Surrender     Detail     Oil on Linen

 

 

Yoga takes many forms ranging from the casual and sometimes awkward practice of a novice in front of the TV to the disciplined and self-competitive proficiency of an expert that to some, seem nothing more than an uncomfortable and frightening contortion act.  In reality, at its core, it is a beautiful coordination of disciplined exercises, stretches, and regulated breathing which promote the control of the body and mind.  Like any discipline, it is what you put into it.  Yoga is a balance of effort and surrender.  As a physical journey, one is able to develop strength, balance, and flexibility.   It can be very beneficial in the healing and prevention of injuries.  As an implement of introspection it promotes focus and harmony within the mind and soul.  Despite the common misconception of some there is no restriction of age, size, cultural background, or religion (as it promotes none) and in its simplest form, is perfectly safe.

 

This painting was commissioned for Mindful Movement, a yoga studio located in Monroe, Michigan.  It features a mandala, a design which has deep roots in a variety of cultures, described as ‘that which encircles a center’ or ‘a sacred place.’  Far more than a just a beautiful geometric pattern, a mandala represents a wholeness, a unified structure made up of complex repeating elements.   It is intended to remind us of the universe and the infinite as the circle has no beginning and no end.  It alludes to the cycles within our own lives, the daily rise and fall of the sun and moon and that of humanity itself through birth, life, and death.  This pattern is a model of the yoga experience.  The practice begins sitting quietly or laying flat upon your mat as you collect your thoughts.  The slow, easy movements and controlled breathing allow you to begin to remove yourself from the outside world and focus on what is within.  It is a chance to give thanks to that oxygen entering your lungs, giving you life, and the muscles that allow you to move upon this earth.  The practice accelerates as you explore a variety of repeating positions, stretching and strengthening different parts of your body.  Following this beautiful crescendo, the session begins to slowly wind down and you finally lay flat upon your mat, as in the beginning, and you feel the release of all of your efforts.  And in those moments you dissolve into the earth and there is a sense of utter relaxation, completeness, gratitude, and peace.  Then, when you are ready, movement slowly creeps into your fingers, your toes, your body, and you leave the mat to begin the cycles of your life again, hopefully with more clarity.

 

My own experience in replicating the pattern of the mandala within this painting was not that dissimilar to the cyclical patterns of a yoga practice.  It was a long, intensive process beginning with the slow build up of the drawing followed by the quick, repetitive painting of the elements, to the slow and slight adjustments of the overall structure and color at the end.  It was challenging and although there were flaws along the way I felt the rhythm grow and the mandala strengthened as it came together, piece by piece.

 

If painted alone, the mandala, although a beautiful design, would not have been as powerful.  The second driving force of this painting is the figure and it is apparent that they are mutually symbolic of one another.  The design elements of the mandala represent the efforts and aspects of the individual, working together for a common purpose, a sense of oneness.  These delicate and imperfect elements, balanced together, centers around the flower which is emblematic of her soul.  From another perspective the figure is a living, breathing allegory of the mandala itself as her life-force, her efforts, are one element within the universe as a whole which the mandala also represents.   

 

At its inception, the figure was always intended to be secondary to the mandala.  With this crescent lunge, she steps into the four walls, or gate, of the mandala as she surrenders within its boundaries.  The ascent upwards displays an aspirational determination while she simultaneously descends backwards, deeper into the layers of the architectural composition.  The lower section of her shirt takes on the colors featured within the design and the top of the shirt fades into green, the color of the background.  The body takes the shape of the mandala as it curves around the center.   Her mouth, nose, and eyes begin to form the outer points of the circle, once represented as little purple flowers, and her elbow takes the place of a leaf.  Her strength is evident in the definition of the thigh muscles and her willingness is palpable as the heart is open in wide acceptance, arms bound behind her.  This endeavor culminates as the hands grasp for one another, the thumb pressing into the skin creates a bursting glow of warmth and you can almost feel the blood flow.  It is as if there is a spark that has been ignited within.  Although she begins to fade ever so slightly there is an explosion of color around her with vibrant mixtures of yellows, oranges, pinks, and purples, backed by a cooler green to give them intensity.  The repetition of those colors provided balance and harmony throughout.   In some areas it begins to feel as though the mandala is coming alive, beyond what was once a simple tapestry. Perhaps the painting style is even a little different, heightening the feeling of abstraction, as these elements clearly wish to take over.  The energy is evident in the short, haughty brushwork as slight variations in hue vie for attention from the views’ eyes.   But in the end, the viewer cannot help but re- focus on that center flower, the soul of the portrait.

 

There is a beauty in the fact that the physical movements and philosophies that embody yoga are repeated throughout the earth by people of different appearance, background, and credence.  Despite this, yoga is at the same time a very personal journey.   Each individual can only get out of the practice what they put in, whatever the intention or goal may be.  On the mat you learn about acceptance, healing, and peace.  These are thing that you can carry beyond your practice, off the mat.   I don’t know of a better preparation for life or death.  This painting was created in gratitude as an offering, an homage, to the beauty and complexity that is yoga.  


The light in me honors the light in you.  Namaste.