I am a yogi. I’ve been practicing for 21 years and teaching for 10. I’m also an artist, working with discarded books, repurposed paper, and magazines set for recycling as my primary mediums. I love making art from materials that would otherwise be thrown away. It’s a passion, and if you’re curious about what kind of things can be made from old books, I have lots of examples and tutorials on my social media channels.
Each year in the US we throw away a staggering 320 million books. The biggest issues in our landfills are food waste, plastic, and paper. As an artist it makes me feel really good to help in my small way and if my influence causes others to repurpose a book here and there too, even better.
Recently I was working on a large art installation for Big Raven Farm, the yoga retreat center I own with my husband Darin. We have two very large built-in bookcases in our dining hall. At first I put books on every shelf, and to dial down the chaos, I color coded each row. “Why arrange books by genre when you can organize them by color?” asks the artist. The result was fine – kind of lovely, but for me, just fine.
I didn’t really love it and I wanted to – so I made a change. I decided to create a collection of folded books to replace the hundreds sitting there in their curated color-coded rows. I folded several salvaged books in lots of interesting shapes with lots of angles and focal points. It took me a long time but I really thought I was on the right path.
I put all of the newly intricately folded books on the shelves , but when I stepped back, I didn’t like that either. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what bothered my artistic eye.
And then it dawned on me – it felt disjointed, noisy, chaotic. Because every folded book was different it lacked cohesion, unity, and focus, the very opposite of what I was trying to do. I wanted something peaceful yet grand, breathtaking yet simple. The third time must be the charm, right?
I refolded the books from interesting shapes into simple cylinders, a book fold that I call a Silo. I took each page and folded it in half to make a crease. That’s it. Nothing fancy, just each piece of paper folded in half. As I folded thousands of pages, I began to notice the meditation practice I’ve been chasing for most of my yoga journey was happening and I wasn’t even trying.
Art and yoga, seemingly distinct disciplines, share a profound connection transcending the boundaries of expression and mindfulness. Both practices tap into the subconscious and offer a pathway to self-discovery, creativity, and for some, inner peace. And while some may argue book folding isn’t exactly a fine art – I don’t think it matters.
The repetition of folding pages brought me to a meditative state, where muscle memory took over and my mind quieted. I honestly didn’t have a thought in my head, until all of a sudden I did: The repetitive nature of the task produces a soothing rhythm. This rhythmic flow allowed my mind to settle and become more receptive to the present moment. And, to my surprise, lots of things came up for me, stepping into my awareness, paving the way for insights, inspiration, and a deeper connection with myself and the world around me.
In this way, the art of book folding served as a bridge between my challenges of starting a meditation practice and the eventual attainment of a focused, tranquil state of mind. This manner of book folding allows individuals to gradually cultivate and develop mindfulness while experiencing the benefits of meditation in a visually stimulating and tangible way.
What am I suggesting for you, dear yogi? If you’ve ever experienced a challenge stepping into your meditation practice, perhaps you’ll give this book folding technique a try.
Should you come across a discarded book –– paperback, hardcover, dictionary, encyclopedia, it matters not – remove the cover and start folding. Perhaps put on some instrumental music in the background – you do you. As you fold each piece of paper in half try not to ask yourself, “when will we get there?” Just fold, find your rhythm, and let your muscle memory take over.
Perhaps you’ll experience what I did – that meditative state I’ve chased for so long.
Joleen Emery and her husband Darin Warling own Big Raven Yoga, manufacturers of artistic, luxurious, and customizable yoga mats. They also run Big Raven Farm, an art & yoga retreat center in Spring Grove, MN. You can find Joleen on all social channels @Joleenemery. Most of the book folding tutorials mentioned can be found on TikTok.