Monday, November 21, 2011

Henna -- The Body as Art and Impermanence

Ganesha sits on my left foot, grounding me as my feet touch the earth. On my right palm a lotus blossom and Om sign remind me that my hands are an important part of my yoga teaching as I encourage students’ bodies into alignment.

For a week I have been watching the henna designs blossom, and begin to fade. Beauty does not last forever, but the significance remains.

Henna, the artform known as Mehndi has been used as part of social celebrations possibly longer than yoga as been practiced. When a week ago Martine Boudreau had an Open House to celebrate five years of being in business, she invited Larissa Reinders of Dragonfly Designs to offer henna decorations.

Martine owns Carnelia Stones and Crystals on McLaughlin Drive in Moncton. We first met several years ago offering workshops during Wellness Weekends at the Algonquin in St, Andrews. Our paths keep crossing and she’s practiced yoga with me. I bought a piece of unpolished Lapis Lazuli for the shrine at The Yoga Space and a beautiful Snowflake Obsidian

Larissa, who lives in Fredericton, is one of only three internationally certified natural henna artists in Canada. We had discussed the symbols I wanted and she worked swiftly and smoothly, creating the designs freehand with amazing felicity.

Henna paste is made by drying, milling and sifting the leaves of the plant then mixing the powder with lemon juice, strong tea, or oils to create a paste that is used to crate fine design. The henna plant, part of the loosestrife family, also has medicinal properties, one being  the ability to cool down the human body.

Being hennaed is also about slowing down and being patient. The paste has to dry, helped by being sealed with a lemon/sugar solution. With three other women having the treatment I sat by Martine’s stove, chatting as the heat helped to dry the paste.

Ideally you leave the paste on for 12 or more hours; the longer the deeper and darker the design will be.

It was Sunday morning before I brushed the paste off my hand. Larissa had ‘bandaged’ my foot, so on one of the coldest days recently I could put on a sock.  When I removed the tape a reverse Ganesha was revealed. Not being impatient to see the results is part of the process.  The designs are reddish but quickly darken.

During the week I’ve been reflecting on the connection between yoga and this ancient art. Both encourage you to slow down, to reflect. I felt connected with the women who had received this age-old celebratory body decoration.  Henna is regarded as having ‘Barakah’, blessings, and is applied for luck as well as joy and beauty. It’s a frequent part of wedding ceremonies.

 This was how the henna on my hand looked a week later.

As the designs fade I’ll document the process.

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