We spent the Thanksgiving holiday visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Arizona. Among other activities, such as eating turkey with gluten-free dressing and watching James Bond movies, we visited the Grand Canyon.
Some of my classmates and I, seated in the studio at Whole Life Yoga, waiting for our graduation ceremony to start:
My daughter Jennie is third from left, and I'm fourth from left. Cannot get over how far all of us have come, in the past 10 months.
A moment to reflect. I look pretty calm on the outside. Inside, though, I was jumping for joy, I was so happy!
My 200-hour certificate. I made it!
You might think yoga is about getting some physical exercise, but really, yoga is all about getting to clarity of mind.
In yoga teacher training, one of the things we do is to study the Yoga Sutras. The Sutras is an ancient text; it's a collection of aphorisms about how yoga can be a process to get to clarity. One aphorism recommends that you have a persevering practice: something you sustain over a long period of time, with sincerity and enthusiasm.
One evening in class, my teacher, Tracy, was presenting this idea of a persevering practice. "The Sutras don't say what the persevering practice must be. It doesn't have to be yoga. It could be gardening, or, I know some of you in here are knitters, it could be knitting."
My instantaneous reaction was that knitting is a counterexample.
My immediate, cynical, and glib reaction was: Knitting has brought me confusion, frustration, worry, made plain how much I lack organizational skills, shown me how difficult it is for me to stick with a project clear through to full completion, fueled my crippling tendency toward perfectionism, but knitting has never brought me mental clarity or peace of mind. I have confidently begun projects thinking I understood the pattern directions, only to get caught short realizing that the directions were not so clear; or that my skills and understanding of certain techniques did not match up with the pattern designer’s, that we were speaking different languages, the pattern’s author and me. I have spent countless hours working on a sweater, only to hold it in my hands and realize that it was not going to fit the intended wearer. I have swiftly begun projects only to knit more and more slowly when I began to worry about running out of yarn. I try to keep all the various needles and accoutrements, balls of yarn, and pattern directions needed for each project in a knitting bag dedicated to that project, but if the work on that project stretches over several months and I take my knitting out and about in the world with me, I may leave behind at home the extra balls of yarn as too bulky and unnecessary to carry, ditto for any already-knitted pieces; I may take the pattern out of the bag to read it over one evening, and forget to put it back; slowly but surely the myriad parts for that project get scattered and misplaced, until I have frustrated myself too much to continue that project. Many evenings I have picked up the work-in-progress on the needles, and discovered that I made a glaringly obvious mistake some rows back and cannot continue forward but must either fix or rip out and re-knit the previous evening’s work. (My skills at fixing errors get better and better all the time.) I like to work on things that have a certain amount of complexity; I get bored with projects that are too simple. But too often I have knitted three-quarters of a garment, then abandoned it: I’ve lost interest in the project, or gotten doubtful about my skills with finishing techniques, or thought the garment wouldn’t end up being worn (for reasons of fit or suitability to the intended wearer). And I enthusiastically move on to the next knitting project, which has the potential to be perfect because it is still in its infancy and hasn’t disappointed me yet.
The best ideas usually strike while either driving or taking a shower, and driving home after yoga teacher training class that evening, I had an aha! moment. My first, cynical reaction to the suggestion that knitting could be a path to peace of mind cleared away and made room for the second thought, which went like this: “Karen, you know you feel the relaxation response when you settle down to knit. And it doesn’t take very many stitches for you to feel your heart rate and breath rate slow.” Indeed, even if the products of my knitting don’t always come to fruition, as a process, knitting has been a self-soothing activity for me. No wonder that one stitch pattern is known as 'soothing stockinette.' Never say never; it would not be true to say that knitting has never brought me mental clarity or peace of mind. I was being much too glib in my first reaction.
The next morning I was wondering about the relaxation response; wanted to be sure I was using the term correctly. I googled and found this article. In it there's a sentence that delighted me no end, a sentence in which the words 'yoga' and 'knitting' appear side-by-side.
My 200-hour teacher training is winding down; we are graduating on November 19. I still have a handful of assignments to complete, but I'm feeling fairly confident I'll meet the deadline.
And my enthusiasm and sincerity for yoga continues. I'm in California, now, embarking on a 500-hour training that begins this evening. I'll be studying with Gary Kraftsow, the man who wrote the book on viniyoga. And yes, I've brought some knitting with me.