Photo credit: Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash.
Meditations, mantras and deep breathing to relax the artist mind and body.
Making art can be therapeutic, but for professional artists the act of making can be filled with stress and tension as we work against deadlines and our own expectations. Some of us may struggle with letting go in the creative process or getting out of our own heads. And for many of us the stress is physical—hunched over potter's wheels and tables, standing for hours with tensed shoulders and jaws in front of our easel. Mindfulness can help us relax and welcome some ease back into our lives.
And in our current climate of global pandemic, social distancing and shelter-in-place has us retreating into our minds and anxieties even more. In this surreal world of Coronavirus when the whole world seems to have shifted upside down, our tensions elevated, our security, safety and health a focus of worry, it's time to take some deep breaths. So let’s try that.
Breathing, we do it all of the time, right? Easy enough. But sometimes we forget to take (deep) breaths. Even at maximum exercise capacity, we only use 70% of our lungs.
During chaotic times everything feels like it is unraveling. But deep breathing is one of the easiest and natural tools to combat stress, anxiety, and even reduce pain and high blood pressure. Here are some perks of deep breaths that not only help during your art making practice, but in all aspects of your life. A happy healthy artist is a productive artist!
Ease the fight or flight response. Your body is wired to handle stressful situations. When stressed, your brain will release a stress hormone called cortisol. But if your cortisol levels are too high for too long, the hormone can hurt more than help. By taking deep breaths, you slow your heart rate, and allow more oxygen to enter your bloodstream, which communicates to your brain to relax. Deep breathing decreases stress and increases calmness.
Lower your blood pressure. As your muscles relax, your blood vessels dilate, which improves circulation.
Increase energy. More oxygen also means more energy! The more oxygen in your blood, the better your body performs. Now you can sit over your potter's wheel or stand by your easel for longer.
Detoxify your body. Breathing releases carbon monoxide. If you don’t breathe fully your body must work overtime to release toxins.
Combat pain. Deep breathing also releases endorphins—feel good chemicals—which can combat pain! Been spending more hours cooped up in your studio with self isolation measures? Knees hurting? Have shoulder and back pain? Take a few deep breaths.
Improve immunity. Here’s a good one during COVID19 scares. Breathing improves immunity. When your blood is fully oxygenated, it carries nutrients more efficiently.
Improve digestion. Are you eating all of your self-isolation snacks in one sitting? More time at home mean more time to eat? Deep breathing improves blood flow which in turns promotes effective functioning of your organs, like your intestines!
Support posture. Take a deep breath in. Did you feel your spine lengthen and straighten? When you take a deep breath in, your lungs take up more space, pulling your diaphragm down and lengthening your torso to support the space and movement.
Photo credit: Le Minh Phuong from Unsplash.
Here is a simple breathing exercise to practice in your studio.
Breathe in through your nose for five seconds. Fill your belly, lungs, throat and mouth with air. Hold this breath in for two seconds. Slowly and gently release the breath through the mouth for five seconds. Hold at “empty” for two seconds. Repeat this at least five times. You can place your hand on your belly to ensure that you're filling your abdomen—you’ll feel the rise of your stomach.
You can also increase your breath count. Breathe in for seven seconds, or longer.
Another approach? Make your exhale longer than your inhale. Typically our inhales, when we're being mindful, are longer than our exhales. But remember the benefits of detoxifying your body by releasing carbon monoxide mentioned above? We rarely breath out fully. Give it a try.
Here are some more breathing exercises for relaxation from Michigan Medicine.
You can do these breathing exercises from anywhere. Find a quiet space and sit, or even stand at your easel. Practice these deep breaths while brewing coffee, or before entering your studio. And, remember, this is supposed to be peaceful! Not uncomfortable. Do what feels good for your body.
Find a simple meditation that works for you.
Mindfulness is a hot term these days. And during times of crisis like COVID19 it’s easy to feel scattered, overwhelmed and anxious. Meditation practices help anchor us in the here and now, and not worry about the past or what has yet to come.
Meditation helps calm the brain chatter. Overthinking a piece of art? Are you discombobulated approaching your art materials? If you need a helpful mental nudge to gain clarity and a bit of peace of mind, try some simple meditation exercises.
Sit or lie down with eyes closed and...breathe. Focus on your breath. Become aware of your body. Notice how it rises and falls with the flow of your breath. Your body is like an ocean—sending waves of movement through space.
Watch a flickering candle.
Sit outside and observe. Watch clouds in the sky, trees swaying in the wind, birds hopping from branch to branch.
Take a walk. Meditation doesn’t have to be a chore. Notice the sensations as your body moves in the space. What do you hear, smell, feel and see? Currently stuck in shelter-in-place? Bring your walk inside and be aware of your steps. Take 10 paces, turn, 10 more steps, stop. Repeat.
Remember, don’t judge your mind for wandering. It’s our brain’s job to think! To help corral your mind, you can count your breaths during these meditations.
Find a mantra to ground your day and inspire your creative practice.
Mantras are repeated sounds, words or phrases. They can attract positive energy and thoughts during times when we need comfort, hopefulness and connectivity. You can build self-confidence, ease fears, cultivate strength, reduce stress, manifest good feelings, etc.
Feeling disconnected from your art practice? Practice a mantra in your space. Here are a few options. You can also come up with your own!
"I have much to celebrate."
"I am enough." You can add other affirmations like “I am strong.” “I am beautiful.”
"Where I am right now is exactly where I need to be."
"All I need comes to me when I need it."
"I am fearless."
"I am the change."
"May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease."
"I am open to the possibilities of the Universe."
Photo credit: Juan Chavez from Unsplash.
Try out Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra is an ancient yogic practice that is increasingly becoming popular as a form of meditation. It is a systematic form of guided relaxation that typically takes more than 30 minutes. Practitioners say that it helps reduce stress and better sleep. It can bring joy and well-being.
How to do it? Find a comfortable spot to lie down—floor, couch, bed. Play a yoga nidra recording from a CD, meditation app or music app like Spotify to guide you to relaxation. Do you have a friend that practices yoga nidra? Ask them to guide you via phone call or video platform like Zoom. Or, close your eyes, and walk yourself through your body. How do my toes feel against the surface on which they rest? Scan your body. What do my knees feel like—sore? Feel your belly rise and fall. Notice your jaw, cheeks, eyelids. Yoga Nidra is a practice to welcome yourself.
Download an app.
When starting a new habit, it’s helpful to have some guidance. Here are two favorite apps from this Artwork Archive staff member and yoga teacher.
Simple Habit: This app is marketed as a meditation app designed to help busy people. You don’t have to go to an ashram to get your meditation on. You don’t even need to be seated cross-legged with sage burning by your side. With Simple Habit you can select meditations based on the time you have (even as short as five minutes) and select guided meditations based on your activity—taking a walk, commuting by train, etc. They have categories for different types of intentions too: career, parenting, sleep, happiness, etc..
Insight Timer: This app features guided meditations, music and talks posted by contributing experts. You’ll find sleep music for falling asleep faster and deeper, which will help you approach your studio rested and refreshed the next day. You'll also find yoga nidra meditations for relaxation, poetry to ease the mind, and more.
It’s estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot. Let's bring some more mindfulness to our day-to-day. Mindfulness helps us connect and focus—two instrumental parts of our art practice! Just like learning a new artistic skill, deep breathing and meditation takes practice. Try to incorporate one breathing exercise, meditation and/or mantra each day.