The creative process is a series of flows going and coming from different directions. Some flows come from sources of inspiration, go into the artists mind and flow out from the artist and into the audience. Other flows encircle two fellow artists, while others come from fans to the artist in the form of support, admiration, or income.
But as far as the act of creation is concerned the flows that go through the artist sometimes become problematic and cause difficulties. The artist takes elements they perceive in the environment and fuses those elements together in unique ways with emotional aspects of their psychology derived from their philosophy of life. They combine these factors with the work of their hands using earthly materials to create aesthetic products.
The flows and the process of creation form a system and like other systems they can get damaged or break down. The reasons vary greatly from one artist to another as to why damage or corruption causes the system to slow or fail altogether. Failing altogether isn't as common as slowing or burning out, which is typically caused by the system running or flowing in one direction for too long.
The body and mind are an interface that works well in harmony to control the flows from the environment and the mind as they move through the body. Interestingly, the environment and the mind are constantly emitting impulses or providing stimuli to the body via the nervous system, which consists of the electrical circuits that run throughout the body. The mind is constantly providing orders to various body parts to get them to do its bidding while the environment is a gigantic theater of sensory input without end.
This makes the body a conduit for the flows going in to the mind from the environment and back out to the environment and from the environment coming in to the mind and back out from the mind to the environment. The mind can also provide its own stimuli in the form of inspiration, memories, dreams, and ideas-realms of creativity-which also flow through the body, out to the environment, and back in again.
All of this flowing and non-stop sensory input keeps the body in a state of enervation, which causes damage, slowing, overloading, and burn out. Enervation is simply when the body feels drained of energy or experiences exhaustion from too much stimulation (overloaded circuits).
For artists, relaxation is the only method of reversing the effects of enervation and is therefore a vital practice to achieve creative longevity. The use of drugs (illegal or prescription) or hypnotism is no substitute for relaxation. In fact, they are in themselves additional forms of stimulation and sensory input that would further agitate the body in a state of enervation. Avoid them if possible when relaxation is required.
Exchanging one form of stimulation for another doesn't constitute relaxation. Like the alcoholic who exchanges one drug with another by replacing alcohol with nicotine or caffeine, they are merely switching one addiction for another. Such compromises bring about new problems and the individual remains an addict for the whole of their lives without really living drug free.
True relaxation means refraining from artificial forms of stimulation and sensory input to experience one's self and one's environment in a natural state. When the alcoholic switches to nicotine or caffeine, they are actually mitigating the effects of withdrawal by forming new addictions.
For the drug addict, going through withdrawals is actually the gateway to living drug free. Withdrawals are actually the body's method of removing drug toxins from its systems so that they can be expelled as waste products. This along with other therapeutic techniques is what finally allows a person to eventually arrive at a drug free existence.
Similarly, the artist can recuperate from the artificial forms of stimulation and sensory input derived from the creative process by going through a kind of withdrawal. Because each form of artistic labor will have its own particular challenges to achieve a state of relaxation, each type of creative work will have its own form of withdrawal and will require the invention of strategies to remove the unique stresses that are specific to that art form.
For the chef, try a period of eating only pure flavors to help you relax your palate. This would comprise eating only raw fruits, slightly cooked vegetables, and meats or starches with little or no seasonings at all. Periodic short or prolonged fasts might have the most benefit in the long term to keep the palate sharp and the digestive system strong.
For musicians, go with a period of quiet. Because we exclusively use our ears to find, test, and combine new sounds, it's our ears that suffer the most stress during the creative process. The height of tall buildings and the remoteness of the mountains will help you rise above the sounds of cities and human life, while the distance and expanse of wide open spaces in the desert, grasslands, and bodies of water will bring you peace through extremes of noise reduction.
In contrast, relaxation for the athlete and dancer might consist of either active or passive processes such as resting or stretching depending on the movements they are normally performing.
For the illustrator and painter relaxation might actually pertain to several practices to resolve several issues. Stretching might work to help relax the effects of restricted and repetitive movement, while meditation (sitting with eyes closed or in a pitch black room) will work to de-stimulate the eyes.
Notice how relaxation actually constitutes sensory deprivation of one or more of the senses. The reason is because what we're trying to resolve is enervation (chronic nervous stimulation), which can only be alleviated with its opposite: sensory de-stimulation or deprivation. Other approaches for achieving sensory de-stimulation will include noise cancelling headphones, a sound-proof chamber, meditation, dim lighting, a walk in the forest, travel to a secluded out-of-the-way location, and extended time in an empty house or hotel room.
The purpose of all these approaches is to greatly reduce the amount of stimulation our brains and bodies undergo during the creative process because the focused effort of the act of creation almost always comes at the expense of our body and its need for relaxation. But much more important than the purpose is the effect we are trying to achieve which is resetting or refreshing our senses, so as to return to our work with "new eyes."
Resolving enervation and the physical toll it takes on our bodies is just one component to achieving complete relaxation, while altering mental function will be the other. Sensory deprivation will help alleviate the accumulated stress collected in the nerves of the body, but what about the accumulated stresses in the mind. Just as the creative energy of the body can slow or burn out by flowing in one direction for too long, so can the function of the mind in the creative process.
The focused intensity of the act of creation usually comes at the expense of our minds, especially when our attention acts in a single capacity or mode for too long. Ironically, sensory deprivation will not assist the mind in its ability to refresh itself, because the senses are not its only channels of stimulation. Dreams, creativity, and imagination are unique aspects to the function of the mind and require a different approach when trying to achieve mental relaxation. However, the same principle still applies when dealing with the issue of relaxation.
Just as we resolved burn out caused by excessive or prolonged sensory input, the mind can also be helped. The focused intensity of creative thought can be relaxed by "free thought" because focused intensity and unregulated thought energy are opposite forms of mental activity, which means they can be used to counteract one another. In other words, structured or guided forms of thinking can be relaxed into more fluid or "free" forms of thought.
Within each artistic discipline these forms of mental activity express themselves as extremes such as the difference between the novelist and the poet in writing, the realistic painter and the abstract painter in painting, the ballet dancer and the modern dance performer in dance, as well as tonal and atonal or micro-tonal music in composing.
Sometimes stretching oneself as an artist can be a form of relaxation, but only if you explore an opposite artistic extreme than what you're normally used to. So if you tend to write in more structured forms, relax by attempting to author a bit of poetry and vice versa. This stretching technique can also be a great benefit because it allows you to find new material to bring into your normal creative mental function.
Improvisation and accidental art approaches are also interesting areas to explore because they combine what we know or have learned with expression without the need to necessarily create something with structure and conscious intention. In other words, approaching our craft with the skills we've acquired but without the goal of creating structure is a form of relaxation for the creative process by getting us to act more spontaneously. The openness of mind required in these approaches slackens the desire for creative outcomes to turn contrary artistic efforts into relaxation techniques. The contrasts and deviations of approach between each pair of opposite as shown above actually holds the keys to therapy within each art form and medium.