Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 31 December 2012

Soxual Resolution: The Yoga of Sock Knitting

The tree is packed away, the house tidied, most of the Christmas feast is finished.  We're settling in for a quiet New Year's Eve and an even quieter start to 2013.  I'll be curled up on the couch, knitting away, preparing for my upcoming classes.  Wine may be involved, although not too much: I have a button on one of my knitting bags to remind me that "My gauge was fine until the third glass of wine!"

I'm not much on setting New Year's resolutions.  They seem arbitrary and demanding, not in keeping with the gentleness and kindness I believe is the root of yoga spirit.  Resolving to begin an exercise programme when the thermometer hovers at -20C with a windchill of -30C or lower is asking for failure; planning goals for the year may trip us up if single-mindedness makes us blind to other paths. I prefer to focus on hope for a fresh start. 

I hope to achieve some degree of open-minded awareness in all that I do, rather than rush through things just to get them done.  I've been thinking about ways to combine my yoga teacher training and knitting classes.  I know perfectly well that setting a goal of "open mind and heart" is far too general, so I need to find something within my grasp which will provide opportunities for expansion.

What I've come up with is mindful sock knitting.  I love to knit socks. I have knit so many pairs over the years that I have my sock knitting formula down cold.  It's mindless knitting most of the time, pleasant and productive, but habit can also lead to problems.  (As it did in my previous post.)  So what will happen if I set sock knitting as my meditation practice? How can I use sock knitting as a lesson in mindfulness?

I have a Sock Knitting Class starting in January, so I've been working on basic sock patterns for my beginning sock knitters.  I want to be sure they can make the socks they want, using their own knitting styles and measurements.  To do that, I need to knit plain socks and socks with a bit of a twist, modifications which help me to resolve problems my fledgling foot covering enthusiasts may have. How can I combine that with yoga practice? As a start, I can knit yoga socks.

There are many pretty yoga sock patterns available, most of them based on knitting a plain sock, omitting the heel and toe of the sock so that the heel can be firmly planted and the toes spread wide.  This works, but I have several problems with hand made yoga socks. They need to be tight, tighter than regular socks, but with enough room so that circulation isn't impaired and that the foot can flex and pivot.  Since leg circumference is larger than foot circumference, the number of stitches for the foot should be smaller than the number for the leg, so extra decreases will have to occur to fit both:

The socks need to be light enough to be rolled off the foot without being too bulky:

Since the heel of the foot is wider across the back than it is near the arch of the foot, simply casting off and on the same number of heel stitches can make the fabric too tight across the back of the heel and/or leave extra fabric at the instep:

Notice how the back of the heel is wider than the beginning of the arch.

There also needs to be some accommodation for the instep, so that it is neither too bulky or so tight that the corners of the heel stitches stretch out and break, especially when the foot is active:

Simple mindfulness practice drew my attention to the complexities of a well-knit yoga sock. What do I have to show for it?  Well, there's this, the prototype:

It's a goofy looking thing, but I've been wearing it around the house and, so far, it works. The sock stays up; it's comfortable, tight, but not too much so and it does what I want it to do as I practice. It's not perfect-I'm not satisfied with the instep and, while the yarn blend is excellent (a cotton/wool/elastic blend), I don't care for the way it patterns. Still, I'm off to a good start and that's all I ask.

If I can gain awareness from such a small thing, perhaps that awareness will transfer to my life as it unfolds.  That's my hope for the New Year.  Oh, yes, I also hope to finish the second sock, preferably before midnight, so that I can start fresh.

All the best in 2013!


Thursday, 27 December 2012

More of My Favourite Things

I'm tucked warm inside my cozy house, bundled against the blistering cold we've had the past few days. Holidays are over; the tree will come down tomorrow and the house will be swept, ready for my New Year's tradition of starting afresh.

The highlight of the holiday season was, of course, family and friends. There were meals and visits. There were gifts to support our interests and hand made items filled with love and beauty. Young Mr. DD, who couldn't join us, sent books and videos; I received a book on Navajo weaving and he has pre-ordered me a copy of Sarah Anderson's, "The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs."  Young Ms. DD made me this beautiful bracelet and earring set:

Then there are these:

The scarves are my brother-in-law's work; they're just a sample of what he has been knitting for the past few years.  Scarf knitting is his thing.  He is working his way through Barbara Walker's "Treasury of Knitting Patterns,"  A while ago, he knitted what I'm sure must be a contender for the world's largest sampler, which was something like 18 inches wide and 14 feet (yes, feet!) long, all from Ms.Walker's book.  He then turned to scarves.  I'm not sure how many he has completed, but he brought these over on Christmas Day.  Young Ms. DD and I are to choose one each for ourselves.  That will be tough.  I love them all and there are several in particular which call to me, but I'm going to be a good Mom and let Ms. DD choose first.

Here are some detail shots:

All of the pieces are made with natural fibres.  The lighter one is from a skein of alpaca yarn I found for him at Fibre Week one year.  The one under it is knit from a wool sock yarn. The scarves in the background are made from (L to R): Susan Z.'s (doglover) hand dyed yarn, which BIL loves, and Zauberballe sock yarn.

After the two knit from doglover's yarns, comes a yellow one, a cotton/wool blend (to the best of my knowledge, as he doesn't keep records or yarn labels). The pale green is alpaca and the two at the right are superwash wool (Diamond Luxury Superwash Merino).

His knitting is even, beautifully worked and blocked:

Apart from their beauty and practicality, these scarves are a sign of our great good fortune in having BIL Dragondancer as a part of our family.  Thanks to him and to everyone in our lives.

P.S.:  I picked the blue alpaca diamond one, the third scarf in on the photo above Himself.


Monday, 24 December 2012

The Stockings Are Hung: Well, At Least, They're Done!

The house is clean, the laundry done, groceries gathered.  The socks-from-hell were finished last night and are now washed, blocked and drying.  Ms. DD comes home this afternoon, just in time for our family tradition of nachos, punch and "A Christmas Carol."  All is well.

I wish you all the best of the season, with joy and happiness in the coming year.  To those who are suffering, may you be well and free from harm.


Wikipedia Public Domain Image

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Nightmare Before Christmas: When Knitting Goes Bad

Every year I knit socks as a holiday gift for my daughter.  I've been doing this for about 25 years and I haven't missed the Christmas deadline yet.  I must be too smug to suit the knitting goddesses because, today, as I was working on the second sock, it occurred to me that something is not right.

It's not as though I didn't see it coming.  I decided to use someone else's pattern, rather than my own tried and true sock template.  The pattern is interesting, with a heel shaping I hadn't knit.  The instructions are clear, but they're one size and I don't understand the structure well enough yet to make adjustments.  I knew my gauge would be off, so I dropped down a needle size, although something told me I should drop down more.  Still, I've knit many, many pairs of socks and know how to make them fit, so I didn't anticipate a problem.  At worst, I'd have to do some fulling to shrink them down to match, but that would make them warmer and harder wearing.  Besides, I was on a deadline and it was better to rush through them and have socks with problems rather than no socks at all.

The toe on Sock #2 was close enough in size to Sock #1 that I wasn't too worried and I knit on confidently on the foot up to the start of the heel shaping.  That's when it hit me: I seemed to be more than a bit off gauge:

Can you see the problem?  (It's not that the socks don't match in pattern; both the knitter and the recipient like that.)  Yup-Sock #1 (under unfinished Sock #2) is a full inch narrower than the second sock.  The foot past the toe shaping is at least 1/2 inch shorter on Sock #2 because my gauge has tightened.  There's no way I can full the two socks so that they match.

This means that Sock #1 must be reknit, because Sock #2 is clearly the better sock.  It's tighter and closer to Ali's foot size than Sock #1.  Much as I'm inspired by deadlines, 4 days before Christmas with only one partial sock on the needles is way too close for comfort.  This may be the year when kiddo gets one sock with a promise to mail the other.  

Then again, I do have 4 days.  Finishing this gift is far more important than cleaning the house, or putting up the tree or anything else I can think of at the moment, including writing this blog.  So, if I don't send out another post before Christmas, you'll know what I'm doing.

Happy Holidays, Joyous Possible End of the World and Namaste.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

A Beautiful Day: Among Friends

The True Knit 6 Craft Sale was held today.  It was so much fun to be among like-minded people as they displayed and sold their handmade goods.  It was an eclectic show, with everything from original paintings to jewellery, spinning and lots and lots of knitting.  I sold a few things (and did a wee bit of shopping), but the best part was catching up with friends, checking out new-to-me artists and introducing at least two people to the joys of spinning their own yarns.

This is the table I shared with Sara and Maureen.  (Click on the photos to enlarge them.) Maureen's work is to the left, mine is in the middle and Sara's at right:

Lindsay supplied lunch from her restaurant.  Much to my surprise, there was cake, because the sale happened to fall on my birthday. Candace gave me a pair of her fingerless gloves:

My photograph doesn't do these gloves justice; the colour is more intense, especially the green cuffs and trim.  What you can't see at all is how soft they are.  They are also a perfect fit.

It was one of the nicest birthdays I've ever had, a perfect day, spent among talented, pleasant, kind and generous people.  Thank you.  All is right with the world.


Friday, 14 December 2012

50 Words for Snow: Finding Joy in a Bushel Full of Winter

We had more snow in November here than we had all last winter.  Since it's usual for us to have heavy snowfalls throughout the season, this is impressive.  The snow keeps falling and falling and falling, along with the temperatures, which have hovered below seasonal normals (which is -9C for a daily high).  Since our winters tend to last well into March and July is the only month in which we've never had snow, it's wise to find ways to enjoy our winters. (Some people enjoy the season from afar; "snowbirds" fly off to warmer climes for a good part of the year. These birds can be quite cruel, with a mean tendency to send taunting messages back home about basking on beaches, walking on smooth sidewalks in the rain and other summery adventures.  It's hard not to swat them with a snowshoe sometimes.)

Today is a lovely day.  The temperature is -7C and the wind isn't too wild.  I had a pleasant walk downtown and back.  I started out in ice fog, early enough that the sun was still rising, glowing orange through the clouds while the western sky hummed a dusty deep blue.  I say "hummed" because the combination of snow, ice and fog reflected sounds that made the earth sing.  It was a "you had to be there" moment that I would have missed if I'd not walked to my destination.  By the time I came home, the clouds had cleared, the sun was out and the sky is now a rich blue that I never see anywhere except on the prairies.  

In honour of this lovely day, I've decided to list a few things I love about winter.  There may not be 50 reasons here, but perhaps mine will give you a start on appreciating the season:

  • Heavy snowfalls make everything look fresh and clean and muffle the city sounds.
  • Shovelling all that snow is good exercise.
  • Snow and ice allow flatlanders to wear ice grips on their boots although we're nowhere near mountains.
  • Balancing on ice while ploughing through snowbanks burns more calories than walking in the summer.
  • Dressing for the outdoors brings back memories of that winter classic movie, "A Christmas Story."  We know what it's like not to be able to lower our arms in our winter fashions.
  • We can wear as many handmade garments as we like and no one will consider us silly.  (If they do, they're too polite to say it.  My record is six: socks, sweater, hat, scarf, mittens and gloves under the mitts.)
  • If we stay inside, working on our spinning and knitting, no one will say that we're slacking off.  Neither will they protest if we tend to do this while enjoying a glass of wine, a hot toddy or a rum-soaked eggnog.  At least, they'd better not.
  • No one is surprised when we give them hand knit gifts for the holidays.  They may even be delighted.
  • All that white stuff is a great opportunity to meditate on the meaning of "Emptiness."
  • "I'm not sleeping off winter doldrums; I'm meditating."

Hoar frost makes everything beautiful.

So there you go-ten reasons to love the snow and cold.  I'm sure you have your own reasons for appreciating the solstice season.  And, if you're planning to flap off to some place warm, no need to write.  Really. I have my snowshoe ready.

Morris keeps an eye out for snowbirds.


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Fear of Music: What to Do About That Talking in Your Head

I've been getting in touch with fear this week.  Although I thought I was willing to try almost anything in practice, I discovered that even small changes can throw me off balance and bring a rush of that fear coursing through my body.  Simple things such as more intense adjustments from a new yoga instructor, challenges in my regular practice and future work possibilities remind me that I'm not as courageous as I sometimes like to believe.

Fear is a necessary component of living.  It tells us that some behaviours are reckless, some actions and people are dangerous.  Fear allows us to exercise caution so that we don't think bungee jumping without a cord might be a good idea.  The trick is to harness fear, so that we can differentiate between new ideas and actions and true danger.

When fear prevents us from taking reasonable risks or exploring new territory, it becomes an impediment to joy.  If we are afraid to experience life outside our comfort zones, we are in danger of missing the music of life.  Our options decrease; experiences narrow until we are confined in prison cells of our own making.  If I never explore the boundaries of my work, I will never know how far I can reach.

Yoga and fibre work are teaching me to explore my limits, to work with my fears.  Rather than chastising myself for experiencing fear, I approach it as an experiment: "Isn't it interesting that I was so afraid to push myself in that pose?  Why am I so reluctant to try that new knitting stitch?"  When I step back and allow fear to settle, rather than listening to the voice crying, "No!," my actions become clear.  Negative chatter grows less demanding. My true Self knows what to do, how to do it and how far to extend myself.  I expand into the universe and my enthusiasm for life grows.

Playing with fear doesn't have to involve huge changes in our lives.  We can begin by exploring our routines and by asking what we can safely change.  If I always settle into a pose in the same way, can I deepen into that posture just a wee bit more?  If I always knit garter stitch scarves in plain colours, what will I gain by knitting a hat?  If spinning smooth 2 ply yarns is "my thing," what can I learn by spinning art yarns?

Crossing boundaries using baby steps usually shows me that life is not as frightening as I sometimes find it.  My actions tell me that there is much more to explore while I'm on the planet.  Those baby steps allow me to step back when I need to do so, but sometimes, they demonstrate that a leap of faith is what is required. I can run towards the music and all is well.


Where might a new road lead us?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

No Pain, No Gain: Another Cautionary Tale

Mr. Dragondancer passed along a piece of newsworthy information to me the other day. (This is one of the joys - or irritations - of being with someone for a long time; you feel the need to keep your significant other up to speed on all things.  In most cases, I'm the one honking at Mr. DD on the informational highway.  He's probably come to dread the phrase, "Did you know. . .?" as I read aloud from the newspaper or an online site.)

To continue, Mr. DD tells me that there are people who use ibuprofen on a regular basis before they exercise.  They do this to push through aches and pains in order to exercise longer.  As it turns out, this is not a good idea.  Recent studies show that taking ibuprofen to avoid pain can cause all sorts of unpleasant and dangerous side effects, including suppression of the immune system, kidney dysfunction and the charming condition known as "endotoxemia," in which bacteria from the colon leak into the bloodstream. You can read more on this issue by clicking here.

I was astonished that people used this drug for this purpose.  (Yes, sometimes I do think I live under a rock.)  We experience pain for a reason; while a strong stretch from a pose can improve flexibility and break down scar tissue, pain is a sign to ease up on whatever you're doing or discontinue the activity until the damage has healed.  

There are all times when we've pushed through pain.  We may get caught up in "competitive yoga," when we try to keep up with others more practised or more flexible than we are.  Fibre artists spend long hours working at their wheels, needles, looms, etc., especially when there is a sales or teaching deadline to be met.  I've experienced neck and shoulder strain, leading to persistent headaches, this past week, as I finish the items for a craft sale this weekend, although I know perfectly well that working through pain is not a good idea.

"Soldiering on" is seen as an admirable trait in our culture, but we cross a line when we attempt to ignore or anticipate pain completely.  Our bodies are telling us to rest and relax, to give ourselves a chance to heal.  We can and should take medications when they become necessary to the healing process, either physical or emotional, but not as a means to ignore our natural defences.

I'm finished preparing for my craft sale. I still have two or three holiday gifts to knit, but I'm giving myself a day or two to recover before I continue.  Yesterday, Kerri gave a wonderful "Neck and Shoulders" class at Bodhi Tree in the Relax and Renew session.  The session was just what I needed to ease the headaches from all that hunching over knitting.  I may still need to take a painkiller at some point, but once again, yoga shows me the power of our bodies' natural healing mechanisms.  

The next time you are tempted to reach for that bottle of ibuprofen or whatever drug in an effort to prolong your favourite activity, consider reaching to the sky first.  Stretch that body with a few poses, take a breath in meditation and remind yourself that "Not Doing" is a good thing, too.


Public Domain Image from Google


Friday, 7 December 2012

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Look at what I've been up to!  From left to right, we have Harry Eyeball (Somebody's Watching You), Pompomsity, Rapunzel's Bad Hair Day, False Memory, Fruit of the Poisoned Tree and Global Warming:

Yes, they're silly, frivolous and serve no earthly purpose, except. . . .

I am tired of making hats, scarves and cowls.  I need to play for a while and these felted balls amuse me.  They're no quick piece of work, either; after the balls are wet felted, bringing out their inner being takes a couple of hours of trimming and needle felting.  I don't know what the balls will be until they tell me, so I have to pay attention.

I'll have them at the True Knit 6 Craft Sale on December 15.  I hope they'll bring a smile to some people or, at least, amused perplexity.

Sometimes, a girl just wants to have fun.


Monday, 3 December 2012

A Kind of Hush

I'm back on my feet, still hoarse, waiting one more day before I return to yoga, but some parts of me are running well.  (There may even be parts of me which are excellent.)  It's a good day for a walker to stay indoors; we had freezing rain again last night and the sidewalks are glazed with a layer of ice which would be best tackled with skates rather than winter boots.  I sit in my fibre room, tidying and sorting, drinking mulled apple tea, while appreciating the quiet blanket of snow which stills the neighbourhood noise outside my studio window.

My attendance at the yoga studio has been patchy this fall.  Travel, family obligations and minor ailments have limited my time there, making it feel sometimes as if my commitment to yoga/meditation practice is not all it should be.  Although practice enters my life in some form every day, somehow, I equate studio time with "real" yoga.  Studies or practice at home leaves me with a nagging feeling that I'm losing my grip on something important to me, that I'm less of a practitioner when circumstances draw me away from practice with others.

Some years ago, Colin recommended Chogyam Trungpa's "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" as one of the best books written on yoga. Like its author, the book is complex, but, if I understand its essential message, it is that there is no "pay off" in yoga practice. (Chogyam Trungpa phrases this much more elegantly.)  Yoga/meditation is not a self-help programme.  Degrees of practice do not guarantee results; any benefits which come to us through yoga are incidental to the practice itself.  If we become attached to practice in that we expect certain outcomes - improved health, clarity of thought, etc. - we are falling into a trap of egoism and attachment, just as we often fall into the trap of attachment to any other material good.  If we expect our practice to do something for us, we are treating yoga as if it were no more than the latest fashion statement.  Consider how easy it is for us to believe, "I devote x hours to my yoga practice; I am a serious yogi/ni."  Spiritual materialism is an obstacle and one we often don't recognize before we smack up against it.

It stands to reason that my sense that I am a failure as a yoga/meditation practitioner is as much a part of spiritual materialism as its opposite.  If I only see myself as truly practising yoga when I'm in the studio, I am attached to the belief in yoga as a pay off, where a certain degree of practice in a specified setting equals "real" yoga.  Viewing yoga this way is not an excuse for slapdash attendance at classes, but it does provide some insight into how quickly I can be caught on the slippery slope of treating yoga as a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

I am a believer in cycles; like the phases of the moon, everything waxes and wanes. Cycles remind us to slow down, catch our breath and take time to reflect while we wait for the next upswing.  When I'm in a down cycle of my spinning or knitting, I don't lament that I'm not at my wheels or spindles or working with needles and yarn.  I know that I'm taking a needed break from that work, shifting my focus, so that when I am called back to spinning or knitting, I will be able to approach that activity with a fresh perspective.  

Fibre work always calls me back to what is needed at the time.  If I trust the process, yoga will do the same.

Sometimes, our path is not always clear.