It isn’t every day that one gets the opportunity to practice yoga in an art museum. This past Friday, however, I found myself carrying my yoga mat into the Brown Fine Arts Center, as part of the Mindfulness & Your Museum workshop. With the museum closed with the exception of our small group, we walked through the exhibits barefoot, in awe of the artwork that stood silent in front of us.
Led by India Clark, a certified yoga instructor and art museum educator, the workshop promoted observation, meditation, and gentle stretching to better engage with the surrounding art. The museum environment is one that inspires mindfulness, as visitors can focus their attention on the artwork in front of them, catch their breath, and simply be in the present moment. For Smith students especially, this program was a way to decompress from a busy week as well as appreciate the artwork.
To further enhance the connection between museum and mindfulness, Clark led our group through exercises relating to meditation and observation. During one exercise, students paired up and sat shoulder to shoulder, with one student focusing on a sculpture of a female ship figurehead, while the other student faced away.
The student facing away would ask, “What do you notice about the sculpture?” After the second student’s response, the next question was, “How are you feeling at this time in your life?” After the response, the first student would once again ask the same set of questions, providing the second student a chance to divulge into more layers of observation regarding the artwork as well as personal emotions and reflections.
Later, Clark taught us a specific breathing technique to calm the body. The technique requires breathing in through one nostril while pinching the other shut with a finger, then exhaling through the opposite nostril, pinching the nostril that was previously open. We sat in silence practicing this, closing our eyes for one cycle, and then opening our eyes to contemplate the sculpture of the ship figurehead for another.
Exchanging our seated positions in front of the ship figurehead for another part of the museum, the group shifted to where we had previously laid out our yoga mats. Clark led us in a series of gentle stretches and positions, against the backdrop of relaxing music.
The workshop was over all too early, which tends to be the case with relaxing activities. As we rolled up our yoga mats and slid on our shoes, everyone agreed how much more calm and mellow they now felt, after a satisfying range of mindfulness exercises.
“The museum experience was a great way to relax after a hectic week,” said Alex Mills ’17. “I left feeling calmer and a bit more ready to confront challenging assignments.”