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«Meditatve Art Forms Chris Lund Prairie Yoga 200 hour Teacher Training Summer 2012 Meditatve Art Forms I choose the topic of Meditative Art Forms ...»

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I have walked several labyrinths and found the circular design interesting as well as reflective. Earlier I mentioned that I love circular motifs and labyrinths are fascinating circular motifs. I contemplated creating a labyrinth in my backyard with stones or ground markers but decided that the impermanence of the snow was more interesting to me. As I mentioned earlier there is something about the creation of a work of art that is not meant to last but to be observed and experienced in the moment that fits with my experience of yoga in my life. Where are you today with your practice.... not yesterday and not tomorrow. How is your practice influencing your life and your decisions today?

How can you use your breath to steady your mind as well as your body in the present?

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After researching the designing of labyrinths, I found them to be quite complex in their structure. Formal classical labyrinths have an exactness to them - the perfection of the circle - the width of the path, the length of the walk all have significant meaning to the strength of the labyrinth. I developed an appreciation of this exactness and planning but knew that the snow labyrinth needed a different layout for it to be successful. I found a simple labyrinth design on-line that I modified to fit my space.

The layout for the snow labyrinth fit my small backyard well. The yard is fenced in on three sides, includes two large maple trees and a raised bed garden. To prepare for the labyrinth, I strung white lights around the fence line to help light the path for the evening walkers. I planted markers around my yard that would indicate where I needed to shovel out the path. The snow labyrinth would be a path that found it’s way to the center where I placed a chair and a candle. I also sent out an informative email and made a few phone calls to friends and family that I was doing this project for my yoga research and that I would in the future be sending an invitation to walk the labyrinth. I made up a questionnaire I hoped would provide me with responses about how the walkers felt about the experience.

Then I waiting for it to snow. I needed enough snow to make the path, but not so much snow that it made it difficult for the walkers to travel to my home. I needed it cold enough to maintain the snow but not so cold that it made my guests feel like walking outside was anything but meditative.

The snow came on Friday evening, February 1st. I have to say it was so exciting for me to wake up Saturday morning, see the snow depth and get to work on creating the labyrinth. I brushed the labyrinth first with a broom and then with a shovel. It occurred to me that as I created the labyrinth that if I made a mistake I would be disturbing the fresh snow and the clear path I was hoping to create. I wanted the rest of the yard to remain untouched snow. I realized I was creating some internal anxiety as I hoped for a “perfect” scene in my yard for my guests. I had a little self talk and decided it would be the path it was meant to be and that would be just fine as it was. I shoveled my driveway, baked some bread for my guests and sent out the second email invitation to the walkers. By ten-thirty that morning I had my first guests - neighbors from across the street with their three children.

It occurred to me on that busy Saturday and Sunday that for the most part this was not meditative to me at the present time. I found myself hosting and questioning my guests on their experience of walking the labyrinth as well as keeping the path and driveway cleared. I loved the stream of walkers throughout the day stopping by - some just walking and filling out the questionnaire, others using the time to catch up with friends and family. It basically turned in a snow labyrinth open house and I welcomed the experience.

The labyrinth actually lasted a full week. I had taken a long term elementary art education subbing position this winter and invited guests to walk during the day even if I wasn’t home if that accommodated their schedule. One evening before the guests came I decided to walk the labyrinth - Not as the one that created it, not as the one maintaining the clear path, but as a guest in my backyard. It took three rounds before I realized I was relaxed and nonjudgmental about how it looked. This didn’t come as a surprise to me as I have always felt a heavy self judgement about my own work but I was glad to develop the calm I had hoped to obtain. Experiencing the judgement and letting it go was an important growth for me. The labyrinth was especially calming in the evening....the darkness, the white lights and quiet of the neighborhood were quite peaceful. I found myself taking the time to walk the labyrinth every evening that week.

By the end of February eighth it was melted enough that the path was barely

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The guests who walked the labyrinth come from all aspects of my life. My family, who has been incredibly supportive of my yoga journey. Neighbors and acquaintances that happen to be on my email list. Friends, yoga friends and teacher friends who have been patience listeners to my quest to become a yoga teacher and to combine this report with my love of art. I am very grateful for all of their support for I know that walking in the cold snowy winter weather for many of them is not a choice they would most likely choose.

The age range of guests was from eighty-four to age six. My father was the oldest walker and my friend’s son the youngest. I have included photos of them in this report.

I was happy to include children in the labyrinth, not because I expected them to connect with some form of meditation during their walk, but to encourage them to stop and observe nature as they journeyed the path. I loved listening to their verbal observations about walking ( and eventually running;-)) the labyrinth. Several adults remarked how it brought back memories of creating paths in the snow as children. I feel children need to be taught ways to quiet their minds and relax and as adults we need to model and provide these alternatives. My father is a daily walker and in wonderful health for his age. He walks year round and is as fond of winter walking as I am. We come from Norwegian heritage and perhaps that influences our love of snow and outdoor exercise. My mother, although not in good health, wanted to be part of the experience so she sat as she watched my father walk the labyrinth.

The goal of my questionnaire was to help me discern what walking the labyrinth felt like to my guests. I was interested if they ever thought about the benefits of meditation and if they ever considered ways to calm their mind. All guests took the time to finish the questionnaire - some to great lengths, others not so much;-) The questionnaire was formed around the thought that the whole concept of walking a labyrinth might be a new experience, that meditation contemplation may be unfamiliar to some of them and that calming your mind is important.

The following questions were asked:

1. Were you familiar with walking a labyrinth?

2. Do you ever take walks in the snow just for fun or exercise?

3. Do you enjoy our winters cold weather?

4. What time of day did you walk the snow labyrinth?

5. Were you aware of neighborhood sounds - traffic, voices, etc. Were you able to block out noises for the most part when you were walking?

6. Labyrinths are meant to be walked slow and mindful. Were you able to do this? Did the process of mindful and meditative walking change the longer you walked the labyrinth?

7. Was there anyone else on the labyrinth when you were walking? Would it been more meditative for you if you were alone?

8. Have you ever considered a meditative practice for yourself? Any thoughts you’d like to share?

Although I got a range of answers, they had some similarities. Please allow me to generalize their responses. I purposely did not ask for names on the questionnaire so that I would not place names with responses. I did note female and male responses because I wondered about any differences the gender might make. Some of my interpretations came from discussions and observations during the time after the walk when we were sharing tea and bread together.

Almost all recognized the need to slow down and to be more mindful throughout the walk and throughout their lives. For many walkers this was their first experience with walking a labyrinth. Just a handful of walkers walk in the winter for personal enjoyment.

Most mentioned sounds of nature that they typically overlook. Many mentioned that a sense of calm came after they forced themselves to walk slowly and stop along the path to observe. Most females mentioned that they needed to find ways to relieve stress and that meditation was a means of doing that. Most walkers were females. Male walkers (6) did not focus on the mediation as much as the act of walking. Evening walkers loved the atmosphere created by the snow and the lights. Walkers who happen to be walking when it was snowing enjoyed the experience enough to mention the falling snow. Few walkers have ever considered a meditative practice enough to take a yoga class although they see the value in their lives. Some walkers felt that if they were alone on the labyrinth they might have been able to meditate/concentrate more. Most walkers commented on the “quiet” they experienced although I live in an area where homes are close and the high school is down the street. Younger adult walkers seemed more open to experimentation with meditation when it was discussed. Some walkers mentioned that their meditation was through prayer. Several walkers made additional trips around the labyrinth to slow down their walk. A few walkers made comments about the cold, but generally it was not part of the conversation. Meditative art forms can bring a wide range of appreciation of the arts - music, dance, textile arts, painting and drawing were a few mentioned in the discussion and in particular music. For a few walkers, particularly family members, meditation is not a topic we have a comfort level in discussing. The importance of yoga as an means of gaining flexibility and strength held value but discussions about meditation is unfamiliar territory. All walkers thanked me for including them in my research which was interesting to me since I considered their walking and time as such a favor.

My thoughts after completion of this project are many. I loved the gathering it created in my home - the meeting of friends and family. I loved opening my home to my guests to discuss ways to calm our minds even if it meant the conversation was a little awkward sometimes. I loved the physical labor of designing, clearing and maintaining the labyrinth as well as baking for my guests. I come from a family that is often times at it’s best when we have some chore or work that we need to do together. It’s the beginning of a seed of thought that we all need to find ways to bring peace to our lives that I was most pleased with. It was the discussion and the comments made from almost all walkers that they felt the need to explore some means to help them find calm and peace in their lives. It wasn’t the physical aspect of yoga that brought a sense of calm to me these past couple of years it was finding a sense of calm within my center that held me together.

I troughly enjoyed te experience of developing te snow labyrint. It’s made me grow in my knowledge of yoga off te mat and int my life - and wit some hope maybe I’ve plantd a smal seed of te benefits of meditaton and yoga t tose I’ve had te pleasure of meetng trough tis journey.

Labyrint phots are on pages 20-21 of tis report.

Labyrinth resources:

www. labyrinth company.com www. the labyrinth society.org

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