I know you’ve seen them. They’re everywhere. At the newsagent, in bookstores, even in the magazine aisle of the supermarket. Adult colouring in books, also known as mindfulness colouring books – there’s simply no escaping them! All of a sudden, colouring is THE hot new thing in wellbeing. It’s supposed to help improve focus and concentration, while promoting relaxation. Many are also touting colouring as a wonderful form of therapy. But is this going a bit far? Now I love a good colouring session as much as the next girl, and I’m super happy I have two artsy kidlets, for whom I can buy hundreds of Smiggle pens which I immediately claim as my own!
But while colouring might be fun, is it actually good for our health? Is it really therapy?
Smiggle, I love you. (No, this is not an ad for Smiggle!)
I went to an expert for the answers. My wonderful friend Belinda Ryan is an art therapist and owner of Ignite Art Therapies. I asked her to tell us her thoughts on mindfulness colouring. Here’s what she had to say:
Yes! Lets talk about colouring.
There is definitely an ever increasing trend toward colouring books. Not just for kids but for all of us with a number of Amazon’s best sellers being Adult Colouring books.
So why has this taken off so much? There are a few reasons. Firstly, it is quite nostalgic to pick up a set of colouring pencils, it takes us to a place where we once were – the innocence, the freedom to do what we want and to be totally in the moment. I think we all have that little child inside us that wants to be creative, and this trend gives us permission to do so. It’s also about moments to play – we live in such a rule stricken world and it’s a great thing that we can play with a pencil and a page, one section at a time.
But the main benefit of mindful colouring is that of focus.
There is something about colouring that takes you to a peaceful place. It’s the repetitive action and zoning into a focused state that is of benefit. While you are colouring you are absorbed in that one activity and the rest of the world is on hold. When we colour our mind slows down and those things that stress us out disappear for a moment. It’s relaxing, meditative and allows us to centre our energy – something that is very hard to capture in this fast paced world in which we live.
Without trying to burst the ‘colouring is amazing’ bubble, there have been many claims that this is art therapy and while it is very therapeutic in nature, and a brilliant mindfulness activity, it is just that. It doesn’t tackle the things that are causing the stress, anxiety, fear, hormone enraged anger or withdrawal, but rather it gives us some respite from it. Art therapy differs as it allows those issues to be present so that they can be explored, understood, transformed and let go of ,through facilitated creative exploration.
That being said, colouring definitely is of benefit and it is something I give my clients to do as a zone out activity. There are numerous activities that calm us down, let the world disappear for a while and as long as we don’t fully escape the things we need to deal with (that’s what art therapy is for), then colouring is a good thing.
Belinda Ryan, Art Therapist and Director of Ignite Art Therapies.
So there you have it – advice on colouring from an expert. Yes, it is wonderful, and yes it can be part of a therapy program, but on it’s own it is not therapy. So if you feel like you need some support to work through any issues and you fancy the idea of doing it through art, make sure you check out a qualified art therapist, such as Belinda.
Never heard of a mandala? Maybe you’ve heard of them, but had no idea they could improve your wellbeing?
Have a read of this great guest post by Nan Berrett.
You feel like grabbing a handful of your hair and pulling really hard, but you know it’s not going to help.
There are plenty of tricks you can use to help your mind de-stress – it’s just a matter of finding something which works for you and gives you the results you need.
Our minds are constantly filled with clutter. Some of our thoughts are useful, but many are just distracting ‘noise’ which are tiring in their own right. When we are stressed there is an additional persistent humming in our heads which focusses on our fears and anxieties – and this is the most difficult noise to silence.
If we are fearful of an outcome, worried about our relationships with our lovers, families or friends, concerned about looming deadlines, unfinished tasks or general overload because we take on too much, then it becomes important to try some calming techniques for the mind.
Mandala is a Sanskrit word which means “circle” and although it is a spiritual and ritualistic symbol associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, it can be used as a tool to allow your mind to problem solve and find calm.
In spiritual practice Mandalas are often created using coloured sand and form intricate and exquisitely beautiful patterns, but for our purposes we will create a Mandala using paper or card and a handful of coloured textas, pencils or crayons.
How to create your own mandala:
Start by drawing a circle on your paper – use the boundary of a saucer rather than a dinner plate. Somewhere inside the circle, not necessarily the centre, draw a representation of your anxiety. This can be as simple as a symbol, a letter of the alphabet, a stick figure, or even a word.
Take a black texta, pen, or pencil and, starting from just outside the boundary of the circle draw parallel lines, like a little road, and wind this path within the confines of the circle, until it reaches your anxiety drawing. This bit can be tricky and you’ll have to concentrate, drawing one side of the track and then the other side, so you keep the path even.
When you finally get to your goal you can start the fun part. Choose your first colour and begin to fill the track – you can use the same colour all along, or you can change colours. While you are colouring in start thinking about your anxiety and consider some of the strategies you could use to eliminate it from your life or fix it.
When you’ve finished the path, it’s time to colour in the remaining white space – this is your Mandala, so you choose how you want it to look. Draw patterns, dots, block colour, whatever you feel drawn to do.
You’re almost finished – take the black texta and go over the lines of your path again and make them stand out. Add some shading if you want to. Pop some edging onto the boundary of the circle and you’re done.
Sit back and admire your work – it looks pretty good!
You may have had some emotional reactions when creating your Mandala. It’s not unusual to cry, or even start talking to yourself while you’re working. There’s nothing wrong with showing some emotion.
Look at your Mandala and trace the path from the outer edge to its windy end. Every turn represents a new thought about the problem, a memory, a decision.
The Mandala in the illustration above was one I drew years ago when I was having some serious issues with someone I considered my best friend. At the time I felt betrayed and abandoned, but by the time I had finished the exercise I had remembered all the great things about our friendship and that I was as much as fault as she had been. It gave me the clarity to approach her and mend some bridges – best thing I ever did.
Nan Berrett is a communications consultant who also workshops strategies to support positive emotional wellbeing outcomes – these include creating and walking labyrinths, journaling, creative writing and poetry.