Mindfulness can be a wonderful thing, helping to reduce stress and anxiety, and generally maintain our mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness meditation is often hailed as the ultimate mindfulness practice, but the wonderful thing about mindfulness is that it can be tapped into in so many ways. One of the easiest is to absorb yourself in a creative crafting activity. It’s something that Jess Cronshow, founder of AGNI Manchester, can certainly attest to.
As a social enterprise project based in Manchester, AGNI create handmade ceramics and use the majority of their profits to fund projects that benefit the wellbeing of their local communities. A yoga and meditation teacher by trade, Jess has recently begun applying her knowledge of mindful practice to the process of candle making.
During her yoga teacher training course in 2017, Jess was introduced to yogic cleansing practices, also known as kriyas. Trataka kriya is a powerful practice that involves fixing your gaze on an object or candle flame, helping to purify the mind. The process of fixing your gaze and focusing on your concentration helps bring you to a state known as dharana, setting you up for meditation. “The first time I practised trataka kriya I remember silence and the quieting of my chattering mind,” says Jess. “Nothing to do and nowhere to be but with the flickering candle flame.” It was this powerful experience that led her to create AGNI meditation candles, using a wide wick that creates a mesmerising dancing flame perfect for practising trataka kriya.
There’s something about crafting that lends itself well to practicing mindfulness. It’s easy to be totally absorbed in what you are doing and to enter a flow state.
Not content with purely making candles to sell, Jess was keen to share the process of candle making with others. “As someone that has experienced generalised anxiety for as long as I can remember, over the years I have discovered many activities that help to ease my mind. I love to dance, knit, walk, colour, do yoga, meditate, snuggle up under a weighted blanket or even just curl up on the sofa with a good book. Candle-making is just one of the activities that brings me joy, peace and total calm while I am doing it. The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be applied to any task. The more boring/mundane the task is, the more challenging it is to bring a mindful state to the activity. There’s something about crafting that lends itself well to practising mindfulness. It’s easy to be totally absorbed in what you are doing and to enter a flow state.”
Jess now runs yoga and meditation workshops and retreats, and pay-what-you-choose Hidden Yoga sessions. While making candles she looks for those opportunities for mindful moments and encourages the students in her workshops to explore them too. She feels passionate about the idea that crafting in a mindful manner can help to tackle two important social issues: unemployment and mental health. “I have seen it first hand. My husband Matt lost his job as a professional cyclist in 2017 and was severely depressed for a year. Pottery helped him to recover, rebuild and to ultimately earn a living.” Indeed, the starting point for AGNI grew out of Matt’s new pottery venture, Little Torch. “I started making candles as a way of using pots that Matt would have otherwise thrown in the bin!,” says Jess. “But looked perfectly fine to me. Learning to make candles increased my confidence and self-esteem, and for the first time I found myself creating something that could bring joy to others. For me, candle making is my therapy and I would like to share the benefits with others.”
AGNI are currently running a Kickstarter campaign that will provide mindful candle making training to people that are experiencing stress, anxiety or burn-out, teaching them how to make soy wax meditation candles in their own homes through a mixture of video tutorials, written material and live video conferencing. It’s a project that will ultimately support participants through paid candle making traineeships. “Our long-term vision is to provide workshops, training, work placements and employment in mindful craft for people experiencing mental health issues” she says, and the Kickstarter is the first step in this direction. Already at the time of writing, the Kickstarter is fully funded, with six days remaining.
Jess describes herself as “thrifty and crafty,” always looking for ways to reuse and repurpose items in her home and wardrobe. “I’m constantly overestimating my ability to create and craft, many times ending in disaster. Like that time I believed I could do everything myself for my wedding day. The bouquets and flower arrangements, decorate the whole venue, make the invites, the food, the welcome drinks… the list goes on! My trial attempts of many of these tasks were not great, but we did manage to do the majority of it ourselves in the end!”
The philosophy of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ is at the heart of AGNI’s brand, and Jess and Matt are keen that their customers repurpose the candle’s ceramic vessel after use. They give plenty of advice and recommendations for potential uses on the website, and also offer a refill service for anyone who wants their vessel to remain a candle.
All imagery © Agni, used with permission.