Body, Mind & Spirit

Can You Color Your Way to Calm?

Published on January 2, 2017

Article by Suzette Lipscomb for Bodhi Tree

These days, we’re washing dishes mindfully and chewing mindfully, but for those of us interested in creating  mindful art, staring down a blank canvas can be a daunting task. We may desire to engage in a creative pursuit, but may not have the artistic chops to complete a painting this evening.

Hence the popularity of coloring books. An online search of “Adult Coloring Books” brings up thousands of options and you’ll even find a category called “Adult Coloring Books Stress Relieving Patterns.” This begs the question: Can picking up this childhood pastime spur real physical and emotional benefits?

Coloring: Yoga for the Mind

For some people whose minds move quickly and have difficulty slowing down, the task of simple choices—what page to color and which colors to use—are just enough to awaken the subconscious. According to Paul Heussenstamm, whose Color Yourself Calm: A Mindfulness Coloring Book has been translated into eight languages and I sold in 16 countries, even if people may not be aware of it, coloring is a form of meditation and mindfulness, “like yoga for the mind,” he says. Much like a chanting meditation or walking meditation helps beginners learn to move toward their source, coloring opens people up to their core and center.

For beginners, the key to freeing that part of the mind is often found by distracting your conscious thought pattern. Any activity that requires a little movement and not much concentration can set you up for a creative burst. Many people find that creative inspiration strikes while walking, during yoga, or just prior to nodding off for the night, when the subconscious is most conscious. Surprisingly, adult coloring books offer this same escape. Even for people who didn’t love to color as a child, coloring as an adult seems to offer many physical and emotional benefits.

The Health Benefits of Coloring

Jordan Gaines Lewis, a neuroscience PhD student at Penn State College of Medicine who combines her passion for science, communication, policy and the brain on her blog Gaines, on Brains, introduces neuroscience research to readers, minus all the heavy scientific jargon. She also spends a few nights a week coloring and ponders the question, “So what is the psychological draw of a task that feels creative, but doesn’t actually involve creating something new?” In an article for Science of Us titled, “A Neuroscientist Patiently Explains the Allure of the Adult Coloring Book,” she cites studies that confirm art therapy can improve physical health, reduce the duration of hospital stays as well as decrease pain, stress and anxiety. And while science may not have caught up with anecdotal evidence, based on their popularity (e.g., Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford has sold 6.8 million copies worldwide), it seems even the act of coloring may impart the same benefits.

What other positive effects can coloring books offer? It appears they can also help improve intimacy. Lewis states, “I would certainly say that coloring could foster a sense of intimacy. It’s a time to reconnect and chat while doing a simple task.”

Echoing Lewis, Heussenstamm says, “One of the ways in which intimacy is formed is by connecting. Religions say we are one, but coloring together opens you up to our connectedness and a common task and actually makes you one.” A mandala, he explains, is a visual mantra, and each person approaches it from a different direction. Is it more spiritual than dumping paint on canvas? “I don’t know,” he says, “but I tell people in my workshops that something special happens when people begin to color. It’s as if they begin to dream, and they wake up upon completion more present, centered and awake. There is incredible power in coloring sacred symbols, both internally and externally, you are heading toward your center, finding your spirit.”



Published on: January 2, 2017

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