Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Sanctuary: A Walk Along Lake Okanagan

Crisp, moist air, that tree in proud, pink blossom,
A joyful smell of roses, warm sand between my toes-
Peace rests here:


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Oh, The Places We'll Go!: Kelowna Bound

We headed out on Thursday morning, camper in tow, Morris in truck. We made it to Kinbrook Island Park the first night. We were walking the great bull terrier; I was lamenting that we hadn't seen any deer, when this lovely lady appeared, keeping a close eye on Morris:

There were birds everywhere, including yellow-headed blackbirds, among my favourites. (They used to pass through and stop in the trees in our front yard every year, but they haven't made an appearance for many years.)  No one would cooperate for the camera, so I gave up and enjoyed the beauty of watching them, settling for a quick sketch in my journal.

Rain swept in that night; after that, we were blessed with interesting weather for the next two days.  We had rain and rain and rain:

Just when we thought we had seen the last of snow for a few months, we had snow:

You can't tell from the photos, but the forests were greener than I've ever seen.  A black bear was enjoying his lunch by the side of a stream; waterfalls rushed down rocks.  The mountains were alive with wonders.

By the time we reached Kelowna yesterday, the sun was out, we were dry and warm again and there were flowers.  Everywhere.  All types and colours.

I was so overwhelmed by the sight of all that colour that I forgot to take any pictures.  We settled in Ms. DD's driveway and then I walked and walked and walked, by myself and with Ms. DD., for hours.

Life is perfect.  More later.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Tapestry Weaving At Prairie Sky School: Session 6

The bags are looking good:

P. finished his weaving and was pretty pleased with his work.  (By the way, P. is 6 years old-impressive, no?):

There are quite a few pieces which are nearly finished:

K., M. and several other students have been weaving during the week.  When I arrived, the main tapestry looked like this:

By the end of the session, we were half way there:

I'll be away for a couple of weeks. When I get back, the big push will be on to get everything finished as we head towards our Showcase in mid-June.  I'll keep you posted!


Monday, 20 May 2013

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ain't Nothin' But a Downward Dog: Thoughts on Yoga Teacher Training

We had teacher training yesterday.  Colin taught asana in the morning, beginning with Tadasana/Mountain Pose on the floor, then moving into Vrksasana/Tree Pose (still on the floor).  It was a good thing we stayed prone for a while, because the rest of the practice was spent studying Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog.  That's where things got quite spicy.  We practised ways of moving into the pose; we practised alignment and we practised adjustments.  (Some of those adjustments were spicy in themselves and I'm guessing I won't be using them in my yoga classes at Olds Fibre Week!) We talked about moving into poses in minute increments, of building poses from the ground up, working into the larger form.  We talked about breaking that larger form into separate components.

The bodies in the studio moved in wondrous ways.  I'm forever amazed at the variety and complexity of the human form.  (Perhaps this is why I always have the urge to take life drawing classes after every yoga session?)  Colin is an expert at the confident, firm adjustment; he can safely reposition core and limbs in ways I wouldn't have thought possible. There are a lot of bendy bodies in that class and several not so bendy ones, including mine, which is why I volunteered to be the test dummy for adjusting the flexibility-challenged. This is difficult for me-I have issues with being touched, for many reasons, including major surgeries; but I trust Colin and knew that he would improve my asana in ways that I couldn't manage on my own.

It's remarkable what the body can do with a teacher you trust, when you find some confidence to let go.  I bellowed through the adjustment-my apologies to the rest of the group, but sound effects seem to be mandatory with my practice-felt a brief moment of, well, sheer terror, and then, it was done.  My back was straight, my hips in alignment and for the first time in years, my heels were on the floor.  (So I'm told. Where is that camera when I need it?)  Heels to the ground was neither the point nor the goal, of course, but man, it felt good. 

Sarah arrived in the afternoon to teach anatomy.  I have several medical personnel in my family, including a couple of doctors, nurses and an Emergency Medical Technician.  I grew up in a house full of medical texts, but I've never met anyone who knows her anatomy like Sarah.  On the other hand, despite all those gory books or perhaps because of them, anatomy will not stick in my brain.  On a good day, I can distinguish between a femur and a humerus bone, but anything more involved defeats me.  This is not a good thing for a would be yoga teacher.  

My challenges became clear when we divided into study groups. Our group was chosen to teach the practical exercises at the end of Chapter Two in our text.  I got into a muddle straight away because I couldn't understand the intent of the exercises.  A fairly safe path to follow would have been to demonstrate the actions of muscles, bones and nerves in the body, but my mind was off on tangents-what would be the practical purposes of teaching these exercises in a class?  When would we use them? How could they help students and the instructor?  I took the exercise which begin in Savasana, but I was so focused on the bigger picture of how it would fit into future lesson plans that I forgot to instruct in a way that actually fit the purposes of this class.  (Ah, mindfulness, how elusive a thing you are!  On the other hand, I now have Lesson 1 in my Yoga/Meditation Class for Spinners when I'm at Olds.)

If we always focus on the mountains, we might miss the interesting details.   The "Man in the Mountain" caught my eye on our last trip to Kelowna.

At day's end, I went home tired, sore, excited, feeling like a fish out of water, like Alice when she was lost in a sea of confusion.  It was a good day. Not only did this session teach me a lot about a specific pose and the physical workings of the body, it gave me food for thought on my approaches to teaching.  I tend to jump to a larger perspective before I examine the parts which compose the big picture.  I throw paint on paper before I know what images I'm creating; I see the finished project before my beginners cast on their first stitch; I know the possibilities the Renew for Cancer classes can bring to students with practice and perseverance.  

That's not a bad thing.  That bigger picture allows creativity to flourish, helps me set goals and to continue to work through problems when things get rough, but, the fact that I am usually focused on the larger view also means that I forget that people need things broken down for them-if you don't know how to make a slip knot, you're going to find it harder to cast on your first knit stitch; if you don't know what Downward Dog is, you may have a wee problem getting into the pose.  If I confuse the femur (thigh bone) with the humerus (upper arm), my yoga students will be rightly suspicious of my ability to teach anything at all.

Sometimes, it's important to break down all the little things which make up the whole. Attention to that subtle shift in the hands will make your Downward Dog stronger.  Learning which body parts are moving in the pose can improve your alignment and prevent damage from over extension.  Building that scarf with attention to each stitch will help you catch that dropped stitch before it gets away on you completely.  It's not always the Devil in the details; sometimes, it's a Guardian.

By the way, I had a practical lesson in muscle placement this morning.  I'm so stiff, I can barely move.  It feels good.

Many parts make the Whole: photo taken in the Japanese Garden at Kelowna.

(Thanks, Barb, for the ride home yesterday.)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Slow But Steady: Weaving at Prairie Sky School Session 6

When I arrived at Prairie Sky School this morning, the group tapestry looked like this:

The serpent/snake's body was nearly finished, as were the tree trunks.  K., M., P. and I worked on this loom while the rest of the students worked on their bags.  Z. finished his, so we made a twisted cord which he stitched around the top, sides and bottom.  Here he is, with the final product:

I'm always amazed at how different cloth looks, once the ends are woven in and some trim is added.  

Several others should be finished weaving their bags by next week.  Remember this bag, from Session 5?:

This is how it looked by the end of this morning:

Here's the group tapestry as I left it at lunch time.  K. had the brilliant idea to use rya knots for leaves. I am especially impressed by the tree trunks; they move back and forth like gnarled wood:

We're over one quarter of the way through the weaving on the group tapestry.  We have a way to go, but our progress is steady and everyone's weaving looks wonderful.  It was a beautiful day to weave!


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: Renew for Cancer

Lotus Blossom Photo from Google Images

I was having a discussion with a family doctor at the Cancer Clinic last week, about managing the anxiety which is common in people who are going through or who have been through cancer treatment.  The conversation was following a usual course-which drugs are most effective, what are the contraindications, etc., when she asked me, "Do you know the yoga poses for treating anxiety?"  I was impressed; as it happens, her daughter is a yoga instructor and the good doctor is quite convinced that yoga can bring great benefits to those engaged in the medical system.

I love it when Western medicine begins to catch up to yoga.  Three years ago, the consensus here was that people with cancer should "live their lives" and that there was nothing they could do to help themselves, because "the damage was already done."  It seemed to me that this could not possibly be true; after all, people with diabetes, heart problems and all manner of life-threatening illnesses are told to change their diets, their lifestyles, to exercise and to pay attention to how their bodies behave, because all these things have been proven to help the body heal. Why would cancer be the exception?  Sarah and The Bodhi Tree yoga therapy programmes have proven (to me and many others) that active efforts to improve one's life, no matter what the circumstances, have great benefits. Now, clinical studies on healing are confirming what yoga/meditation practitioners know. Oncology doctors (and other medical professionals) are encouraging patients to attend classes at Bodhi Tree Yoga.  Thanks to Sarah and her skills, people are learning to help themselves.

There were 15 of us in the Renew for Breast Cancer yesterday.  Together, these women, of all ages and from all walks of life, practised to feel their bodies again, to loosen muscles and to break down scar tissue. We worked on rebuilding neural pathways damaged from surgeries, radiation and medications.  We brought our full attention to areas of pain and numbness, a difficult task at the best of times, let alone when we're caught in a cycle of anxiety.  We moved slowly, mindfully and, as we moved, we felt the energy in the room shift from the busy-ness of our lives to centred calm.  It was good.

I am grateful to be able to participate in these classes, to teach them under Sarah's guidance and skill.  I am grateful to these brave women (and men) who face their challenges and fears, strong in the knowledge that every person can help herself, if she can find a path to lead her back to wholeness. I am grateful for my practice.


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Just Like Starting Over: Beginnings, Again

Spring has arrived here, although it's strange to see dirty snow banks around the city when the weather is in the mid-20's C.  We know it's spring because cold and snow has been replaced with wind and dust.  I'm happy to have it-I can walk without having to worry about sliding on the ice (although I do have to be careful not to slip in the sand).

I've been clearing out my house and my fibre room, sorting things to give away and items to pass along to my children.  I scrubbed the house yesterday, windows and doors wide open to welcome the sun and warm breezes.  It was lovely.

It's the perfect time for new beginnings and beginnings, revisited.  As we move along life's paths, we forget how those roads looked to us when we first set out; sometimes, it's good to retrace our steps and remind ourselves of early ventures, especially when we're teaching others.

I am teaching Relax and Renew for Cancer this week. Last week, I challenged the class a little in our poses and for some people, it was a bit too much.  It occurred to me that we have had many newcomers in the classes recently and that they have not practised some of the exercises that Sarah taught people when she began these classes. Tomorrow my plan is to go back to basics, to practice when our bodies and minds are stressed from coping with change.

How do you learn to move your shoulder blades when your shoulder blades don't budge one centimetre or you've lost your sense of where those shoulders are at all?  How do you work your way into Child's Pose/Balasana (never mind Downward Dog/Ahdo Mukha Svanasana) when your nerves are damaged and your hands hurt or you can't feel your fingers? You start again, with the mind of a child, curious, explorative, approaching the problems with baby steps.  You start where you are Now, even if that Now has us feeling as if we're tied in knots.

Illustration from Google Images/Original Image Found at Daily Gumboot, Awkward Yoga Community

Sometimes, the knots are literal, twisted in the fibres we spin, especially as beginners. Learning to make string is no longer a required skill; North Americans can live their lives never seeing or thinking about how the yarns which make our clothing are formed.  It's not surprising that many people who are interested in spinning have no clue as to how to start.

Next month, I'll be heading out to Olds Fibre Week to teach yoga and meditation and to lure a fresh batch of spinners into the wonderful world of twisting fibres into string. There will be new beginnings for the students and new starts for me, too.  I think back to when I first discovered how to draft and twist wool into some semblance of yarn, how difficult it was for me to make spindle and wheel behave, even for a minute, of how frustrating it was to train my mind and muscles to coordinate a handful of fluff and a stick with a disc attached to it.  I forget just how little I knew and then I remember.

Every time I teach a beginners' class, in spinning or knitting or weaving, I retrace my steps, reminding myself of what it's like to know Nothing about a subject, but wanting to know as much as possible.  The journey to knowledge is maddening, sometimes downright painful, but thrilling and exhilarating, often all at once.  Remembering, returning to Child's Mind is the primary reason why I so enjoy teaching newcomers and why, once in a while, it's a good idea to revisit our poses, our first yarns, that holey piece of first knitting.


(Happy Mother's Day to all my friends, siblings and my Mom!)  

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Curiouser and Curiouser: Musings on the Bhagavad Gita

"Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes, I deserve a thunk." (M.E.)
One of the assignments in our yoga teacher training is to write about the Bhagavad Gita, discussing whether its message applies to our lives in terms of jnana, bhakti and karma yoga. This poses a problem, because I don't feel drawn to the Gita; in fact, I find its "do your duty" message and constant call to war repellent.  I would no more refer to the Gita than I would turn to the Christian Bible or the works of William Shakespeare as a guide for living. For me, all are great, interesting works of literature, nothing more.  

This leaves me with the question of how to write an honest, thoughtful response on the Gita. I can choose to make the text relevant, as I used to do when assigned similar questions at school.  My response would be what Colin calls "arts student bullshit," but those days are long past.  If I can't write sincerely, I'd rather not write at all.

Long ago, someone mentioned a comment which the current Dalai Lama supposedly made about the Western fascination for Eastern religions and philosophies.  He wondered why we were so drawn to these things, when we had so many great texts of our own to follow.  I've often pondered this comment (whether Tenzin Gyatso actually said it or not is debatable, but it suits me to think he did).  It came to mind again when I was at a loss on how to approach my yoga assignment and it sparked the question: If I don't believe the Gita is relevant to my life, are there other texts which can and do apply and can those texts be examined in terms of the three types of yoga we've been asked to study?  

Well, yes there are--a number of them, actually.  So far, I've come up with an eclectic list which includes the poetry of John Donne, William Blake, Herman Hesse's Siddhartha  (which has improved much since I last read it in university, for some odd reason) and a helpful little book on training bull terriers, When Pigs Fly! by Jane Killion.  The most important, relevant and useful work in my life?-Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

It's a curious thing when a literary work written by a shy, Victorian bachelor can be a guide for an older woman in the 21st century, but Charles Dodgson's short novel still speaks to me in ways no other piece of literature has.  A half-century after my first reading, Alice's adventures in a bizarre world, where nothing is as it seems, and her approach to solving strange, often frightening experiences remain a sensible guide to living my life.

There I go-the theme for my paper and a plan of action for writing it.  Perhaps the Gita has influenced me, after all.  Drat.


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Prairie Sky Weaving: Session #5

We've reached the mid-point of my residency at Prairie Sky School and things are progressing nicely.  I arrived at school this morning to this:

The students had woven several centimetres of the tree trunks and the background.  That bright green on the left side of the work is the beginning of a snake/serpent.

Everyone worked on her/his bag.  The colour combinations are striking and quite a few bags contain explorations in textures and shapes:

Some of the bags are nearly finished:

Much to her delight (and a little relief, perhaps), Ms. W. finished her bag.  Once the ends are tidied and trim is applied, the bags look quite different.  Here is Ms. W.'s bag, front and back:

K. has taken the lead in weaving the larger tapestry, so he and I worked on it, with some of the other boys taking turns.  By the end of the morning, the serpent has appeared behind the trees, the tree trunks are nearly completed and we're ready to start weaving the hills:

By next week, some of the bags should be ready to come off the looms.  We'll be making twisted cords for the trims and finishing the weaving on these smaller tapestries.

A morning of weaving, an afternoon at the studio, knitting and yoga, an evening with family and friends-it's been a lovely day.  Thanks to everyone who helped make it so.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Come as You Are, Again: Starting at the Beginning

"Saying you're too inflexible to do yoga is like saying you're too dirty to wash." (Ali Bell)

I was proselytizing about yoga during the knitting class yesterday, emphasizing how important it is for fibre people (or anyone who tends to work with her shoulders hunched forward) to stretch ourselves out.  Someone commented that she could never do yoga, because she was too stiff and inflexible.

This statement struck me as rather contradictory (although not unusual). After all, we don't take a beginners' knitting or spinning class because we already know how to knit or make yarns. We know if we want to learn and improve our fibre arts skills, we need lessons and practice. The proof of this was at the table; many of the students had just learned to knit recently and there they were, in an intermediate class on two colour knitting, doing a beautiful job of their samplers and their bags.  This is the sampler:

They took their samplers and cut them open along that steek line.  With sharp scissors.  No basting.  Everyone survived.

We also practised duplicate stitch, as you can see.

The simple act of using needles to turn yarn into cloth demonstrates our innate abilities and dexterity. If there is something else we would like to do-yoga, for example-those skills can be adapted to our needs.  This won't happen right away.  It will take practice, false starts, maybe a sniff of frustration or two.  Given time, effort and gentle determination, the knowledge we carry will help those strained shoulders and tight hamstrings loosen and allow us to move in ways we never thought possible, just as many of us never expected to advance as we have with our knitting.

It's important to start at the beginning.  That sounds odd, but so many people come to classes wanting to work just like the instructor or more advanced students, to knit as they do or settle into a pose with what seems like effortless ease.  They forget that what they see is the result of hours, days, years of practice, of experiencing frustrations we all have when we learn a new skill.  They don't always notice that, even now, the instructor (and other students) make their share of mistakes, too.

(If you doubt this, take a close look at the above sampler. I knit it far too quickly, with a lack of attention.  As a result, you can see the tension problems, even after the swatch was washed and blocked.  I did it again, in my haste to knit a sample bag:

It's not as apparent as it is when you see the actual bag, but the top motif looks very different from the ones below it-heavier, as if I used a different chart.  I didn't; I merely changed hands when I was knitting the second and third motifs (i.e.., moved the green yarn from my right hand to my left, the beige yarn from left to right).  Such a small shift and yet it caused a large change in the design.  I decided to leave it, as a lesson to myself and my students.  I'll pay more attention with the next bag.)

A good teacher is open to change, always seeking new ways to improve and refine her skills. She knows her strengths and acknowledges her weaknesses. A good student will do the same.  A good class, whether it's in fibre or yoga or widget building, will allow both student and teacher to grow, to learn from one another.  Each time I attend a yoga class, each time I teach fibre, I take a breath and start a new beginning.  Each beginning moves me a bit further down my chosen path. I hope my students will do the same.

Start with Now, as you are and trust that time and practice will bring you to where you want to Be.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

It's a Beautiful Day: Prairie Sky Weaving

The first of May graced us with cold weather and snow, left over from a storm earlier in the week.  Who would have thought that children would be making snowmen today?  Yet there they were, several of the cold creatures lined up on the picnic tables when I arrived at Prairie Sky School for the morning weaving session. (I'm referring to the snow people, although the children looked chilly enough.)

Our work is coming along nicely.  We wove sections of the tree trunks for the main tapestry piece and we're almost ready to begin working on a snake which moves across the landscape. Once again, K. has taken the lead.  His bag has been "lost" in favour of weaving on the large loom.  Here he and D. (I think) work on the trees together.

Until today, M. hasn't been too interested in weaving; however, when I explained that he could work on the second of the larger looms and weave whatever he wanted, he was quick to pick up the basic technique, using a shed stick and his fingers to weave some free-form tapestry:

I think that everyone is beginning to understand how slowly tapestry progresses and why I encourage people to weave smaller pieces.  The pace of tapestry weaving surprised Ms. W. (the teacher); just when she thought her bag was nearly finished, she discovered what happens when she pushed the weft yarns firmly down on the warp:

Those warp threads at the top of her bag need to be completed covered, so that the loops on top will secure the weft.

When the students needed a break from weaving, they could practise spinning:

S. discovered a ball of multi-coloured hand spun wool yarn which she added to her bag:

The colours and design of this bag are wonderful.  Notice how nicely it's woven:

That was our morning.  After the weaving session, Kathy P. and her daughter, Hannah, who are visiting from Edmonton, picked me up for lunch at an East Indian buffet.  I met Kathy at Olds Fibre Week several ago, when she attended some yoga sessions. It was fun to catch up over a meal and a visit to Nouveau Gallery and Tatanka Boutique, a new store featuring the work of local aboriginal artists.

I strolled home and, although it was cold with flecks of snow in the air, the sun was shining and the sky was a clear, spring blue.  Pleasant work with wonderful students, a leisurely meal with friends and a walk home to a quiet evening among family-how could a day be more beautiful than this?