Wintering well with woodworking teacher Patt Gregory
This winter, we’re bringing you tips and tricks on how to winter well plus ideas for keeping healthy to make the most of autumn and winter. We recently chatted to Patt Gregory, a wonderful woodworking teacher from Mullumbimby in NSW, about how she balances health and wellbeing, particularly during the winter months.
Introducing Patt Gregory – woodworking teacher extraordinare
As a young joinery student in Bristol, England in the early 1980s, Patt became acutely aware of inequities in technical education. These systemic biases inspired her to develop a fun, non-competitive approach to learning that she’s been using over the past 22 years to teach women woodworking skills. Today, Patt uses a holistic mind-body method for teaching tool handling and the fundamentals of furniture making at Woodwork for Women, her workshop in Mullumbimby in the Northern Rivers of NSW.
Being newly interested in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Patt was intrigued to try our quiz, which helps you identify whether you have a wood, fire, earth, water or metal constitution.
It came as no surprise to us to learn that she has a Fire constitution! The fire element is passionate and inspires others with courage and creativity, helping them to believe that it’s possible for dreams to come true – and that describes Patt’s personality and teaching to a T.
Making woodwork mindful
Woodworking probably isn’t an activity that you’d typically associate with mindfulness, but if Patt were your teacher, that would soon change. Here’s how she sums up her unique, body-mind approach to this ancient craft, which she’s developed over decades of teaching and working with wood:
“When I’m teaching woodwork, I’m always talking to people about their breath. Often when I approach them while they’re working and ask them if they’re breathing, they burst out laughing because they’ve actually forgotten to do it!
Focussing on the breath is a way to help them relax, but it’s also really important to help them concentrate on the essential nature of woodwork – the sensory aspects like the touch of the timber, and the feel and sound of the tools, which I like to call the ‘song of the saw’.
I encourage them to be present at this time, to tune into the emotions they’re feeling, and how those emotions might be affecting their performance.”
Why is that emotional insight so critical? Patt believes that you won’t enjoy your woodworking – or whatever other task you’re focused on – if you’re irritated with yourself.
She goes on to explain, “My primary goal, after promoting a holistic mind-body approach is to have fun! If you’re enjoying yourself and feel relaxed, and you know that it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake, then you really do become present. Mistakes are important. When we embrace them, we can transform them into an opportunity to think creatively.”
On the other hand, Patt believes that being mindful while woodworking helps you to work safely – which is especially important when power tools are involved!
She sums up her approach like this: “Woodwork is inescapably mindful. You’ve got to focus your attention on the work, which brings you back into alignment, into your body, and connects you with your hands. That’s why I find it so intoxicating.”
Winter and woodwork
Patt teaches a lot of woodworking workshops in the wintertime, and finds they’re especially popular with visitors from all over Australia and New Zealand who are keen to enjoy the Northern Rivers climate at this time of year.
Patt also likes to incorporate her woodworking passion into other areas of her life, so this autumn and winter she’s making a set of bars to use during her Pilates class.
I love the idea of using winter to prepare for activities that are done in the warmer months - I’m making a balance board for surfing plus some surfboard racks for my friend. And of course, I’m continuing work on the tiny house build that I’m involved in for a member of my local community who’s in need, which will continue into winter.
To keep healthy and support her immune system over autumn and winter Patt likes to listen to her body to make sure she’s feeling comfortable. Some of her favourite healthy winter habits include:
- Drinking hot water first thing in the morning to warm her body up
- Eating chicken soup with veggies every day
- Chatting over a cup of dandelion coffee
- Doing Pilates and stretching
- Taking vitamins C and D3 when she feels like she needs them
- Using a hot water bottle to soothe any aches or pains that come up, and having one available for her woodworking students to use in class too
Winter: a time to slow down and focus inwards
In Chinese medicine, the colder months provide an opportunity to support the immune system by slowing down and focussing inwards with the goal of nourishing the body and mind. This aspect of TCM really resonates with Patt.
“To slow down I like to sit on my day bed in the morning sun and do my writing and work. Using my hand tools in woodwork is another way I like to focus my attention. I like to rug up warmly in the cooler winter weather and work in my workshop – I find I have more stamina then.
And of course, getting enough rest and sleep is really important for me! I love sleeping and having a long night’s sleep. Some nights I go to bed at 7.30pm and wake up at 6am. I listen to my body and give it the rest it needs to look after myself.”
“I’m in tune with when I need to go to sleep – I go with the rhythm of what’s happening for me. I listen to my body and how I feel. The fire element rings true for me.”
Patt’s top-tip for fostering passion and creativity
You don’t have to be a woodworker to incorporate Patt’s insights into your own creative pursuits. These tips are applicable to people from all walks of life. She summarises her philosophy with this advice:
“Make the mind-body relationship your guiding light. Don’t worry about the end result, just focus on your project, and fall in love with the emotional journey you take while completing your work.”
Book a woodwork workshop with Patt
Whether you’re a complete beginner or have already had a go at woodwork and would like to learn the finer points of joining wood, Patt has a range of woodwork workshops for you to try. Check them out here.