Monday, July 18, 2011

Throwing Clay and Practicing Yoga

Last Friday, my daughter and I had the opportunity to take a pottery class from my friend, Kyczy Hawk. Kyczy is - among other things - an artist, yoga studio manager, yoga teacher of special populations (catch her at Breathe Los Gatos on Thursdays at 1pm for Chair Yoga), and amazing potter. We found common language between throwing clay and practicing yoga; at one point she directed my daughter to “exhale and slowly release out”, which sounds just like a yoga class cue. It got me thinking about how these two activities are similar and what we can learn from both of them.

In yoga practice, we begin with a foundation, usually in the feet and legs and look to the breath to create ease and steadiness. Kyczy taught us that the first step on the potter’s wheel is to create a piece that is centered; this is done by alternating working the clay down and then guiding the boundaries inward and up. When the piece is centered, there is an ease in the rotation and you imagine an audible snap as it comes together. It’s similar to when you are working with balancing poses and suddenly all your joints line up and you feel effortless in the pose.

After centering the piece on the wheel, we worked with making a hole and then sides to the piece. This is where things can become quite challenging. I was tempted to leave your lump centered and without form because it’s symmetry was beautiful, and I had invested so much work into it. But now Kyczy’s told us to poke our thumbs into this beautiful shape and dig a hole out of it. That first intrusion was almost painful and required a lot of trust; it reminded me of opening into Wheel (full backbend) for the first time, digging my thumbs into my heart-center and opening it wider.

But that’s what we do as practitioners: we find the comfortable and move beyond it. Our first attempts are often messy, painful and “flawed”. When we completed the steps Kyczy had outlined for the day, she brought us into her house to show us her first bowls. She pointed out the cracks, the uneven thickness and the drips in the glaze, and reminded us that she uses these bowls every day and that we can embrace those “flaws” in our own work and see beyond them to the magic of what we’ve created. This is now my yoga practice, too.