facilitated by the Ankeny Jaycees.

I’m interested in trauma, neuroscience, art therapy, mind/body connection, yoga, mindfulness, resilience and social action and justice. After completing my master in art therapy program at Mary Mount University, it’s my dream to open up an art and yoga therapy practice and continue my advocacy work for art as well as under-served populations.

This article was originally published in YogaIowa’s Summer 2017 issue.


Leave a Reply