Deep in the Valley of Drawing

Lines, shapes and angles Nature, as people are fond of saying, abhors a vacuum. Now that I no longer have to go to a certain place at the same time every morning, when an opportunity to take a course in "art practice" with Cat Bennett arose, I jumped in. Well, jumped after some encouragement from my friend Beth Rommel.

I've had an on and off relationship with drawing--mostly off. I came to art through the medium of textiles and in art school, recognized the need to learn how to draw. I took classes in figure drawing as well as landscape, but mostly with the feeling of forced march to them. I never understand the simple desire to pick up a pencil and render the world in front of me.

Although it might seem self-evident from years of art therapy that drawing by any means is a form of self-expression, I haven't always practicing internally what I preached. Until. Until.

I've yearned to bring my loves of yoga practice and art together and with that in mind, have signed up for a yoga teacher's training course at my favorite yoga studio, Kaya Yoga.

After taking that step, I began to listen more attentively to the prompts that teachers were giving us. When Kia recently spoke about each pose as a series of patterns, my ears perked up. Hmm, how could I translate that into drawing?

All lines and angles

What if drawing is as transitory as moving into and out of downward dog? Once you've done your series of poses for a class, and felt great or sore afterwards, or simply experienced them, you go off and encounter the rest of the day; the poses having evaporated in the moment. Could I do that with drawing? Just engage and then let go?

With trepidation and some resistance, I began my class "Making Art a Practice". Sure, I confess, I ripped out some of the studies I didn't like, but honestly, once I began to "lean in" as Sheryl Sandburg so pragmatically puts it, the practice began to be fun. I'm stretching my "tolerance for ambiguity" muscle and it definitely relates to yoga.

Two shapes and some lines

It is clear that around any edge my pencil turns, a drawing may collapse, just like I often do in Tree pose. (I love it when my teacher suggests we can be a shrub if we want.) So here I go. I move with my pencil, often ending up in the wrong place and needing to correct my direction. Yet at times, my pencil and I flow with ease. I look forward to the journey ahead and to wherever it takes me.

Open Studio as a Practice

Nandina 1, ©2014, 8" x 10," Monoprint on panel When you're in a yoga class, the teachers often refer to "your practice," a phrase that both personalizes one's practice and places the responsibility for it squarely on one's shoulders (or should I say palms and feet?) When  my teacher was directing a complicated pose the other day and used the phrase "if you have it in your practice," those words that simultaneously reassured and challenged me.

I'm taking them to heart and applying them to an event that's just up the road, my first Open Studio event in several years. I always get excited about the idea of an open studio, but as the date gets closer, the idea of opening my house to people feels like the proverbial dream where I look down and realize I've forgotten to put on my shirt. Exposed.

But here's the thing: I love being up in my studio and making my work, watching it fill up the walls. But there's another part to the process of making art that I struggle with: sharing it. Its a way of completing the circle, to bring what is internal out and allow the world to see it.

I do want to share it, but that feeling of exposure is uncomfortable. And that's where yoga comes in. Perhaps, I thought, I could see the whole thing simply as a continuation of my art practice,  something that is actually a natural extension of making the work.

In a practice, whether it's an art or yoga practice, the important thing is to show up. As I thought about this, I began to feel more confident and I got curious about this idea of practice. I read different yoga blogs to get a feel for what different teachers meant by practice. While they generally agreed on the physical benefits, I collected different tips about how to maintain a practice:

•Set an intention or goal and set aside time for that each day. • Stay positive -- know that it is possible. • Be patient with myself; honor my body. •Acknowledge my accomplishments, big or small. • Continue my practice. Combine these points with a heaping portion of non-judgement and compassion, and I've got a good recipe.

So far, so good. I've been staying tuned into Art Hannah. I think that the most exquisitely difficult and simultaneously most rewarding part of the practice is this: I can't make my art or my home or myself anything other than 'what it is' or 'what I am'Holday--and that if I am completely myself and my art is too, there isn't any better place to be.


The Yoga of the Hospital

"What's new?" One of our pediatric doctors asked me recently. "What is new?" I asked myself, flipping through my mental rolodex for an answer. What came out surprised me. "I've decided to see the hospital as an ashram," I replied. I told her about going to see the "Yoga*" exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Change Your Buddha, ©2010

Her reply: "We should turn the whole hospital into an ashram." Although this particular doctor comes from India, her answer took me by surprise, but not for long.

Ashram is a Sanskrit word and it describes a place where people go to study the many practices of yoga, particularly meditation and selfless service. It is a place people go who seek inner peace.

Both of us are interested in and passionate about palliative care, and I knew of her recent work using hypnotic techniques for pain control. She has a deep and healing presence--but ashram?

My Home, ©2002, acrylic, caran d'ache on paper

As I spoke, I remembered a moment from my museum visit. We were touring the exhibit with a docent who was explaining a particular yoga posture when spontaneously, another woman with long gray braids bent down on the floor and demonstrated the pose.

When the docent moved on to the next image, an image of the 7 chakras, or energy centers, the same woman offered to describe the various centers to us. When she reached the top chakra, the Sahasrara, (said to connect us to a higher source of awareness), she teared up, a kind of spontaneous expression of her love for yoga.

Watching her brought up memories of my own years of practicing yoga and the benefits which I've experienced.

The Book of Truth and Roses, ©2010

I remembered this as I explained my view of the hospital as ashram to the doctor: seeing our environment as a learning place--and not just medical learning, but one in which I take on the personal challenges that arise during the day, looking at them not as a thorns in my side, but as opportunities to gain understanding, learn something that I may have been stumbling over for years.

I joked that sometimes it didn't seem as if I were there to help the patients...and the doctor finished my sentence: "you're here to learn about your self."

I don't expect that many people share this view, but I was touched in that moment, surrounded by beeping IV poles, flashing lights and overheard pages, that someone would stop to share a moment of peace. Peace. Patients. Patience.



*Entitled "Yoga," the artworks featured in the exhibition date from the 2nd to the 20th centuries. Images ranging from benevolent deities and gurus to Tantric goddesses and sinister yogis reveal how yoga practices—and perceptions of them—have transformed over time and across cultures.



Winter Wisdom

Mindfulness at Play "Art expression itself is a way of creating something new from what you already have, but may not have fully recognized within yourself.” Cathy Malchiodi

The other day I received a newsletter from my art therapist friend Lisa Mitchell.

She's constructed a new series of workshops, including a vision board* workshop--and not just any old vision board workshop. Her descriptions note that, by using ordinary materials in unusual ways and learning new techniques, our intentions are solidified. In the process, our brain gets a workout using all our senses. The point is to bring our abstract ideas and dreams into the realm of the concrete and plausible, by incorporating them into the board.

That got me thinking about my own vision board, which I wrote about in a post, "Mindfulness at Play," at the beginning of the year. I decided to go back to the board and see what has come to pass.

As I look at the board, I see a large, peaceful Buddha's head framed by conifers and plants that remind me of our winter foliage here in California. Underneath the Buddha, from left to right, children hold a board filled with artist trading cards. To the right of the children a yoga class takes place. A teacher is helping a student with a pose.

In my post, I said that I wanted to deepen my art therapy practice; to become more present with the children, even as my own are grown. And I wanted, although I didn't write it, to have a steady yoga practice.

What's odd is that both of these desires have come to pass, but not by deliberate intention. The vision board hung on my studio wall, where it watched over me and I looked at it, day after day, while a year passed.

It has not been a straight path back to yoga--(is it ever?) Like Goldilocks, first I sampled the "big bowl," a class at our University gym. I was the oldest participant and the class, a Viniyasa practice, and I felt like I'd just had an aerobic  workout, not a yoga class.

Next, for my "middle size bowl," I tried a class offered through our hospital. The instructor offered peacefulness with a pale green scented candle. I ended up with a migraine.

Finally, for a bowl that is just right. The solution came in an unexpected fashion. Both my daughter and my sister have recently been diagnosed with auto-immune diseases that make certain movements difficult.

I remembered yet another yoga class I'd taken the previous year for people 55 and over. Led by the fearless and inimitable, Hana Raftery, majoring in exercise physiology, she had every one of us, from me to the oldest 80- something moving with ease.

I e-mailed her and set up a private lesson for my daughter and me. I invited my sister, who suggested we have it in her new house, which has a wooden floor, but would be empty for another month. Shazaam! A yoga studio!

Downward dog pose

We began by meeting once a week and now have increased it to 2 times. We've been meeting since before Thanksgiving and even though the two of them are still waiting for their respective rheumatology consults, their movements are coming more easily.

I am in hog heaven, if you can say that about a yoga class. I feel like I really have found the bowl that is "just right." And it all started with a small 8.5 x 11 vision board.

I'm looking forward to making my 2013 vision board soon and I invite you to join me and make your own. Who knows, those dreams might just be waiting for an invitation to come out and play!

*A vision board is usually a piece of matte board on which you paste or collage images that you’ve torn out from various magazines. The intention behind the vision boards is the notion that when you surround your self with images of what you want to develop or change, your life changes to fit the images.