Color Your Life

The Art Of Going In Circles

By Nora Brunner

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, August/September 2006.

As busy as our lives and the lives of our clients are, we might be tempted to groan in exasperation that we are getting nowhere—we’re just going in circles. But circles can have a calming effect if we combine them with the childhood pastime of coloring.

Check out grown-up coloring books devoted to mandalas—circles with often-intricate designs that are nearly universal to the world’s cultures and religions. (Think stained-glass church windows, Aztec calendars, Native American dreamcatchers, and the Buddhist wheel of life.)

Mandala coloring books are designed to engage and relax people, and they are surprisingly engrossing. As empty shapes on a page, these images cry out for felt-tip pens or colored pencils, a comfortable chair, and music or sweet silence. Mandala workshop leaders note the supreme concentration and quiet these circles bring about once pens are unleashed. Is there a place in your practice where you can showcase these tools and help your clients relax, such as a waiting room or spa relaxation area? Consider fruit-scented, felt-tip pens or pencils to further engage the senses (but, of course, keep them away from kids).

Pathways to Health

Art therapists have long known the value of such activities in opening creative channels, reducing anxiety, and gently bringing down psychological defenses. Mandalas are used in connection with some medical conditions, including pain and anxiety, and are particularly useful in helping children express their emotions. Some ex-smokers find this activity keeps their hands busy and away from temptation. (Beware recommending coloring to clients with arthritis, carpal tunnel, or other repetitive strain injuries.)

To the educated eye, final masterpieces often reveal themes, concerns, and emotional issues. And, as one retreat leader notes, it’s virtually impossible to color a mandala that isn’t beautiful.

Susanne Fincher, Jungian psychologist, art therapist, and author of several mandala coloring books, says circles are fundamental to human consciousness and notes they are the first shape children make as they graduate from scribbling. Fincher groups her mandalas into twelve categories of psychological development, encouraging budding colorists to start work in a stage where they feel they are stuck. Or they can color their way through the stages in order and see what insights emerge. She also says color choices are revealing. Which three or four markers do you always wear out first?

Let Your Colors Speak

We are instinctively drawn to some colors, whether as clothing or surroundings at home or work. A body of science is devoted to how we react to various stimuli in our environments and color is high on the list of mood-influencers. A company called Pantone specializing in a common color language for designers, artists, and architects, has an online color think tank. It relates the story of office employees who complained repeatedly their work space was too cold. Although the actual temperature in the office never changed, the complaints faded when the walls were repainted warm peach.

Do your work and treatment areas feature warm, serene colors? Are there small changes you can make, such as altering your lighting or the color of your towels, to create a better atmosphere? Are your business cards and brochures color-consistent with the image you wish to project? Using color effectively is a fun way to enhance your practice.

Some websites allow you to print designs of varying complexity and quality, but if you develop a love of coloring, you’ll want to invest in the books. Look for those with heavier paper to prevent bleed-through or use a piece of cardboard between pages. Dover Publications offers mandala books on translucent paper, so you can hang the final product in a window as stained glass (pens work better than pencils on these).

Much as no two snowflakes are exactly alike, your finished mandala can bring forth beauty and expression that is uniquely yours. Sometimes going in circles is a good thing.