Arts and Crafts and Yoga

I’ve recently had a Canadian visitor for a few weeks, and we got up to lots of fun travelling, exploring, wine tasting, and learning some arts and crafts.  It was a great way to connect and have some fun while she was in town, especially because she is very creative; a natural artist who is studying art in school.  I really admire her creativity.  I’ve always been in awe of all artists, really, mostly because I have always thought that I’m not artistic.

But, I’ve learned a little something about what art is, about how, in many ways it is a practice just like yoga, and I’ve learned a little something about myself too.

Over the past few weeks, every time we turned our hands to a new crafty project, I started off with major doubts in my abilities, and said really annoying things like, ‘I’m not good at art. I’m not sure I can do this. Mine will not be as good as yours’.  After a few times saying this (okay, ‘a few times’ really means constantly), I realized that I was echoing students new to yoga who so often say, “I’m not flexible, I can’t do yoga”.  And, of course, everyone can do some form of yoga. Just like anyone can be artistic.

So, I started to really get into these arts and crafts projects, treating them like I would hope a new yoga student would treat their first few classes – paying attention to instructions, keeping an open mind, mirroring the teacher, getting curious about their bodies, and being willing to make some mistakes.  It turns out, my usual instruction to teacher trainees to ‘doubt your doubts’ worked really well when I applied it myself in my crafty projects.  Without my mantra of ‘I’m not good at art’ I had more brain space to stay attentive, present, mindful, and playful – and surprise, art started to be really fun!

Over the past few weeks I’ve made macramé plant hangers, water-coloured some postcards, made a glass paperweight, three kinds of soaps, bath balms (okay, these weren’t a raging success), limoncello (still afraid to taste it), and turned an old door into my new desk.  Sure, they didn’t all turn out perfectly, but the process…oh the process was a delight once I could let go of my preconceived ideas of what artistic was, and just let myself play.

It seems to me that art, like yoga, is about a process, not final product.  In both yoga and arts and crafts we can get stuck thinking it’s about the execution of the poses (or art), rather than the exploration.  We can imagine that other people came to their practice already able to paint a portrait or tuck their legs behind their heads, and the truth is that in both art forms a lot of patient practice came before the perfect portrait or the elaborate pose.

Picassos works weren’t done in a day, and neither is a yoga practice.

So, what have I learned from my art projects?  Posture is important.  Breath is important.  Curiosity is key.  Mindfulness is essential.  And, the best (and by this I mean the most fun) art focuses on being in the process – breath, mind, hands, heart – and in this way each step is fascinating; noticing your movements, noticing the flow of your thoughts, noticing each new step of the process, noticing when you are rushing towards the end product and slowing down to be curious about each knot, brushstroke, or body movement.

Since I took my one and only macramé lesson I’ve made 6 plant hangers to inspire my office.  It’s been a practice of yoga for sure, and to me, it’s also a bit of magic.  There is a magic in twisting my fingers this way, then that, and a knot appears.  I’ve stopped thinking about the technique, and in fact if I think too hard about the technique I’m lost.  A bit like it was with Sun Salutations or my Thai Yoga Massage practice – at a certain point it became mindfully mindless, and much more about listening, feeling, and looking, then following my intellect.

Chances are that I’m not destined to be an O’Keefe or a Carr.  But, the same goes for yoga.  I won’t be gracing the cover of a magazine with my perfect Paschimottanasana, but the magic, the sheer delight, of moving my body (or my fingers, or a paintbrush) this way, then that, is a great enough pleasure and practice for me.

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