Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Get Over Your Self: Some Thoughts on Avoiding Trouble in Yoga

Scandals are rocking the yoga world these days.  Bikram Choudhury stares at us from the cover of Vanity Fair magazine; he faces five rape charges, directly related to his practice, among other accusations of corruption, deceit and appalling behaviour.  Colin posted a link to a commentary on the scandal, this one by Carol Horton.  In it, Horton writes of her reaction to the Bikram mess-among other things, she began to doubt her asana practice and wondered if, instead, she should take up a practice of "sitting meditation combined with some alternative physical workout."

That statement caught my attention.  Although Horton makes many good points in her article, she misses the mark here, because meditation is no guarantee of escaping the dark side of yoga practice.  In a full yoga practice, meditation and asana are linked, two sides of the same coin.  If you think meditation will save you from bad behaviour, I am here to tell you that it will not.  Meditation practice can help bring more clarity to your actions, help you to remain present in the moment, to act rather than react.  What it won't do is magically shift lifetime habits into new, "better" behaviours.  That, my dears, is up to each one of us and it requires long, difficult, devoted practice, conscious effort and a desire to change. Meditation is one way to change, but I promise, it will not protect you from ugliness, in the yoga world or elsewhere.

Yoga and meditation focus on the Self/self.  We use our bodies to move into poses which challenge us and focus our attention.  Meditation works in similar fashion.  Meditation can shift our bodies into physical stillness (and don't forget that asana can and should be used as meditation practice) and allow our minds to settle.  Both practices move us inward, which is simultaneously a blessing and a danger.  Although, ideally, we can use our practice to move outward into the world, and to develop empathy and compassion for all beings, our current culture promotes self-indulgence, something yoga/meditation practice can feed if we mistake our self (this human form and mind) for the larger Self, whatever that may mean to you.  

You see it everywhere: endless "selfies" of yoga practitioners doing complex poses, yogis posting pictures of the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the mats they use for practice. While I don't believe that posting a few photos now and again does any harm-who doesn't want to celebrate a first or a well-aligned headstand or tell someone of a potentially helpful discovery?-getting into the habit of snapping pictures every time one stands in Tadasana can lead to the kind of thinking that will get us into trouble.  If you start to believe that your asana or other habits are important to the larger world, it's very easy to move into the mindset of "It is all about Me!" That's a dangerous path; no good can come of it.  Sooner or later, it won't be about Me and that fall off the mountain to the valley is a tough one.

One way to avoid sliding into self-indulgence in our practice is to throw a bit of karma yoga into the mix.  Move your mind and your practice outward.  Do a little good in the world. Don't just give to charitable organizations (although that's a good idea); personalize your action. Give that street person the money she asks for; give her a little more than you think is reasonable and do it without judgement or assumptions as to how she might use it. Do a small favour for a friend or a stranger.  Shovel a sidewalk, just because it needs shovelling. Knit a few extra hats and pairs of mittens and give them away, without wondering whether your gift is appreciated or scorned. Start with one small thing per day-pick up a piece of trash in the park and carry it until you find a bin.  If that's all you do, you are still making a difference.

Do good things just because and do them quietly, without fuss, without drawing attention to the deed.  As soon as you publicize a good deed it moves into self promotion.  We all like to be acknowledged for a job well done; remaining quiet about your actions is the hardest part of karma practice and the most important component of it. (Trust me, I am the living example of the difficulty in remaining quiet about anything!) What you may discover is that, like everything else, the more you practice karma yoga, the easier it becomes.  

Now is the perfect time to spice up your practice with karma yoga.  The Winter Solstice and our practice of welcoming back the slow return of the Light is the season for new beginnings.  We acknowledge that by giving more to others, by making New Year's resolutions.  Resolve to bring some Karma/Action into your yoga.  Start today and keep going.  You may discover that it's good for what ails you.  If it's good for us, it just might be a small part of the remedy for what ails the larger yoga world.

Happy Holidays to Family, Friends, All My Fellow Yoga Practitioners, Fibre Artists and Sentient Beings.  May you be happy.  May you be well.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

You Can Leave Your Hat On: A Last Minute Hat to Crochet and My Gift Pattern to You

I finished my holiday knitting earlier in the week.  Once the planned items are complete, it's become a tradition for me to crochet a few hats to have on hand for the inevitable unexpected gift giving.  I began making these hats a few years ago when Mr. DD, who never suited any of the hats I knit, admired a crocheted cap that was kicking around the house. (Of course he did-my crocheting skills are rudimentary, to put it mildly.)  Since he is a kind man and someone I wish to keep around, while I maintain my reputation as someone without fear of string, I decided to duplicate the simple hat he so admired.

I began by following several patterns by various skilled designers, but true to form, I could never make them work to suit me. This was not a problem with the patterns; rather, the issues are my unusual crocheting style-I have been told several times that I "crochet wrong."-my inability to get correct gauge using anything approaching recommended hook sizes and my stubborn distaste for following anyone else's directions, no matter how reasonable this might be.  Eventually, I sorted out my own pattern, which I give to you here, as my holiday gift.  It's written true to my fashion; that is, directions and recommendations are sparse, because I agree with Elizabeth Zimmerman's decree that we are all capable of being "thinking knitters," or in this case, "thinking crocheters." Although I designed and tested this specific pattern, I owe much to many, many crochet designers who have built better patterns before this one.

The basic hat is quick to crochet.  I can make one in a few hours and have it fulled and dried by suppertime, ready to wrap.  With all that spare time you have between now and next week, you can easily knock off a few of these.  (You're welcome!)

I have to carefully count the increase rounds; however, the rhythm of the stitches is established quite quickly and once you are past the increases, this is a rather mindless project, good for carrying to fibre nights and working while sipping wine.  Make it your own-change colours, work it in thick yarns, thin yarns, novelty yarns, whatever your heart desires. (Make them in a soft, organic cotton yarn and they are perfect "chemo caps.")


You Can Leave Your Hat On: A Last Minute Gift Pattern

This is a crocheted top down hat, worked in the round, and is easy enough for the beginner crocheter to work.  The circumference and length is adjustable, simply by increasing the number of increase rounds for the hat body and the total number of rounds worked.  Try it on as you go; I prefer to make my hats slightly larger than required and then full them in the washing machine to fit.  If you plan to full them, be sure your yarn is 100% wool or similar natural fibre such as alpaca and be sure to do a test swatch to determine shrinkage.

Yarn:  Any worsted weight wool yarn which will give you an approximate gauge of 4 Single Crochet (SC) stitches per inch, although the pattern will adapt to any yarn—just change your hook and the number of increase rounds accordingly.  Depending on the size and length required, each hat uses at least 1—100 gram skein; buy sufficient yarn in the same dyelot to ensure success.

Hook:  Hook size will depend on your yarn.  I crochet loosely, so I use an average size of 4.00 mm.  The hat shown was crocheted from a gift yarn, 100% wool yarn, brand unknown.  I have made this hat in Noro Kureyon, Brown Sheep Wool and Shepherd’s Pride Wool yarns; follow the suggested hook size for your chosen yarn.

Gauge:  Approximately 4 SC per inch.  The more closely you work the stitches, the warmer the hat, but the more difficult it will be to full.

Size:  Adjustable, depending on yarn and hook size.  78 stitches will give you a Women’s Small;  84 stitches will give you a Women’s Medium/Men’s Small; 90 stitches will give you a Large size hat, perfect for fulling.

You will also need one safety pin marker to mark the beginning of your rounds, one blunt tapestry needle for darning in ends and scissors to trim ends.

Hat Body:  Make a slip knot and chain 2.
Round 1: SC 6 times in 2nd chain from hook (6 stitches).
Round 2:  SC twice in each st (12).  Place a marker at the beginning of your round and move it as your fabric grows.
Round 3: *SC twice in next st, SCin next st.  Repeat from * 5 times (18).
Round 4: *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 2 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (24).
Round 5: *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 3 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (30).
Round 6: *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 4 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (36).
Round 7:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 5 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (42).
Round 8:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 6 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (48).
Round 9:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 7 sts.   Repeat from *5 times (54).
Round 10:  *SC twice in next st, SC in each of next 8 sts.  Repeat from *5 times (60).

Because you are an intelligent crocheter, you will see how the increases work: for each required increase round, work one more stitch between each (SC twice).  Every increase round will add another 6 stitches; continue until you have reached the desired circumference of your hat.  How do you determine this?  Try it on, of course.

Once you have completed your increase rounds, continue working one SC in every stitch of the previous round until your hat is the required length (approximately 11 inches in the hat shown, allowing for a double fold up brim).  Break your yarn, fasten off the remaining stitch and darn in all yarn ends.  If you’re a brave beginner, you can finish your hat with a round of Crab Stitch.  I leave it to you to look up instructions for that trim. 

Handwash your hat in hot water and a no rinse wool wash product.  Roll the hat in a towel to remove excess moisture and dry flat, blocking to shape.  If you own a Styrofoam head form or a bowl of the appropriate hat size, let your hat dry over that; it will look more professional. 

I full my hats in a hot/cold cycle in my top loading washing machine.  I then run it through my dryer for a few minutes before placing the hat on a form and allowing the hat to dry completely.  The length of your fulling cycle and drying times will depend on your washing machine and dryer.  Please do a test fulling with a swatch made from your yarn to ensure success.

© Deborah Behm
December, 2013

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Well, Lookee Here: A Pleasant Surprise on a Wintery Day

I'm on my way to fame.  Well, one of my sweaters is on its way or will at least have its fifteen minutes, which is close enough.  This photo of a sweater I spun and knit from Sally Fox's organic cotton rovings, many years ago, is featured in the latest issue of SpinOff magazine.  Kate Larson, knitter extraordinaire and author of this article on Sally Fox and her cottons, contacted me recently about the sweater, which she had seen on line while researching her article.  Apparently, I was among the earliest crop of hand spinners to work with Sally's cottons.  Kate asked if I would please send the sweater to the US for a photo shoot and, of course, I said, "Yes!"

Long before "organic" became a current buzzword, Sally Fox was on the cutting edge of re-introducing naturally coloured cottons to the world. (Actually, she is the cutting edge!) Despite being harassed and driven out of business by industrial growers of white cotton, which requires enormous quantities of water and pesticides to grow, Sally has persevered over many decades to ensure that these beautiful fibres remain available to us.  It is an honour to be mentioned in any article about this amazing pioneer.  (Read more about Fox Fibre here.)


Friday, 6 December 2013

Woolly Bully: Why I Love Working with the Wool

Simply put: because I can knit something that looks like this:

And transform them into these:

These are my test pair of felted clogs.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've used someone else's patterns, but sometimes, another knitter's patterns are so beautifully designed, so masterfully written, that I'd be foolish to attempt to reinvent the wheel.  This Fiber Trends pattern is one such masterpiece.  It's simple to knit, but requires the knitter's full attention to track the rows.  The felting process is a leap of faith; you may knit for Women's Size Medium, exactly as planned, but there's no guarantee that you'll get there.  This pair required four trips through the washing machine with various additives, etc. before it felted close to the size I require.  Test #2 is on the needles.

That's another thing about knitting: even though I used someone else's pattern and the recommended commercial wool yarn, I'm able to customize the blank slippers to produce something unique.  (In this case, I embroidered random stitches using my handspun yarns.) There is exactly one pair of these slippers in the world.  All it took to get there was yarn, needles, basic knit and purl, hot water and soap and a bit of improvisation.  What more could I ask?