Monday, April 13, 2015

Colour Your Stress Away ...

Life is about using the whole box of crayons.

Colours are the smiles of nature.
Leigh Hunt

Life lesson from the nursery: Broken crayons can still colour.
Author Unknown

Hi everyone!

For the past few months, I've been experimenting with offering workshop participants mandalas, Celtic knots and other intricate designs to colour - and I've been amazed by the positive response. People love them and comment on how the colouring helps them to focus and relax throughout the day. Kinesthetic learners are especially happy to have "something to do" as they listen to mini-lectures and participate in group discussions.

Colouring takes us back to another time, a time when choosing colours and mixing tints and shades could provide respite from childhood stressors. It is a form of self-soothing and relaxation. Thought to de-stress us by activating areas on both sides of our brains, the relaxation of colouring particularly lowers the activity of the amyglala, a part of the brain that senses and deals with threat. When we colour, the gentle repetitive motions soothe us and the colouring experience shifts us from a state of perceived threat back to a state of calm.

Colouring can be seen as a form of active meditation. Our mindful attention to the colouring pushes aside current stressors and future worries. The Aurora University (Illinois and Wisconsin) website offers the following steps for meditative colouring to their stressed students:

1.  Start the session with a smile. Don't skip this step just because it sounds a little silly. In fact, studies have proven that smiling even when you are not happy can raise your level of endorphines (mood-enhancing chemicals) in your brain. So start smiling!
2.  Find a design to colour. Any colouring book will do, or print a mandala to colour. Mandalas are complex, symmetrical geometric designs that originated thousands of years ago in India. They are fun to colour and beautiful to look at once done.
3.  Choose your colouring supplies. You can use crayons, coloured pencils, markers or even chalk. Don't think too much about the colours you are selecting. Let the colours choose themselves. You will be amazed at the colour combinations when you're done. 
4.  Allow yourself to experience the movements, hear the sounds of the crayon on the paper or feel the marker glide across the page. As thoughts, pictures or worries pop into your head simply acknowledge them and return your focus to colouring. Colouring will always bring you back. With a little practice, you will find that you can easily achieve a deeply relaxed state while colouring.
Some people wonder if drawing and colouring their own pictures on a blank page would produce the same relaxing results as colouring in a colouring book but a small study in 2005 in the Art Therapy journal seems to indicate that structured colouring-in, whether of a mandala or a plaid pattern, has a greater impact on anxiety levels than unstructured colouring.

Recognition of the relaxing properties of colouring has led to a recent boom in colouring books for adults. Scottish illustrator, Johanna Bradford's intricate best seller, Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book has sold 1.5 million copies worldwide and Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book came out in February. Other well-loved colouring books include:

1.  Celtic Patterns to Colour by Struan Reid
2.  Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta
3.  Colour Me Calm and Colour Me Happy by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter
4.  The Mindfulness Colouring Book by Emma Farrarons (Sized for pocket or purse)
5.  The Mandala Colouring Book by Jim Gogarty
6.  Dream Catcher: A Soul Bird's Journey and Dream Catcher: The Tree of Life by   Christina Rose
7.  Colour Me Good London Colouring Book by I Love Mel
8.  Natural Wonders: A Patrick Hruby Colouring Book by Patrick Hruby

For those of you who would like to try a little colouring before making the financial investment in a colouring book, here are some free mandalas to copy and colour. Enjoy!

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