Friday, February 27, 2009

Andy Goldsworthy

Craft, art, nature, beauty, poetry. Take a look at this piece by Andy Goldsworthy.

Then you can browse the site, see photos of him building a sphere out of slabs of ice, or look at a track of leaves through the forest, pinned down by thorns.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Brownie Prana

This is my third day in my new office space and it is beginning to have some Brownie Prana.

See, I have this theory called Brownie Prana. First, an explanation of prana. Then, on to the brownies.
Prana (pronounced praw-nah) is often described as the breath. But it's more than that. It can be thought of as the life that rides on the breath. When you inhale, you bring prana in. It moves throughout the body, with one goal of yoga to keep as much prana inside the body. I have a student who has MS and her feet are always cold. Circulation may be one cause, but in yogic terms, it is also because - due to her lack of mobility and other factors, such as the quality and length of her breath - prana is not getting to the tips of her toes and fingers as it should.

Prana can also be thought of as that subtle, indescribable, powerful something that differentiates something living from something that has died. You can see it in a garden after the first frost: something is gone from the space that was there when the plants were alive. Or in that moment immediately after something takes its last breath. I remember the moment when my dog Rosie took her final breath. I thought that she was gone. Then she exhaled with a soft whoosh. And there was something tangibly changed in her body, in the room, in how I felt when I touched her.
That's the prana part.

The Brownie part is the effect of prana on something. In this case, how prana has come to inhabit a baking pan. I have an old, somewhat beat up, rectangular baking pan that I always use to make brownies. As we know from previous posts and accolades from all who have tasted them, these are damn good brownies. Perhaps the Best in the World. And part of the reason that they are so good is due to the pan that they are baked in. I've been using the same brownie pan for at least twenty years. Over time, it has taken on the quality of all those wonderful brownies that preceded the current batch in time. The pan has good Brownie Prana - a vital element, amorphous and invisible, that animates any brownie that develops there.

If I'm losing you here, let's have a challenge. For the next week, sit in a different place than you usually gravitate to when you want to relax. Hmm, does it feel different? And not just because it is a different chair, but because of a feeling that you can't quite describe?

This process of building up prana over time seems to happen in rooms, as well. You know that feeling when you walk into a space and it just feels right? Comfortable, calm perhaps, a place where people feel welcomed and are happy to put their feet up on the furniture and relax? Or the way that you always sit in the same place in the lunchroom - or take the same chair at the table for every meeting? Brownie Prana.

So I'm working to build Brownie Prana into my office. I'm hoping that each time that I see a student and begin work to help with healing, that a smidgen of prana rubs off onto the space. And as I write this, I'm wondering if actual Brownie Prana might accelerate the process. I'm sure I could get a few students to choke down a brownie or two.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Animal dreams, Part 3

I know, you're all busy getting ready for the Academy Awards.

Since noon, you've been holed up in a hotel, beautifying and drinking lots of water so that your skin will look dewy and snatching a quick midday snack of sushi to tide you over until the big parties after the event. And yes, writing and rewriting your acceptance speech onto tiny scraps of paper that will seem, despite the hours of diligent effort applied, to have been stuck at the bottom of your evening handbag because you were so sure that your little movie would not catch the attention of the Academy voters.

If, during the many commercials, when the line to the women's restroom is too long to contemplate, you need something to ponder, here's this: the night before last I dreamt about gerbils. Again. This is perhaps my third gerbil dream and my second or third post about gerbil dreams.

In this one, I was cleaning the tank that the critters live in. There was one gerbil, however, living in what looked like the water bottle that you hang on the outside of hamster-gerbil tanks so that they can take a drink occasionally. To clean the bottle, I had to gently ease the gerbil out. More challenging was the getting him back in. He was fat and the neck of the bottle was small. And once I managed to start the transition back, his whiskers would get stuck in the way. After many tries, I finally managed to get most of his body in, then gently shook the bottle until he suctioned back inside. Kind of like trying to get ketchup back into the bottle.

One of my yoga students suggested that I get a dream book and look up "gerbil" for analysis. Best not to know, I'm thinking.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Name Anxiety

I'm having name anxiety.

Not about my name. Though, after fifty-one years of having the same first name and yet, not being able to pronounce it distinctly enough that people hear "Janet" instead of "Janice," well, I wonder.

But more specifically, about the name of my yoga therapy business. Just a little business, but the choice of a name makes it more real, creates a something, communicates what it is to others. I remember the moment when I found the name for my doctoral dissertation. Suddenly, it was tangible, concrete, something with an end hovering on the horizon line in the distance, an eventual book to sit in a library.

Yoga names are tricky. I know that I don't want a touchy-feely name. There are many yoga teachers with email addresses and websites that have gooey wording. And that's not me. I do believe that heart and union and OM and breathing and exhaling are significant. But I don't think that is the whole picture.

And more to the point, I want the name of my business to tell people that, even if they have never done yoga or thought of themselves as someone who would try yoga, that perhaps the practice would help them in some definitive way. I want the name to say - this is something useful, practical, utilitarian. Too bad "utilitarian" is such an unpretty word. The meaning works - utilitarianism is the science of creating the greatest amount of happiness - which is similar to yoga's function of decreasing suffering and increasing joy - but Utilitarian Yoga sounds painful, right?

I was paging through the dictionary this morning while drinking my coffee, looking at words. Also, marveling at how people come up with great names. Like Ravelry. It says knitting, yarn, fun, community, party. Or my LYS, Knitche. Is there a yoga version that plays on a yoga word but has a layered effect?

And then there are names that have an echo effect. Like GlobalHope. I love the long "o"sound in each word, the efficiency of the name, its suggestion of promise and concern for more than one's own backyard. There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam. Briefly, it means actions to repair the world. And I really like that idea: the promise of healing, the concern for something beyond oneself, the practicality. But Tikkun Olam Yoga? Nope.

Well, time to empty the dishwasher and get ready for the day. Maybe something will come to me when I'm not looking so hard. (Suggestions are welcome, by the way.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009


My new students breathe very quietly. They place their mats into large, open spaces, what I like to call the Midwestern approach to the yoga studio. (We believe that wide open spaces are the proper form for all interactions. Call it a form of independence or a form of antisocialism: I'm never sure.) And when I chant OM at the end of class, they are mostly silent.

These qualities, along with a brouhaha that happened two weeks ago involving some students' vocal response to a sub covering for a popular teacher (I was neither the sub nor the missing teacher), have made me somewhat hesitant in my teaching. There's always the choice - when you are doing something performative like teaching - whether to be yourself or whether to be what you think the audience/class desires. And because yoga teachers usually are paid according to the number of students in a class, the game is heightened by the question of If. If I taught this, would I have more students? If I looked like that, would I have more students? If I play music or if I don't play music or if I make the class tough or if I make it easy, would I have more students?

Luckily, I have teachers who have taught me to try not to fall into that deep well. My first teacher taught me that the main thing is to show up, and that whoever needs yoga that day will be there. Sometimes that means teaching to one student. Sometimes that means a room full. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita - let go of the fruit of your actions. Meaning do something, but do it because it's the right thing to do, not because you expect a certain result from the work.

Of course, like so much else in yoga, and thus, in daily life, easier said than done. My classes at the new center have been small or non-existent. With the freezing weather, the January doldrums, the economy, and a new business, attendance is low. And so, when I suggest that we chant OM at the end of class and no one joins in (well, hardly anyone - there have been a few voices out there), or when I drive over, feed the meter, rush through the frigid, dark afternoon and no one comes, I start to think: is it me? Should I be someone different?

Today, I began to feel myself again. I decided to talk to them about why I chant OM, its effects (including deepening and lengthening your exhale, because chanting is nothing but breathing with sound), some history, a bit of Sanskrit and a bit of philosophy. I realized that I'd been going on for a bit, so I took a breath and realized that the most important thing to say was this: that I was fine with them OMing or not, but that I at least wanted them to have the information that they needed to be able to make a choice. Knowledge is power, I actually said, and it was one of those times when you recite a cliche and it means something.

And when the last person to come in placed herself waaaaaay at the back of the room, I stopped and said "oh my god. What are you guys doing? can you even hear me back there?" and everyone laughed and one student said, "oh, I never noticed that OM and Oh my god sound a bit the same," and then they all offered to move closer and they all picked up their mats and came into a nice, cohesively spaced group sort of near the front of the studio.

Things went much better. I felt like me instead of a shadow. And at the end of class, I suggested that we chant either OM or a word that means something to each of us, but that we do it mentally rather than aloud, so that no one felt pressured to join in or abstain. It felt right for today. And next class, I'll chant aloud, even if I'm the only voice, feeling a bit more sure that at least I'm showing up, and whatever happens or not afterward, that I'm a teacher.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Random things of Goodness

  • Project Runway Season Four, finally out on Netflix.
  • Tapas, sherry, dinner with a friend.
  • the International Seafarers' Ministry Knit Cap #2: idiot proof, instant gratification knitting. A Hat a Day.
  • My own little space for seeing students. A friend tells me that the proportions (8 x 10) are exactly in line with spatial synchronicity (well, not that, but something that sounded like that) according to vastu principles (an Indian version of feng shui that may predate feng shui.)
  • Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. (And yes, the feminist in me resists the addition of the boy character, but at least they made him quirky and misshapen (what's with the angle of his huge head?) and unloved (his name, Wybie, comes from the question Why be born?) and silenced, on Coraline's orders, in the other world? Anyway, how can you not love a movie that has an old lady with pasties and a wise cat and a tough little girl and an actual, tiny, hand knitted sweater (the one with the stars is the work of Althea Crome, an artist who creates miniature hand knits as art - go to Evil Buttons to see a video and lots of Coraline tchotchkes) and a house called the Pink Palace, which has to be based on The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink - another warped, magical children's book and I mean that in a good way -- even if they wimped out and added the boy?
  • Lithuanian beer.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

No wonder I'm tired

This is some of what I've done this week (and if that sentence isn't grammatical and you're wondering how someone with a Ph.D. in English could have written it, well, please review the title for this post. Thank you.)
  • put together a brochure on yoga therapy for a friend to have available at a conference on stress and losing your job (I was going to describe it as "the current economic situation," but either imminent job loss or you invested with Bernie Madoff may sum up the sad situation we're in)
  • chose a name for my yoga therapy practice
  • bought a domain name. I went to GoDaddy (where do these names come from?), and let me warn you, if you are planning to purchase a name for your website, be prepared to go through seven or eight hundred screens, crammed with more Web products that they want to sell to you, before you reach the promised land of this-is-all-that-I-need-today. And the site? So busy that it made my teeth hurt.
  • Not really my teeth, but my eyes. Specifically, my left eye. A few weeks ago, I had that experience that comes very rarely: the feeling that there was a bug or a black fleck of wool floating just beyond my peripheral vision. The one time in my life that I've had a migraine, this is how it started. I'd turn to look. Nope, nothing there. Yesterday, more little black specks, now moving occasionally in front of my eyes as well as off to the left, again. I'd turn to catch a glimpse, and like Tinkerbell, the speck would disappear just to the edge of my field of vision. One friend suggested that it could be a detached retina, which comes with age, but I'm going with too much time spent staring at the computer mixed with a dose of stress. I'll let the eye doctor make the call in a week or so.
  • finished Hat #5, the ever classic International Seafarers Ministry watch cap in Jo Sharp DK Wool for my older daughter. (Hats 1-2 were lost; hats 3-4 were knit of washable wool as I thought 1-2 had been felted AND were Turn a Squares - natty but not enough cap to pull down over the eyes during windy, cold New England winters); realized, on Try the Second of the Habitat pattern that it is not a good idea to size a pattern down the second time that you make it (first try I decreased the number of stitches and worked on a smaller needle - this time, I stuck with the decreased stitches but went up to a size 7 needle). I can ease the hat onto my head, but I have a very small head. (No jokes, now, please.) With all the cabling going this way and that, I can't bear the thought of ripping it out and starting again, so it will sit about four rows from being finished until I can marshal the courage to plow through or to start over. Be warned: this is a beautiful pattern, but is not good TV knitting.
  • also, I took a page from Kelly Petkun of KnitPicks, who seems to be the most organized knitter on the earth. (I love her podcasts, especially hearing about her love for process and planning. It's good to meet your opposite.) No Excel spreadsheets for me, but I did take time to chart out the multi-step directions for the body of the Vivian sweater, match up sections by stitch counts, cut out charts and tape them to a single page so that all directions are on one piece of paper, color-coded the various charts (there are 6 different charts, plus various combinations of K this and P that and seed stitch whatever is left over). Then I made two color copies, so that all this work will be preserved when I misplace the working copy that I keep with my knitting.
  • taught seven group yoga classes, three yoga therapy sessions, made a call to market my services at a rehab center nearby, met with a doctor to look at space in her office to use for yoga therapy, worked a tiny bit on my tiny mitten for Latvian mitten class, read some, met a friend for coffee, had a potluck lunch with some other friends, typed up meditation notes some, and watched Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist.
  • phew. It's time for a nap.

PS I wish that I could provide you with sage, meaningful yoga posts, but it's not in the cards right now. Promise to return soon with more thoughts on the Yoga Sutras and such.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lil Pink Sock

Not the true lil pink sock (this link shows a Mutts cartoon with the lil pink sock, but go here to look at the actual Mutts website), but that's what I think of when I look at the tiny mitten that I'm working on for a class on knitting Latvian mittens.
This is the lining. You make an inner mitten out of softer yarn, then knit an outer mitten of warmer, sometimes scratchier, more resilient yarn with lots of color work. The liner here is knit from Baby Ull on a size 2 needle. The yarn is surprisingly woolly and sturdy, despite the fine gauge. Here's the thumb view:
Since I took these photos, I've started the outer shell of the mitten, which involves color work, stranding, and more tiny needles. I was working on double points but quickly lost patience with all the pointy ends sticking up and demanding organization, so I've switched to a 40" circular.

Working with two different yarns at the same time is very tricky and a new skill for me, and it's not easy. I did find a method in The Principles of Knitting by June Hiatt that calls for working one color at a time while slipping all the stitches destined for the other color, then rounding again and working color B while slipping the stitches from Color A. Could this possibly work? She acknowledges that it might seem like double the effort, but that the payoff in only working with one yarn at a time actually makes the process quicker than the dreaded carrying of two colors.

And I'm using Jamieson Double Knit yarn, after ditching the Blue Sky Alpaca that I'd bought for the project. One of the teachers brought in a big bag of skeins left over from some kits that went unsold. This stuff is amazing: it's sturdy in your hand (I know, there it is again, but I live in the Midwest and it is very cold and I need some reliability these days), proud, and easy to work with. The alpaca had a slimy feel to it - some would say slippery, but it just didn't say Mitten to me - but this yarn makes me feel like a knitter from the past. I've been lurking on Schoolhouse Press' site, admiring the other yarns in this type of family (the site link for yarn is "Wool" - sort of like going to a restaurant with great food, where the menu says "Steak" or "Beer," and you know that the simplicity means something reliable and good), then resisting the urge to buy many woolly yarns.