If you’re feeling stressed, the answer to finding inner calm could be hanging right in front of you. Many of us buy art to simply adorn our walls but, while this does positively enhance our living environment, using it solely for aesthetic purposes undermines the power it holds. Within each piece there is the potential to relieve day to day stress and even heal past trauma. Passively engaging with art (an exercise known as ‘slow-looking’) forces you into stillness and takes you off auto-pilot. Bringing your awareness in to the present moment allows your nervous system to come back into balance slowing heart rate and releasing muscle tension. Art acts as an anchor to keep you focused (much like a mantra) but, through a process known as embodied cognition, it can also amplify your emotions, allowing you to work through them and let them go. Placing pieces of art that you can get lost in around your home can help to bring calm and create a relaxed atmosphere. Keep a small artwork by your workspace or hang a larger one above it. If you have space above the kitchen sink, or bathroom basin you can engage in visual meditation while doing the dishes or brushing your teeth. Finding a few minutes to be present throughout the day can make a big difference to our mental state.
GUIDE TO VISUAL MEDITATION
• GET COMFORTABLE Stand up or sit in a chair, making sure your painting is within your eye-line. You may want to burn incense and play some soothing music in the background.
• FOCUS Begin by taking in the colours and tones of your artwork. Notice how subtle or vibrant they are and how they blend with each other. Move your eyes over the painting taking in each little detail. Next, look at the texture and the marks made by the brush or palette knife. Are they thin lines or heavy strokes? See any drip marks where the paint has run down the canvas and how they interact with the other layers. When your mind wanders (because it will!) bring it back to the present moment by refocussing on a particular section or colour.
• BREATHE While studying your painting take a deep inhale through your nose for a count of four, breathing in positive energy. Exhale out of your mouth for a count of eight, releasing all tension. Repeat for a minimum of two minutes. When you feel ready, step back and adjust your eyes to look at something in the distance. Notice how your body feels and what thoughts and emotions are running through your mind. It may help to journal on these feelings so you can track your progress.
While it may not replace medication altogether as a treatment for serious conditions, art can be a great option for mild symptoms of stress and learning to unlock healing power can add a valuable asset to your self-care toolkit.