Image of a woman spinning on a pottery wheel with her hands with clay splattered on her arms, wearing brightly coloured rainbow pants.

For the first few months of learning to throw on a potter’s wheel, you struggle to centre the clay. After that, the clay begins to centre you. The clay tells you when you’re losing focus and it teaches you to stay grounded and maintain concentration.

I’ve been practicing for more than 10 years now and the alchemy of wheel throwing, with its effect of merging the body and mind, is remarkably similar to my experiences on the mat. Similar to coordinating breath and movement when flowing through Vinyasa, working with clay for me is a meditation practice.

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I’m a very tactile person and my hands have always been my avenue to enjoy the world, whether it’s through yoga and massage, kneading bread dough with my eyes closed or eating with my fingers. My arms covered elbow-deep in silken clay is the ultimate, though. Manipulating a raw piece of earth from solid to liquid state and watching it dance and come to life under gentle but firm pressure is miraculous, and highly therapeutic. That said, the mission is by no means easy from the outset.

Particularly on the first attempts, more often than not clay appears to be an uncontrollable organism with a mind of its own. As soon as the wheel starts to spin, the clay can buck and warp underneath your fingers, wobbling and deforming, even flying off the wheel in revolt. Squeeze too tightly and it will distort. Rush the process and it will spin out of control. All there is in the moment is sensation under your fingers, breath in the belly and complete presence. It’s a challenging feat of concentration and multi-tasking, with one foot on the pedal controlling the speed, strong core engagement providing stability, skillful effort applied with palms and dexterous fingers used as tools for shaping. All the while the breath needs to remain steady and the mind clear.

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After returning to the wheel after a long hiatus, I was fascinated to see the parallels between yoga, meditation and pottery play out. It became clear to me that all practices train for equanimity, to sit with frustration and difficult emotions, to accept inevitable disappointment and most of all find peace when chaos is spinning around them. Improving these practices is not just a case of refining skills using the body, but potentially even more so the mind.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned at the wheel has been non-attachment and letting go. Placing the finished pieces in the kiln is an act of complete surrender to the heat and flames within. The fire may turn it into a masterpiece, but very possibly crack it, warp it, melt it, and in some cases completely explode it. The challenge is to pause, take a breath, and start over.

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