Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of ourselves and our surroundings. In many ways, it is thought of as a meditative practice – and it is! But did you know you could receive the same benefits through mindful coloring?
The Buzzword: Mindfulness
By now, we have all heard we should be more mindful. But what exactly is mindfulness? According to Dr. Kaplan at Psychology Today, mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of our thoughts, emotions, and senses. This means I can be mindful of the way the keyboard feels beneath my fingertips as I’m writing this post.
Dr. Kaplan summarizes the what, who, why, when, where, and how of mindfulness, and that practicing mindfulness can:
- improve present-ness in daily life
- increase attention
- lower stress
- improve physical health
- allow us to think before we react
- help us live purposefully
Mindfulness can be practiced in a Zen garden, complete with white sand, a rake, and a sparkling waterfall. Or it can be practiced while eating a meal. Riding the bus. Or taking a shower. Meditation is not the only way we can strengthen our mindfulness muscles – in fact, it is just the tip of the iceberg!
My favorite way to practice mindfulness is, you guessed it, coloring!
What is Mindful Coloring?
Do you know those adult coloring books that are becoming increasingly popular in the drug store? Psychologist, Carl Jung saw them as a way to “suspend our inner dialogue and engage in an activity that disregards the flow of negative thoughts that can dominate our lives“. Basically, the very act of focusing on coloring gives our minds a break.
By turning off internal dialogue, we can meditate without the commitment and stress of having to meditate. (I say this because many people I know become anxious when they cannot turn off their internal dialogue when meditating).
To sum up, mindful coloring is coloring. With practice, we are able to see how our thoughts shift while we color, and enter a pseudo-meditative state that then promotes mindfulness.
How cool is that?
Does Mindful Coloring Actually Work?
As I said before, I know many people who have tried to meditate and practice mindfulness to promote wellness. In a lot of attempts, they became anxious over how NOT RELAXING it was to listen to their own thoughts on repeat.
Can we be sure that mindful coloring doesn’t result in the same cyclical torment?
Dresler and Perera were among many researchers to explore this practice in the context of mental health. They found that coloring benefits the women in their study in short and long-term contexts.
In this study, mindful coloring increased concentration, awareness, and regulation of thoughts. It interrupted negative thought patterns. Moreover, women could ‘step away’ from stressful situations. Dresler and Perera noted that mindful coloring acted as a combination between meditation and art therapy, decreasing both anxiety and depression.
Mindful coloring was also a fantastic way for the women to practice long-term self-care. It allowed for a solitary, meditative space. It was portable. And concentrating on coloring allowed for a break from negative and stressful thoughts. Moreover, completing a page of a coloring book created a sense of accomplishment and pride in creating something.
Therefore, it seems like mindful coloring works BECAUSE the focus is not on clearing one’s mind, but allowing the coloring to clear your mind for you.
Is There a Wrong Way to Practice Mindful Coloring?
Ultimately, I believe that mindfulness is a very personal practice. What works for one person, will not work for another.
Mantzios and Giannou explored this question in their research and found some pretty interesting results. Coloring mandalas had the same impact as free drawing on anxiety levels. On the other hand, instruction on how to color mindfully create tension and stress if you don’t like being told what to do.
What does this mean?
Generally, it means that not all coloring is equal. But the differences exist more in our mindset than in what we are coloring. When we color mindfully, we have to actively practice mindfulness. Focus on the patterns. Feel the crayon/pencil/marker in your hands. Breathe, and let your mind be blank.
Listening to mindful instruction while coloring may benefit some, while others may benefit from coloring alone in their bedroom.
Is there a wrong way to practice mindful coloring? Only to the extent that each person is an individual, and we all have different strokes for different folks.