Honor thy mother


POSTED: Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mother's Day often results in a shower of chocolates, flowers, meals, jewelry and spa treatments for family matriarchs. Rebecca Braun of Lotus Palm Caravan has her own way of honoring moms: with mehndi, a gift more spiritual than material.

The art of decorating skin with henna, applied in complex designs, has been practiced in Morocco, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia since ancient times for ritual purposes.

Braun said she has always been artistically inclined and was studying to become a doula, or birthing coach, when she came up with the idea to go public with her skills.

“;I was surrounded by pregnant women all the time and I wanted to do something to honor them and make them feel special.”;

The pregnant belly, smooth and round, was a perfect canvas for her artform, and henna provided a safe way to celebrate new motherhood, allowing mothers-to-be to feel pampered for a relaxing few hours.

“;When I became pregnant, I realized I needed to slow down,”; Braun said. “;I needed to honor myself and (mehndi) requires you to get really still and calm. It means taking time out from all that we do because we get so caught up in going, going, going.”;

It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to form a simple motif, to five or six hours for a complex design, she said. That time is spent connecting with the individual getting the tattoo, which informs her design.

“;I like to show the sacredness of the process,”; Braun said. “;It's a ritualistic thing. You have to sit in close contact with the person and be still, concentrated, focused.

“;For me, it's not to beautify but to mark a rite of passage, for anything from starting a new business to entering motherhood.”;

Braun has studied the symbolism associated with mehndi, and drawn from imagery of other cultures to create her own intuitive language of designs.

She uses spirals to represent new beginnings, a lauhala weave pattern to convey unity and lotuses as a symbol of healing, femininity and sensuality.

“;I talk to a person beforehand to find out what they want, what's going on in their life.

“;If I feel a woman is open and questioning, I love to share more about the tradition. If they just want to get something cool, I won't press my beliefs and views.”;

Henna dye is made from the leaves of the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis. Braun uses fresh, organic henna mixed with water and a bit of eucalyptus or lavender oil.

After applying the dye to skin with a traditional cone implement, she sets it with a mixture of sugar and lemon, after which it should be left on as long as possible for the most saturated color. She recommends allowing the dye to penetrate the skin overnight. Afterward, the crusty mixture is rubbed off to reveal the design, which appears orange at first, and sets into a darker, earthy reddish-brown over two or three days.

Braun's rates vary from $20 for a single, simple design to hundreds of dollars for complex imagery. Work on a single palm runs about $40. She also sets event rates by the hour.

Set up in a tent a few weeks ago at a small Kailua Town fair, Braun said she wasn't able to keep up with demand for her henna tattoos, but later followed up with people in line. Among them was a 13-year-old girl who'd just started her menstrual cycle, and her mother bought the mehndi session to mark the rite of passage to womanhood.

Many teens would find the onset of menses to be embarrassing, but Braun said, “;It should be seen as sacred. It comes with so much responsibility. I thought it was very sweet.”;

Although mehndi has primarily been a woman's artform, practiced by women on other women, Braun said she has also worked on men's hands, and says the henna tends to last longer on thick skin, so does better on rougher, calloused hands, than soft skin.

Those who get the henna treatment can expect their tattoo to last two to three weeks on palms, or seven to 10 days elsewhere on the body. Before becoming a mother, she was a bartender and said she's still amazed that the henna designs on her hands withstood all the dishwashing she had to do on six-hour shifts.

Brides will often request designs for hands and feet, and Braun said, “;I'll also give them something special for their husband to find on their wedding night, so he has to go looking for it.”;

She's worked on legs, backs, arms and thighs, but to be clear, says, “;I don't do funky body parts. I don't want to encourage that.

“;I'd like to think of it as a living prayer. That way, every time you look at it, it reminds you of your best intention. It's a bridge between the mundane and the sacred.”;

To reach Rebecca Braun of Lotus Palm Caravan, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).