My name is Leah Oren. I work at the Seattle Art Museum designing and implementing programs for art and the environment. Many of my programs are sited at the Olympic Sculpture Park, and I’m currently beginning to plan our robust Summer at SAM season in July and August. During Summer at SAM, every Saturday morning hundreds of guests come to the sculpture park to participate in free outdoor yoga with 8 Limbs. It’s a fantastic and productive partnership. It’s also been a surprisingly rewarding program to work on personally. Imagine hundreds of people, all different backgrounds, ages, and skill levels, moving and breathing in sync with a backdrop of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, and a masterful collection of minimalist modern sculpture. The energy of each body emanates through the entire nine acres of the park.
In my job, I often live in a world of thought that is fairly abstract, trying to translate complicated histories and dense art language to audiences through multidisciplinary programs. I also get to play with these ideas, stretch, pull, and bend the boundaries of the expected into the unexpected. Art and the environment is a broad subject that has room to encompass natural, built, and virtual environments. Within the field there is a lot of freedom to explore what it means to have a physical body that is deeply connected to and affected by its surroundings.
Like many of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, I was called to this region of the country because of its natural beauty, dramatic mountains, and sparkling waters. I moved here from the concrete flatlands of middle-Illinois sprawling suburbia, where the air too often smells like a combination of diesel and fried food. Thankfully, my brother and I were raised by a mother who highly valued experiences in the outdoors. She is also a fulltime professional artist, and as a resourceful single mother, she brought us along on her searches for inspiration in the natural world. My mom taught us to appreciate the outdoors by encouraging close attention: listen carefully and you can hear the wind under the wings of migrating Canadian geese; stand still enough and you may just catch that tadpole. Trees were measured by hugs around their trunks, leaves applauded as they trembled in the breeze, thunderstorms were music to dance to, dirt was painting material, and a flower’s scent was joy juice. The natural world was full of magic and creative potential.
Looking back, it’s clear now that my own mindfulness practice began in these early experiences with nature. The connections between mindfulness and creativity have been inherently connected throughout my life and I believe that’s true for so many others. Living in our busy urban environment, paying attention to beauty is especially important. We all know how easy it is to be caught up in the speed and pace of the day-to-day bustle. But there is magic here too.
“[…] I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud laugh of work-people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence,
The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves, the refrain of the anchor-lifters,
The ring of alarm-bells, the cry of fire, the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and color’d lights,
The steam-whistle, the solid roll of the train of approaching cars […]
I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera,
Ah this indeed is music—this suits me […]”
– Excerpt from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
Yoga teaches awareness of the body’s relationship to the ground and earth, the space around and between bodies. It is guided by our interactions with nature and the very profound integration of our spirit, our physical makeup and the cosmos. The Olympic Sculpture Park provides a unique setting for this awareness to take place at the intersections of art, nature and the city. During practice, there is grass beneath your feet, breeze blowing from the waterfront, mountains in view, and native plants surrounding you. The city is alive and humming with noise from the street, railroad tracks, and neighborhood comings and goings of a growing area. Amidst all of this, the park’s collection of modern and contemporary sculpture brings a focal point of creativity to mindfulness. You are, at once, a part of an entire community of systems and reminded of the many inspirations so readily offered if you just pay attention.
“Everything is gestation and bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life. Being an artist means not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.”
– Excerpt from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Posted by: Leah Oren, Program Associate for Art and Environment, Seattle Art Museum
8 Limbs instructors will teach TWO free yoga classes every Saturday at SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park at 9am (All Levels Flow) and 10:30am (Level I) from July 9 through September 24. All classes and teachers are posted on our site under Events. Note, July 23 is “Family Day.”