“Visual learners are said to make up 65% of a typical class,” writes artist and movement teacher Sam Loe, “yet often in yoga or relaxation classes we mostly rely on auditory and kinesthetic learning styles.”
As an iRest Mentor and Supervisor who is trained in both the visual and movement arts, Sam aims to serve that majority with a more holistic approach to learning. In her twenty years of teaching experience, she has worked in universities, hospitals, and health centers; currently she is a faculty member of New Zealand Contemporary Yoga Teacher Training. We recently asked Sam to share her insight on the intersection of creativity and spiritual practice.
Read our interview with Sam below. As well, be sure to download the lively illustration of the iRest 10-Step Protocol that she created with fellow artist Megan Salole for use at home or in the classroom. All proceeds fund iRest scholarships.
Tell us who you are and what you do.
I practice and facilitate mindful movement, gentle and restorative yoga, and iRest Yoga Nidra classes, private sessions, retreats, and events in New Zealand. My practice and teaching come from a somatic place of listening deeply within.
I have been blessed to have studied in depth with Donna Farhi, and through her guidance, have been opened up to a truly loving and sustainable practice. She introduced me to the integrating practice of yoga nidra. When Richard Miller came to Australia in 2013, Donna and I travelled there to dive into iRest training, which expanded my understanding and exploration of this ancient art. I have continued to study with Richard Miller and the amazing array of iRest teachers and completed my certification with Kirsten Guest in 2018. I feel honoured to now be a Supervisor for others who are completing the Certification journey.
Why did you decide to illustrate the iRest 10-Step Protocol?
Drawing and making art have been a part of my life ever since I could hold a pencil. My main love is life drawing. I also often draw when I am listening and learning as a way of making sense of the information. Visual imagery is something I have found to be helpful, not just as a student, but also as a teacher. In my classes, I will often draw on the whiteboard or on huge sheets of paper to explain concepts, processes, maps or principles. These have to be scrubbed out at the end of the day and are really just rough sketches. I had wanted to develop these sketches into more sustainable learning resources.
Late last year, my good friend Megan Salole came to stay for a few days. She’s created a niche offering helping people tell complex ideas simply by harnessing the power of illustration. She’s also a member of the League of Live Illustrators, a fun group of creative alchemists who bring ideas to life in real time. People talk, they draw. At workshops, events, and conferences, they produce awe-inspiring illustrations that summarize the ideas as they are spoken.
In between our family meals and activities, I was describing to Megan the treasures and facets of iRest. One evening, she took my basic scribbles and expanded them into such a wonderful representation of the main concepts and stages of iRest for me to use in my classes. Her graphics were able to add so much to my basic forms. We thought it would be a great resource to offer all those of you sharing iRest.
Folks have different learning styles, and diagrams can help those who learn visually. Would you like to speak to this idea?
Pictures activate different parts of the brain than words. They get interpreted more as stories and having a narrative makes memory much easier for most people. Diagrams can be very helpful when learning, but illustration offers another level of nuance, as it can convey feeling and emotion and the essence of an idea. Visual learners are said to make up 65% of a typical class and yet often in yoga or relaxation classes we mostly rely on auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. I encourage yoga teachers to bring in more visual imagery into the classroom, even if it’s showing a photo or sharing images from a book.
Are you trained as an artist, or self-taught? Tell us about your visual arts background.
My background is in Fine Art and Contemporary Critical Theory and I studied at Goldsmiths University in London. I found the theory and philosophy fascinating and valuable but also inhibiting in terms of my artistic expression. It took quite some time and exploration to reconcile my cognitive processing with the simple joy and connectedness I felt through my natural urge to draw, paint and make art. Did I need to be able to explain it within the modern discourse of the art world?
My degree at age 18 was really the beginning of my journey into self-inquiry and exploration of what authentic expression might be as well as what it might mean to be human. This ontological questioning in my experience is also what my yoga practice brings me back to again and again, the journey and mystery that is involved in being human and in fact to be a female human! My final degree show was an installation of animated women superheroes trying to stay still in challenging physical forms or what I now know to be yoga postures. In a way, I was figuring out how to animate life force through a set of hand-drawn stills.
I ended up going into the multimedia world, specifically online learning, rather than the art world. This meant finding ways of using visual media including diagrams, maps and illustrations that help people to learn and integrate new material.
These days, I have come full circle, returning to engaging with my creativity in the service of relaxation and joy. Simple figure drawings are my preferred expression. I often use these drawings to illustrate my class handouts.
Describe your own spiritual or meditative practice.
I love to explore somatic movements that support my daily activities—mindful movements that help me rest, sit, stand, and walk well. I start every day with a ritual of seated meditation and movement and check in with all my Koshic layers.
Many times, it’s my artistic side that guides me in my physical practice, and I will find inspiration from a poem or music. This allows movement to arise through fluid form, perhaps even evolving into dance or just getting really creative with how I’m expressing body shapes and practices. It comes from less of a cognitive space and more of a felt sense and intuition. If family duties allow in the afternoons, I will get quiet with restorative postures or a longer yoga nidra practice.
My practice is also guided through the sacred geometry of the yantras. I have been learning more about them with the amazing yantrika Sarah Tomlinson. These ancient forms provide a kind of prelinguistic template that connects me back to universal qualities such as love, kindness and wholeness through color, form, and shape. They also connect me back to the ancient tradition of nondual wisdom.
Do you have any comments on the intersection of creativity and spirit?
Creativity has always been at the intersection of my yoga practice and connection with Spirit. Shakti unites with Shiva! As Lorin Roche explains in his commentary on the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Shakti is the goddess singing to her lover. She is the dynamic creative power of the universe.
I’m also thinking of Matangi, the goddess of art and wisdom who sits regally at the intersection between creativity and spirit, uniting Shakti with Shiva. She is the rebel Saraswati who channels creative energy whilst connecting into the higher teachings of Spirit, but her main job is to make them accessible to all beings.
Elizabeth Gilbert, a rebel goddess herself, has an inspiring way of viewing creativity in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She opened me up to the possibility of freeing the ego and any sense of the tormented artist that can kick in around coming up with ideas or being creative. She insists that if you’re alive, you’re a creative person!
Gilbert has a theory that ideas exist as energetic life forms outside of our individual selves, and when we connect to the source of wonder and magic, we become conduits for inspiration. I love how she encourages a receptivity rather than the ego-driven anxiety that I would feel at times under the pressure of having to be the originator or creator of an idea or object.
What a relief to simply open up to receiving the ideas rather than conjuring them up from an egoic mind! This approach brings creativity into conversation with Spirit in such an honoring way and beyond the personality.
Is artistic practice meditative, in your own experience?
Absolutely, although I have been told in the past by meditation teachers that creative thoughts should be considered a distraction the same as any other thought. I used to try and ignore or suppress creative thoughts along with all the other parts of my "monkeymind", but through iRest and nondual practices I have come to welcome creativity and inspiration into the spacious field of Awareness. Sometimes when I facilitate yoga nidra I will put out an invitation for participants to draw from the meditative state, either at the end or during the practice.
The flow state, in which one can be fully absorbed and focused, is often described by artists, dancers, writers, or even athletes as the key to full expression. I experience creativity as an embodied state of meditation and even as a state of pure awareness that requires no analysis. Elizabeth Gilbert speaks of it in this way:
“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration”
I love the notion that art can be a souvenir from the land of pure Awareness.
Explore movement practices with Sam in a video series accompanied by illustrated handouts.