Walking in nature has many benefits and changes our brain for the better. It reduces our stress and can train our mind to focus on our surroundings instead of mindlessly getting distracted by the chaos that often surrounds us at work, school, or in a busy city.
I decided to combine these two activities for an art therapy experiential that I could use for my own source of meditation at anytime and anywhere.
While out for a walk on a beautiful and windy day, I captured a few seconds of video of the trees blowing in the wind, the ground while walking and snapping twigs, and a brief moment of a cardinal on the top of the fence. I decided to put these short clips together for an audiovisual resource to use for my own meditation when the weather isn’t so great, or the conditions aren’t ideal for going on a walk. I can now pull up this video and recall the beautiful day and the time I had to walk and notice nature – the time I spent with my youngest son looking for squirrels and birds and listening to the wind in the branches of the trees.
Creating art is not just for artists – everyone benefits from art making – evidence shows it helps us in so many ways: art improves attention, reduces stress and anxiety, improves problem solving skills, improves fine motor skills, increases confidence and self-esteem. Drawing a mandala is a great way to start a daily art practice because it doesn’t require any formal art training or any special tools, just paper and a pencil. The design of a mandala grows from the center and can include any shapes you choose.
A mandala is a geometric pattern created within a circular area and often represents wholeness or the universe. Jung writes in Man and His Symbols that the mandala is a representation of the self and by creating a mandala we can integrate our conscious and unconscious thoughts and use the process as a tool for self-awareness. The circle is also one of the first symbols we learn to draw as a child, often as a representation of the self. We see mandalas in nature from seeds to planets. Flowers grow and radiate out from the center; the age of a tree is marked by the rings from the center; even everything we look at is through the circular lens of our eye.
How to Create a Mandala
– Download and print the Mandala sheet if you would like guidelines to get started. The mandala sheet has circles and lines that divide a square area into equal portions to help you keep your mandala centered. This is helpful when beginning to draw mandalas.
– View the video example of creating a mandala
– Start your mandala by placing a dot in the center – this is you – your birth – your existence in this world.
– Draw lines through your dot in the shape of a + and an x dividing the center into 8 sections
– Next, choose a shape to add to each section of the mandala and create that shape in each of the 8 sections. For example, you may choose to draw a circle at the end of each of your lines that divided your center dot.
– Next, you may want to connect the sections by drawing a half circle, flower petal type shape, from one circle to the next all the way around.
– Continue growing your mandala for the 5 minutes you have set aside
The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
I’ve been intentionally practicing mindfulness a lot in the past few months because I know how important it is to regulate my own stress levels. The benefits of mindfulness have been researched and include improved overall well-being, reduced pain, and enhanced empathy.
Mindfulness is something I bring to my art therapy practice with the intention of teaching my clients skills they can use on a daily basis. For example – The 5 Senses Mindfulness Exercise to help you focus on the present moment; and Daily Visual Journal techniques for when you have some time at your desk or in the morning before you start your day.
But do these things really work? I like to know something works – to measure it – but it can be difficult to measure whether or not your mindfulness practice is helping. Keeping a daily journal and making a note of how you feel during a stressful moment and what you did to relax can be a helpful way to measure the effects of your mindfulness, but remember it takes time and repetition to create lasting changes.
“Studies show that the ways we intentionally shape our internal focus of attention in mindfulness practice induces a state of brain activation during the practice. With repetition, an intentionally created state can become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-term changes in brain function and structure. This is a fundamental property of neuroplasticity—how the brain changes in response to experience. Here, the experience is the focus of attention in a particular manner.”
I recently gave a presentation on art therapy and mindfulness to a small group. The presentation was being recorded and I was a little nervous. I practiced deep breathing beforehand and the 5 Senses Mindfulness exercise to focus my attention on the present moment. Once I began speaking and showing a few slides I realized I was more relaxed than I’ve been in the past when giving a presentation.
I even remained relaxed and improvised when my short video demonstrations that I thought were embedded in the slide show presentation were not. I had spent a good amount of time creating the videos and choosing soothing music to play along with it and was proud of this part of the presentation. But my disappointment in not being able to share those videos was extremely brief – I just moved right along and did a live demonstration instead.
Then, close to the end of my slides a few maintenance guys came to remove the TV so they could install it in the new office that this group was moving to across the street. Literally, my slide was up on the screen and I was talking to the group and then there was the sound of a drill behind my head while three guys disassembled the large flat screen and took it off the wall. They even asked me to have everyone move while they walked the TV out of the room.
None of this bothered me! We all just went with the flow and joked about how this is out of our control so why worry about it – nothing we can do. It was actually a great way to model mindfulness in action. I kept my presentation going until the end without any problem. This was proof to me that practicing mindfulness on a regular basis is incredibly helpful – a year ago I was have been so flustered and felt uncomfortable about the situation. I wouldn’t have planned for the glitches in my presentation, but I’m glad they happened so I could experience first hand how much I have benefited from my mindfulness practice.
The purpose of this mindfulness exercise is to help center yourself in the present moment. When anxiety strikes: your heart racing, palms sweaty, thoughts spiraling … This is something you can try – you don’t have to close your eyes or be alone or anything – it’s an exercise to do right where you are.
Take a few deep breaths, then notice:
5 things you can see – look around and identify 5 things you may not have noticed at first
4 things you can hear – identify 4 sounds you didn’t notice right away – listen to how they sound together – like a mini symphony
3 things you can feel – this could be a sensation on your skin like a breeze, the texture of your clothes, your shoes…
2 things you can smell – try to identify 2 things you can smell – hopefully they’re pleasant like perfume or food you like
1 thing you can taste – this one can be difficult but give it a try.
The idea of this exercise is to force your mind to focus on the present moment and calm your mind. Next time you find your mind racing, try this exercise or some variation of it and see how it helps.