Monday, April 28, 2014

Felting Stones as a First Chakra Meditation

I'm excited and honored to be teaching another SFEtsy sponsored craft event at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.  Last time we played with needle felting colorful mushrooms.    This time we are going to make a big, soapy mess as we use our hands to wet-felt beach stones. 

This wet-felting project is a quick, simple and easy process that can be learned by anyone.  While I plan to teach this as a straight-forward craft project, I wanted to write a little bit about the original conception of this project as it relates to my yoga therapy practice.

The previous blog post is a more in-depth look at the yogic chakra system, but just to review, one way to look at the chakra system is to realize it is an energetic map of where we store and process emotions in different places in our body.  In that sense, there's nothing especially mystical about it.  We all know we feel love at our heart center (fourth chakra), that our insight is in our head (sixth chakra), that certain emotions make us feel"choked up" (fifth chakra) and that we feel butterflies in our stomach where our center of confidence is (third chakra).  And we speak of feeling "ungrounded" or uprooted when we experience certain types of trauma or stress.

The root/1st chakra (Muladhara) is associated with the color red and the element of earth, of feeling grounded, and with our feeling of "the right to be here."  It's connected to our relationship with money, security, and home.   It's this idea of the "right to be here" that ultimately inspired me to choose this earth-element root chakra project for the event at the Museum of Craft and Design. 

It's not news to anyone living in San Francisco that there's a wide spread sense of insecurity about the "right to be here."    Almost all of us know someone who has been displaced, literally pushed out of their home by soaring rents, or worse, evicted by real estate speculators exploiting the Ellis Act to push long term tenants out, and hiking rents to ridiculous rates ($3200 studio apartments anyone?) to feed the beast of the Silicon Valley gold rush. 

Even if you aren't personally on the verge of getting pushed out of your city and your home, it's difficult for sensitive citizens to not feel the first chakra anxieties that are permeating San Francisco right now.  I would say it's even experienced by the new wave of affluent tech workers who feel the resentment here, or see the protests against the Google buses for example.  There's no security in feeling resented by the city you've moved to just because of the field you are in. 

From the perspective of yoga therapy, there are a number of ways to ease root chakra anxieties and imbalances.  Authentic movement, tribal dance, grounding yoga asanas/poses, specific breathing practices, gardening, or going for a barefoot walk on the beach are all tremendously therapeutic and grounding. 

I have found the art and craft of felting to be healing in many different ways and it has been a natural progression to want to find ways to consciously apply this in my practice of yoga therapy to help others experience this.  Felting beach stones is just one example
The Sanskrit/symbol for Muladhara, the root chakra

In felting beach stones, you will experience the earthy heaviness of the stone in your hand.  You can direct your attention to the soothing calmness of that weight in your hand as you select the stone you want to work with. 

Other elements are present as well.  Feel the light, airy wool between your fingers as you direct those energies of the heart into the work you are creating.  The element of fire, the heat of your confident solar plexus in the "fire" that is used to heat the water we use.  Consciously breathe as you work, feeling that heat in your hands and direct that confidence and heat into the stone and into your root chakra as you work.  And the water itself, that second chakra sense of desire, passion and sexual energy, water, the sensual way we move our body, the blood flowing in our veins. 

Do this work meditatively.  See the colors and the wool, working the wool mindfully around the stone.  Feel the heat of fire in your hands, and the sensual slippery way the water lets the wool transform into soft, protective felt around the heavy stone.  Notice the calm, grounded and centered way this work makes you feel.

And later, keep the stone in a place that is meaningful to you.  And when you are feeling stressed out, ungrounded or anxious, pick it up, feel that weight and that softness, and remind yourself that whatever life hands you, the ground is always beneath your feet, feeding and nourishing you with its energy, and that as a creature of earth, YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Blossoming Chakras

Blossoming Chakras, 10"x22"
Work all week and yoga school every weekend leaves very little time for felt creations.  But last friday, had a whole day free to myself,  homework complete, no clients, and so took the opportunity to make this felted tapestry as an homage to the chakra module we just finished up as part of the advanced yoga teacher training.  This tapestry has been gifted to the absolutely wonderful Purusha Yoga School in San Francisco, at 38th and Balboa, where I'm doing my training. 

I tried a technique, new to me, of embedding stones in the wool, each one wrapped in a different chakra color and then overlaid in black roving.  After felting, the stones are cut out and creates the outward exploding three dimensional "petals."  The dimensionality is not that visible from this straight on angle.

A few notes on chakras, if you don't already know.  The chakras are the yogic concept of energy centers located at specific points in the body, and associated with different physical and psychological parts of our selves.  Whether you regard the chakras as real or simply as metaphors is immaterial, as working physically and meditatively with these locations and their associated concepts will yield healing results regardless.  You might also notice the relative similarity of the chakra model to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Starting at the base and working up is the root chakra in red, Muladhara, located at the base of the spine, and is associated with trust vs. mistrust, our sense of "right to be here," survival, grounding, and our relationship with money.  It's your foundation, your roots, and without balance in home and finances and a balanced sense of security, it is truly difficult to have a healthy balance throughout the rest of your physical, mental and spiritual self.  Traumas around these issues manifest as an imbalance in this chakra, and can include behaviors like hoarding, over-eating, as well as physical problems with feet and knees.  Even those who have never been exposed to the concept of chakras intuitively recognize chakra imbalances, and you see it in our language.  For instance, when we refer to someone as a "tight ass" we are talking about someone with root chakra issues.

The second chakra, Svadisthana, orange, located at the navel point is the seat of our sexuality, our sense of desire, autonomy vs. shame, and a source of our creativity.  This chakra is associated with the element of water, and there's nothing like a long barefoot walk on the beach, or a hot scented bath to get this chakra to blossom. 

The third Chakra, Manipura, yellow, located at the abdomen, is the seat of our will, our initiative, our "right to act" in the world.  Someone deficient in this chakra might manifest this physically by hunching at their center, and conversely someone excessive in this chakra might have a more militant posture. We might say of this person, "she is really gutsy!"

The fourth chakra, Anahata, green, is our heart.  Love.  Conversely, grief.  I find it beautiful that the word "anahata" literally means "the unstruck sound."  There are many yoga practices for helping with issues related to this chakra, but chocolate seems to do the trick as well.

Fifth Chakra, Vishuddha, Blue is our throat center, our center of expression.  Deficiency in this chakra can lead to throat problems and difficulty expressing yourself, and conversely, excess might manifest as compulsive lying or abusive, passive-aggressive ways of speaking.  Singing and chanting mantras is a wonderful way to help balance and open this chakra. 

Sixth is Ajna, purple, the third eye, our intellect, our intuition, visionary states, and our ability to "see." Someone strong or excessive in the sixth and seventh chakras, but unbalanced in the first three chakras, is the archtypal "spiritual space cadet" that you will envariably encounter in any spiritual community, be it a Kundalini class or a Baptist church.  Those who refuse to responsibly do for themselves because "god" or "the universe" will take care of everything.  Alternately, deficiencies here and in the seventh can result in the rationalist/skeptic intellectual devoid of any sense of spirituality.  (It is also possible to find a balance between rational skepticism and a sense of spirituality.)

Seventh, Crown Chakra, Sahasrara, white or gold, this chakra is located directly above the body, and has been represented as a halo in early Christian art dating as far back as the fourth century CE.  This chakra is where our sense of connection to others and to the world resides.  It's where we find that sense of "all is one" and realize our divine nature.

This stuff may all seem abstract and theoretical when you read about it, but when you start working with specific meditations, breathing exercises, and physical yoga poses targeted at opening and balancing the chakras, it can be life changing.  If you are interested in chakra work, I highly recommend Anodea Judith's book The Sevenfold Journey: Reclaiming Mind, Body & Spirit Through the Chakras.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

All Id, No Super Ego

This January finds me enrolled in an intense, months-long Yoga Therapist certification program.  It's pretty much all yoga all the time right now, like some kind of boot camp that leaves your heart all melty inside. 

The only opportunity I have had to sneak in any felting at all this month was an assignment from the psychotherapy portion of the course where we were given homework to create an image of our Id, that part of the psyche Freud identifies as the impulsive little devil sitting on one shoulder (with the good angel of the super ego supposedly sitting on the other.)

Could have done it in crayons on a bar napkin and it would have been fine, but if you know anything about the addiction that is felting, you know I couldn't pass the opportunity to dust off the needles, even if for just a cutesy simple little thing like this. 

All mouth and eyes, my Id will say anything, eat anything, imbibe anything.  And what a gorgeous coif in radiant, silky kid mohair!

My wife laughed and immediately pointed out:  Hey, it's just like you. . .no ears!