Mindfulness, Breath, and Art by Sarah Frank, LMFT, ATR

Mindfulness has been a hot topic in psychology of late, from aiding in stress reduction to preventing relapse of undesirable symptoms, thoughts, or behaviors. Mindfulness is essentially a practice of consciously being aware of your body and mind in the present moment. Numerous scientific studies have shown that this practice can reduce stress, cravings, harmful urges, depression, and anxiety with fairly immediate results, as well as increase joy, satisfaction, gratitude, sensuality, satiation, and arousal. As an art therapist I have incorporated many concepts of mindfulness into my work from how I conduct a session to specific suggestions or exercises I share with clients.

I often recommend a simple exercise I like to call taking a “mindful minute”. This entails finding moments throughout the day to consciously check in through each of your senses. It can be quite a discreet practice, which is convenient if you are not able to escape to a private space, and involves noticing what you are picking up on through touch, taste, hearing, sight, and smell. This can be done while sitting in a waiting room, walking outside, taking a shower, drinking a cup of tea, or even enjoying someone else’s company. This practice can give you momentary relief or energy as well as, when done on a daily basis, contribute to longer lasting improved moods, lessened cravings, and greater enjoyment and awareness of experiences that often go unnoticed when our focus is on a past regret or future concern.

Another basic and favorite practice I like to do is simply practicing mindful breathing. Notice where your breath enters your nose or mouth and follow it as it goes into and out of your body. Don’t attempt to alter it in any way and give yourself permission not to judge the quality or depth of your breathing. If you happen to have any drawing materials (pencils, pens, oil pastels, or markers), choose a color and see if you can “trace” your breath on a large sheet of paper. This may manifest as waves, zig-zags, spirals, scribbles, or straight flowing lines. Try to keep the drawing implement in contact with the paper and moving the whole time (about 1-2 minutes). You may even want to try doing it with your eyes closed (as long as you have protected the surface you are drawing on if necessary). Spend a moment considering the drawing once you finish; does it seem to signify any feelings or thoughts you are having, is there anything you would want to change if you could?

Mindfulness is about noticing as well as accepting ourselves and what is around us. Like exercise, the more you practice it the greater the benefits will be. See if you can take a mindful minute today or maybe practice a few moments of mindful breathing. There is so much we can miss when we are too busy focusing on what already happened or is yet to come.

Elana Clark-Faler
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