Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 31 March 2014

Free Bird/Fragile Bird: On the Importance of Allowing Space

When I hauled myself out of bed this morning and checked, the weather office had posted that the temperature was -17C/-25C windchill. I grumbled.  Those winter clothes I had packed away-out they came again and on they went, as I bundled up once more and headed to the yoga studio.  Despite these bitterly cold temperatures, there's a shift on the wind.  The sun is warmer, fire bouncing off ice.  The days are longer; the smell in the air has a faint scent of loam and the grasses to come.  Birds are singing.  As I continued along streets and through parks, I could feel my mood lighten and lift.  After months of tense, tight, hunched shoulders, I felt-Space.

That same sense of relaxed openness was Colin's theme in our class today.  He talked about stretching and wondered whether stretching actually does much good.  After all, it can take a good hour or two to stretch out our bodies, only to have that stretch undone with worry or with the first time we slip on the ice. Undoing the stretch would take all of 10 seconds, so which was more important, he asked, the stretch or relaxation? For the next hour and a half, we explored moving in non-yoga-tradition ways, stretching, slipping and sliding, with our socks on and our bodies off our mats.  It was a very giggly, wise-cracking class (Bert was there), so much so that Colin assured any newcomers that he did in fact teach traditional yoga poses in other classes.  This was his pre-April Fool's Day Special.  (I will not tell you what his actual April Fool's Day plans are.)

It felt wonderful to move again, after months of winter, study and post-surgical recovery.  As I wandered home, I thought about how important it was to allow spaciousness into the day, how remaining relaxed and open might affect our perspective on everything.

For the past few days, I've been spinning yarn samples for an upcoming article. The fibre I'm using is a soft wool top, likely Merino, dyed and prepared by a yarn company famous for its soft yarns in gorgeous colours.  Coincidentally, I've been reading complaints about this particular preparation, from experienced spinners and novices alike, who have found this top difficult to spin.  Although it's not my favourite fibre option, I haven't had trouble with the spinning.  I knew this wasn't because of my spectacular skills; far more masterful spinners than I have had a lot of trouble with the fibre.  As I read about their struggles, it occurred to me that at least some of the problems in spinning this yarn might have been mitigated if the fibre had been allowed some Space.  It's a cottony, short wool, sold in a tightly braided package. Many of those having trouble with it had opened the braid and started spinning without allowing the fibres to relax. I had undone my bundle, set up my wheel and then left the fibres overnight, which loosened them up and made for much easier drafting. (I'd like to claim this was a light bulb moment.  Truth be told, I simply got distracted by some other shiny, pretty thing-darn that Raven!-and wandered away from my wheel for a day or two. When I returned, the fibres had transformed.)

I also noticed that several spinners had trouble spinning the fibre when they used Short Forward Draft, which, for many spinners, is the default spinning style for this type of fibre preparation. Some spinners use only that technique for spinning worsted yarns, because, they've been told, that is the correct way to spin this yarn. My default worsted drafting style is Short Backward Draft. It's a sometimes controversial technique (yes, there is such controversy in the spinning world), but I find that the sliding motion of that technique (instead of pulling forward as in SFD) can help the yarn form more smoothly. Depending upon who you ask, there are reasons to use it and reasons not to use it, but refusing to consider using it at all closes off my spinning options.  It takes away Space.

I won't show you the yarn in progress, because it's reserved for something else.  I'm not really talking about yarn, anyway.  Instead, I'll give you another example of the way in which allowing an open approach to possibilities might affect our perspectives.  Dallas Green (City in Colour) is an artist, a great songwriter with an incredible voice.  His "Fragile Bird" speaks to me, musically and lyrically.  Yesterday, I went poking around on YouTube and discovered a mini-movie for the song and another version in which Dallas sits in what appears to be a guitar shop and simply sings.  Version 1 gives you a script for the song.  It sets the theme, the meaning and the emotions for that version of "Fragile Bird." In Version 2, Dallas plays his guitar.  He sings.

When I watch the first video, I'm just that: The Watcher. With so much information, my experience of the song is much smaller. I observe. The second version leaves me with a song, my imagination and room to grow.  I become that Fragile Bird.

Sometimes it feels right to work from set patterns or scripts.  You know the moves, you know what's coming and how things will end. At least, you think you know. Sometimes it feels good to jump into Space and see where you land.  If it doesn't feel like the time to jump, then sit.  Sit and and move and "sploosh." Open up into Spaciousness.  Practice relaxing.  Because, as we know, Practice Makes Perfect."


Saturday, 29 March 2014

Persephone and Demeter Wrap: What to Do With Art Yarns

In Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld, which enraged Demeter so much that she refused to bring forth the seasons of growth and fertility to the Earth. In order to heal the devastation this caused, Demeter was allowed to return to Earth; however, because she had eaten six pomegranate seeds while trapped in the Underworld, she was sentenced to return there for six months of the year.  Demeter, the Crone Mother, mourns her loss every year, which brings on the Winter season. Each time, her mourning ends. Persephone rejoins her Mother. Spring returns.

We are on the tail end of one of the coldest winters in our history.  We've been tempted with the promise of Spring several times, only to have Winter return.  Demeter must be very unhappy this past while.  It's difficult to know what to expect when we venture out (or stay in, near drafty windows).

A batch of art yarns has been calling me.  They're the result of my experiments in spinning stable super bulky yarns from soft, soft fibres, including Merino wool, silk, cashmere, camel and alpaca. The yarns are heavy and luxurious, the kinds of yarns which beg to be worn next to the skin.  Their texture and bulk precludes fancy stitches and there is just enough total yardage to knit something small.  I cast on 70 stitches on 12 mm needles and knit in garter stitch, picking up yarns as they spoke to me, changing from one natural colour to the next when it seemed the time to do so.  The result is this wrap, which reminds me of the Persephone/Demeter myth.  The heavy yarns in whites and brown belong to Winter. The openness of the stitches wrapped around large needles make the fabric warm but light enough to be worn outside on early Spring days or in the house when the weather turns cold again.  The wrap is simple and will suit many bodies, from Young Maiden to Crone. Persephone has an alternate name, "Kore," which is a nice bit of serendipity, because the yarns in this wrap include thick and thin, cabled, felted singles and core spun techniques.


I'm not providing a pattern here.  I had about 500 grams/250 metres of bulky yarn on hand. I cast on 70 stitches on a 12 mm needle.  I used straight needles because that is all I had, but I strongly encourage you to use a long circular needle, because cramming and knitting that many stitches on a straight needle is no fun. I knit until I ran out of yarns.The gauge is about 1.3 stitches per inch.  The knitting is loose and open, so stability in this piece has to come from the yarns. Spinning stable yarns from soft, often short fibres can be difficult; make sure to spin and finish your art yarns properly to prevent excessive stretching and pilling. Rather than making button holes, I made 6 twisted fringes from the yarns left as I changed colours, 1 fringe for each month Demeter rules.  Persephone is represented by 6 pomegranate seeds I embroidered with hand spun yarn on the back side of the wrap. The 3 large seed pod buttons were a thrift shop find; I rescued them from a worn out piece machine knit from acrylic yarn.

Close up view of the "pomengrate seeds"

(Congratulations to all my fellow graduates in the Bodhi Tree Yoga Teacher Training Programme.  I'll see you tonight at our Celebration, the yogic version of "Prom Night!")

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Shakti Shakes: A Little Spring Wrap

This little wrap has attracted much attention since I first wore it last week.  I've had several requests for the pattern, so here it is.  The first photograph, taken by our lovely Michele at Open Fibre Night, shows me wearing the cowl as intended.  The second photograph shows the erratic colour shifts in the latest sample that makes Noro my favourite commercial yarn.  

I designed this wrap because I needed something to cover my shoulders while teaching in yoga studios with fluctuating temperatures, something that would ward off a chill while leaving my arms free to move. With the coming of spring, I wanted to knit with bright colours, quickly, before the weather became too warm for wool.  Noro Hitsuji, bulky 100% wool, is the perfect yarn for this piece, whose name was inspired by Noro’s bright, often unpredictable colours.  In Hindu and yoga traditions, Shakti is primordial energy, the personification of divine feminine creative power.  Shakti is associated with bright colours, movement, and fire.  Shakti does the unexpected; her talents burn bright.  

Knit in the round, the wrap is easy enough for experienced beginners—there is a provisional cast on for the neck and optional short rows which move this out of the “Simple” category; however, you could skip the provisional cast on and knit the whole thing from the top down, omitting the short rows.  In that case, the wrap would be suitable for a knitter’s first knit-in-the-round garment.   It’s a one size fits all pattern; however, if you are broad across the chest, you may want to add more increases in the body.  Taller knitters or those who want something below the elbows should add more length.

As usual, I’m providing a template rather than a pattern here.  There is a link to short row instructions; a good knitting guide will take you through any terms you don’t understand.

Shakti's Spring Fling Wrap

Yarn: 3 balls Noro Hitsuji, 100% wool, 100 metres per 100 gram ball.  Buy more if you prefer a wider or longer garment.

Supplies:  1-60 cm circular needle, in a size to give a gauge of 3 stitches per inch.  I used a 6 mm needle; Noro recommends 6.5 to 8 mm needles with this yarn.

1-60 cm circular needle, in a smaller size, for bottom ribbing. 1-40 cm circular needle, for neck ribbing.  I used 5 mm.  I recommend a needle one or two sizes smaller than your body needle.  I use Knitters’ Pride interchangeable knitting needle tips, so I simply switch out the tips to the sizes I need.

Scrap yarn for provisional cast on; markers, blunt tapestry needle, scissors.

With scrap yarn and larger circular needle, cast on 60 stitches.  Cut scrap yarn and change to Noro yarn.  Knit across the provisional stitches, place marker and join in a circle.  Knit 4 rounds.

Increase by *(K2, m1)* around (90 stitches).

Knit 16 rounds or to depth just above the armpits.  Increase by *(K2, m1)* around (135 stitches). If you require more width, you can add increases as you need them.  Just be sure to knit several rounds between each set of increases.  (For example, you could increase after 8 to 16 rounds past the 135 stitches by doing another (K2, m1) which will give you 203 stitches. You can adjust the number of increases as you wish.  Just be sure to end with an even number of stitches before you knit the bottom ribbing.)

Continue knitting around until approximately 5 cm/2 inches before required length.  For my wrap, this was about 30 cm/12 inches.  Optional Short Rows can be added here.  You will work across the back of the wrap, knitting 33 stitches past the marker, wrap and turn for your short row, purl back to the marker and to 33 stitches past the marker, wrap and turn for the end of that short row, then continue to knit in the round. Instructions for short rows can be found here: Interweave Press Free Tutorial on Short Rows  I added one set of short rows to add approximately 1.5 cm/1/2 inch of length in the back.

Change to smaller needle tips or smaller needle, decrease one stitch (134 stitches).  K1, P1 ribbing for approximately 5 cm/2 inches.  Bind off loosely.

Neck:  With shorter, smaller circular needle, pick up the first round of stitches worked into the provisional cast on (60 stitches).  Note: Pick up the stitches in the Noro yarn, not the stitches formed from the scrap yarn.  Knit one round.  On next round, decrease by *(K3, K2tog)* around (48 stitches).  K1, P1 for ribbing to desired depth (5cm/2 inches).  Bind off loosely.

Darn in all ends.  Remove scrap yarn from provisional cast on.  Wash the wrap in a no-rinse woolwash product.  Remove excess moisture by rolling the garment in a lint free towel.  Block to size and dry flat. 

©Deborah Behm  March 2014
(Photograph of me wearing the wrap © knittermichele)

P.S. Here’s a note for the very brave: I leave these wraps to dry flat overnight and then throw them in the dryer for 30 minutes on medium heat to full the fabric.  I know my dryer and my fabrics; I like the look of the finished garment.  If you try this, please do a test run first and please don’t blame me if your wrap felts.  It’s definitely a trick for the bold and not one you want to try first on an expensive yarn like this.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Nothing Special: On the Value of Being Ordinary

We've all run across the knitter who does the flashy stuff-the brioche, the cables, the intricate colourwork.  She loves complex garments, difficult patterns. Meanwhile, someone else is quietly knitting garter stitch, the plainest, most basic of stitches. While she sometimes knits simple garments, she may knit nothing but scarves. Who is the better knitter? If your answer is, "The flashy knitter," the answer is, "No."  If you think you've spotted the trick question and answered, "The quiet garter stitch knitter," the answer is still "No."  I would argue that the better knitter is the one who recognizes her talents, who knits to her best effort and who thinks that everyone else can achieve that goal, too.

We all know the knitter who thinks she is better than every other knitter. She may do the flashy stuff because she thinks these things highlight her unique abilities. If the flash fails to attract your attention, she'll be sure to point out the beauty of her work. She knows "the right way to knit." (Or spin, or weave, or whatever might be on the menu that day.) She hates to be challenged on her ability and reacts badly to anything perceived as a threat to her skills. We may think that the flashy knitter's behaviour is the most obvious and the most annoying, but this concept of "I'm special because I do this," is not limited to the flashy knitter.  It might well be that the quiet person knitting simple fabrics is the one who wishes to be special, to set herself apart.  Both knitters may share the mindset: "I am Special."

We all have those moments.  There are days when I want to teach all-the-yogas, even more days where I'm convinced that I should be teaching all the fibre classes because I'm good at what I do and no one can do it better. I feel resentment when Others don't appreciate just how special I am. I don't have to follow any rules because I am beyond any structures except the ones I acknowledge. I have nothing to learn from anyone else less practised, less educated, in other words, those who are "less" than I am. I think these things because I am Human; those moments of arrogance and unmindful rebellion pop up because my mind is often unsettled.  The question is not whether these thoughts are bad-they're not. They're just thoughts. Here are the real questions: does this idea of needing to be Special serve us well? What should we do with these thoughts?

In our younger days, in a conversation we had years ago about living life, Mr. DD said this, "It's very hard to become ordinary."  Mr. DD is a very smart man, so I knew he was telling me something important, but I couldn't grasp his meaning.  Why on earth would we strive to become ordinary? What value is there in being one of the crowd, of blending in with the pack, of not seeking and revealing our special-ness to the world? Are there not enough ordinary people in this world? These questions have stayed with me as I move through my journey, with my fibre work, with yoga, with the process of being.  Once in a while, I would get a glimpse of what becoming ordinary might mean, but I haven't been able to articulate my thoughts.

Today, I happened to notice Judith Lasater's book, Living Your Yoga, on a shelf downstairs.  In it, I read:
If you expect more from yourself than from others, you are saying that you are better than others and, therefore, must perform at a superior level (emphasis mine). I do not mean that you should not set goals for yourself. Rather, the question is, how do you react if you cannot meet these goals? Honestly admitting that you may not have done your best is not judgment. It is judgment when you draw a conclusion about yourself (or others-my addition) based on your ideas about failure. (Lasater, p.24)
There it was: I understood what Mr. DD meant.  The fact is that we are all special and we are all ordinary. Our culture has trained us to think that, in order to contribute, in order to be of value to society and the world, we must raise ourselves up, often by scrambling up the backs of other people.  We have to be separate and apart, more and special, better than ourselves and most certainly better than others.  In other words, this concept of not-being-ordinary, when taken to its fullest extent, is another trap set for us.  If we're always trying to be better, we'll always be seeking more.  We will stay in judgment, of ourselves and of others. We will view others and ourselves as outsiders. We will always feel that we do not belong.

Think for a moment what that might mean, of how powerful a force ordinary people could become if only we realized that it's the commonplace which unites us.  Think of how great it would be to see everyone on an equal playing field, recognizing the value of each person without thinking that, as individuals, we must rise above (and by virtue of that, become isolated). Think of the burden lifted from ourselves and everyone if we quit the competition and recognized the special ordinariness of our Selves. As Judith notes, this doesn't mean that we give up goals and aspirations. It's important that we recognize our talents and purpose in this life and apply them, without thinking that we are special, that no one can possibly understand us because our talents are unique.  That's simply not true.  Deep down, in our hearts, we know this.  Telling ourselves that we are unique is an invitation to suffering. Recognizing that we are all Special in our ordinary ways and lives opens our hearts to the possibility that we are all One.

One of many; All lovely

My practice requires effort to take that running conversation in my head, the one in which I think I'm so special that I must teach all things to everyone, that I must be important, ever striving and focus on the recognition that, "I'm good at what I do."  My practice requires effort to incorporate the concept, "Others are good at what they do, too." My practice requires effort to let things settle and be. My practice requires effort to do the work without attaching my Self to the results. My practice requires effort to not apply too much effort. I must practise letting go of Special-ness and move towards embracing the freedom of Ordinary-ness.

Mr. DD may not practise yoga, but he understands the meaning of something I've struggled with for a very long time, the true intention of the word:


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Cool Change: A Bit of Spring Cleaning

Saturday marked a full moon.  There's a shift in the air; temperatures are rising; snow is melting.  Spring is coming and already you can feel changes in the landscape.  People are in better humour, most of time, anyway. Animals are out and about on much missed walks. There are times in the day when we can throw open doors and windows and let light in as we begin to clean out the debris of winter.  Today feels like a spring cleaning post, a time to write again about things as they cycle down and things on their way back up.

Spring cleaning always involves a bit of a mess.  There's that pile of mismatched wintery stuff to be sorted there; lighter things stored away for months need to be washed, dusted, aired out. This has been my winter; the light is changing, revealing what can be discarded and what can be tucked away for now:

Winter reading, winter work: my coffee table contents!
 Let's begin here:
"The advanced student is not the one who moves deeply into the pose.  The advanced student is the one who recognizes and respects her limits." (Andrea Peloso)

Andrea made that comment at the end of the second weekend of our Restorative Yoga Training.  It had been an exhausting, sometimes frustrating practice for me.  This yogic style involves the use of many props-one pose used 6 bolsters as a base; another began with 11 blocks-so the work was physically challenging. The training contains emotional and psychological challenges: one must be able to listen attentively (not my strong suit!) in order to determine not only what the client/student wants in terms of comfort and safety, but also what she might need, which is not necessarily the same thing. I discovered that I would much rather be the person teaching and doing the supporting than the person being supported.

I had to leave the studio early on a couple of occasions, partly due to fatigue, but primarily due to the fact that I was overwhelmed by too many people, loving and kind as they all were, touching me.  I've had a lot of hands on experiences these past few months as I recover from surgery, so both my body and mind are on overload.  When things became too much, I headed home; when that didn't provide sufficient space, I decided that there would be no more physical contact on the last day.  I spent Sunday as an observer and discovered that it was exactly the right thing to do; by day's end, I was tired, but feeling much more, well, restored.  As we were saying our goodbyes, Andrea quietly offered me the remark on "advanced students," food for thought, to be taken as I wished. It was a reminder to be kind to myself, in the way I attempt to be with my students.

Part of the certification process in Restorative Yoga (which is way down the road for me) is to keep a daily 6 week journal of your own Restorative practice, including what poses you have chosen and your experiences in those poses.  I began last week and discovered a few things:

  • Restorative Yoga is not simply about relaxing (although deep relaxation is where we're headed). I spent most of my week practising Supported Savasana and Side-Lying Savasana, neither one of which resembles the hours of Couchitapotatastasana I have been practising lately.
  • Strange things really do happen when you stay in a Restorative pose for at least 20 minutes.
  • Restorative Yoga practice requires practise.  I experimented a bit with Restorative poses with my Advanced Yoga and Beginning Yoga students, several of whom (mostly in the advanced class) commented, "Who knew 20 minutes could seem so long!?"  No one relaxes just because someone tells them to do so, let alone relaxes deeply, so if you want to try Restorative Yoga, expect to meet some resistance from your body and your mind.  It is very, very difficult to let go and just Be.
  • Everyone needs to Let Go and Just Be.  Every day, several times a day. 

Letting go also involves returning to another passion: my fibre work.  I've been so busy with teacher training and teaching yoga that I can't remember the last time I knit. I've barely worked on my tapestry weaving and the only time I spin is in medical waiting rooms.  Fibre art is therapy, too, so I spent some time last week with a bag of Noro yarn and my needles. I'll give you a sneak peek of my latest project, but only that, because, if I show you the entire garment, you'll be able to knit it from the photograph-it's that simple-which would deprive me of the pleasure of writing out the pattern and posting it later (probably):

The colours of this piece are summer flower perfect, bright, bold, beautiful, with just a few earthy tones thrown in for contrast and a reminder of what keeps us grounded, of what is to come.  The next one, the one I'll knit to track the pattern, will be made from a yarn with more green, more spring-like colours, a representation of what is Now.  

So, there it is, a bit of exposure to the light, a bit of tidying up, a gentle poking around the edges and smoothing out the rough spots as the seasons shift and time rings the changes. It feels good.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions: Finding the Right Tools for the Job

I've been teaching a number of classes the past few months, mostly substituting for teachers who are away in warmer climes (smart people).  The classes cover a wide spectrum of styles, from restorative classes to an advanced yoga class.  Substitute teaching, working with such a variety of students, is exhilarating and terrifying.  I love it-there are always new challenges and possibilities to discover.  I think of teaching this way as "adventurous play."  It's usually great fun, although sometimes, I fall off the merry-go-round and get bumped and bruised. It's tough when those bumps and bruises come from a less than warm reception to your personal style of practice and teaching. That exhilarating ride can quickly become an awful experience of feeling that warning knot build in the pit of your stomach. It's up to me to change fear to excitement and potential.

One of the challenges I've faced is convincing students that it's okay to use props.  I'm actually going for, "It's an excellent idea to use props," but the degree of resistance I've met surprises me. The resistance is across the board-I see it in very flexible people who fold and bend themselves into the deepest asana and in people who can barely lift an arm or a leg. The dictionary definition of "prop" is simply a support, but contained within that definition is "Rigid support, esp. one not forming structural part of thing supported (OED)" and therein lies the problem.  We think of props as things we use when we can't do or reach the thing we want to do.  There's stigma attached; as a result, we often use props only when we think we can't.

I usually teach in a studio full of props; I've also taught in dance studios with a minimum of props,and unused classrooms with nothing but chairs and tables for assistance.  Props are a bonus and a blessing. (I could write a paper on the yogic possibilities of the styrofoam pool noodle.) Props can take you further into a posture than you ever dreamed possible. They can support you, challenge you or help you rest. I also come from a world of textiles where it's understood that various assists and devices can help you be a better artist or craftsperson. There are amazing works of art and craft found all over the world which rely on few or no tools-Chilkat Dancing Blankets (thigh spinning), intricate brocade weaving (ground looms), cave drawings and paintings (blood, charcoal, earth pigments used with sticks and fingers)-but we also know that support media such as drawlooms, Jacquard looms and spinning wheels, acrylic paints and fancy drawing pens can expand our options.

Because of this, I've been puzzling over ways to communicate the advantages of using props to yoga students, to remove the stigma of "propage," as we sometimes call the practice, to convince students that props open us up to possibilities, rather than hold us back.

One of the things I learned was that, if you ask students to use props in a class where props are not usually considered, people may be insulted.  They take it as a suggestion that you think they can't do deep postures. (Chairs are a big issue.  Asking people to use chairs seems to trigger a negative reaction more often than asking students to use any other prop.)  It may not help to explain that you use chairs in all your classes or that the use of props has nothing to do with whether or not the teacher thinks you can do the pose. In addition to explaining the advantage of props, it's important to show students what props can and cannot do for a yoga practitioner. Use unsupported poses to show students where they are and then use the props to take them deeper into the poses.

The most physically flexible students may be surprised at how much more deeply they can stretch and release when they use chairs to challenge themselves.  Those who face many physical, emotional and psychological challenges (and they may not be the students you think) can expand their options with props.  If everyone is using props, no one feels excluded, which can be especially important to yoga neophytes and people facing specific challenges such as cancer.

I've been inviting students to listen to their bodies and explore the idea of "yoga as play."  It seems to me that yoga and meditation so often become more items to add to our "To Do List." Yoga can quickly become work. We have quite enough work in our lives, even if we don't have "jobs."  What we lack is a sense of play and the opportunity to explore "adventurous play."  We begin slowly, by providing options for poses, supported and unsupported, and then offering students 5 minutes or so to pick a pose (or poses) they would like to explore and play with it.  The first time I offered this, there was a general "deer in the headlights" look on students' faces, but I can see that people are opening to the idea of having "recess" in the middle of a yoga class. "Yoga recess" challenges the idea that everyone has to be doing the same poses by instruction and rote.  It's quite a delight to see bodies moving in so many different ways.  Yoga recess also introduces a bit of flow to my classes, which tend towards Restorative yoga and often involve longer holds. (I adapted the idea of students doing a variety of poses in the same class from Sarah Garden's Yoga for Backs classes. Thank, Sarah!)

Another factor in the equation is yoga language.  Alyson, a fellow teacher and friend, introduced our training group to a wonderful book, "Overcoming Trauma through Yoga."  I've been exploring the authors' advice on care and attention to language.  The result so far is that I'm shifting away from speaking about asana modifications and substituting the word, options. Modifications suggest, "This is what you do when you can't do that," while options suggest personal choice and freedom.  I'm rethinking the word, prop, altogether and introducing the concept of props as tools.  Props may suggest a deficiency to some students, but tools are a sign of higher intelligence on our planet.  (There are very few creatures who can make, use and adapt tools.)  My current mantra to students is, "Props are not designed to hold you back.  Props are tools to take you deeper."

As a neophyte teacher, it's natural for me to want to reinvent the yoga wheel and to tell the world about my discoveries. There's nothing new in the ideas of right thoughts, right words, right actions, but I believe the challenge of exploring these ideas through observation, through practice, through play, can only make me a better teacher.  I have a long, long way to go in that direction, but I've been asking many questions, rethinking most of my assumptions and testing theories in practical ways.  Living has become one big scientific exploration of play and its benefits.  That's where I want to be.  I'm hoping to convince others to come along for the ride.  You may fall off the merry-go-round once in a while, but it's sure a lot of fun when you're on it.

This room is sometimes a fibre studio; currently it's a yoga room and these are some of my preferred tools.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Turn, Turn, Turn: Times A'Changing

Our yoga teacher training finished tonight, in a warm studio, on a bitterly cold night. It stopped on a whisper, not a bang, on a chant, with people drifting out into the ice and snow, waving good-bye as they left the studio.  There's a conclusion, but no real ending: there will be a graduation and many of us will meet often, as students and teachers.  Others will not-there are those whose presence will be remembered, no longer experienced, as we move back to our busy lives and new beginnings.

To me, this finish felt more like a cycle, a shift in the circle of time to which many Eastern philosophies subscribe.  Rather than having a starting and stopping point with steps along the way, yogic time revolves through time and space.  Each new beginning marks an end to something.  Each ending traces back to those new beginnings.  Round and round we go, passengers on the wheel of time.

I've spent the last 14 months immersed in yoga. Each day saw me in the studio, on the mat, off the mat, away from the studio, practising, teaching, living, breathing yoga.  I've had days where I was on a high, at the top of the wheel, looking out on the landscape of possibilities.  Other days, I've been stuck at the bottom, waiting for that cycle to pull me out of a slump and back towards the top of the wheel again. In this moment, I'm not sure where I am.  It may be that teacher training was the highlight of my yoga experience and I'm on the flip side of the wheel.  It could just be that the past year and some was the resting point of a cycle which will whisk me up to a view I can't imagine at the moment.  

More likely than not, where I am on that wheel, on this particular cycle of time, doesn't matter.  What does matter is, that when all this began, more often than not, I couldn't catch my breath for fear of what might come as the wheel spun round.  Now, it feels as though, no matter how fast that wheel turns, no matter where I am on any given cycle, I've found my seat.  Now, I can breathe.

So, to everyone who rode that wheel with me, who held my hand when the ride became too frightening, who kept me in my seat when I felt I might spin away, teachers, fellow students, friends, Thank You.  It's been quite the ride.  


Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions: Image courtesy of Wikicommons