Colouring-in books are no longer something we have to put away when the kids go to bed, and more and more people are rediscovering the fun and relaxation that picking up a pen or pencil brings.
Not only is colouring great for bringing more creativity into our lives, it’s also helping lots of people become more mindful, and as a creative mindfulness teacher, this makes me very happy. However there are some simple things we can do to make it even more beneficial—so here are four tips for optimising mindfulness and increasing our wellbeing as we colour.
One: Checking-in before colouring-in.
Before starting, let’s take some time to notice mindfully what we’re bringing to the page. Colouring-in is great for taking our minds off our worries, and acts as a great mindful interrupter of the habitual stories and negative thoughts that may be stressing us out. But if we use colouring-in just to block out these thoughts then we’re missing out on the potential to mindfully and kindly make friends with them, turning our colouring into a space for self-compassion.
So before we pick up a pencil, it’s good to sit quietly, noticing how we’re feeling for a few moments:
Notice the body—is it warm or cool, relaxed or tense?
How are we feeling—are we stressed after a pressured day at work, or nice and relaxed after the weekend?
What state is our mind in—agitated and on over-drive, or sluggish and sleepy?
As we check-in we can also pay attention to our breath, following it all the way in, noticing the sense of space and expansion it makes in the body; and then following a breath all the way out, noticing the sense of letting-go this brings. Taking time to check-in and just breathe with whatever is present before we start colouring sends the message to ourselves that we’re listening, that we care and opens a space for self-compassion.
Two: Developing body mindfulness.
We don’t just colour-in with our hands, our whole bodies are involved in the act of moving a pen across the page. Taking time whilst we’re colouring to bring some mindfulness to the body makes the whole experience more grounded and helps us build a more embodied mindful relationship with ourselves.
By deliberately noticing the physical nature of colouring-in, we get more into our bodies and less up in our heads, interrupting the cycles of thinking which may appear even whilst we’re doing it: “Did I send that email? Have I packed the kids’ lunch-boxes?” Embodied colouring-in is more fun and instinctive too.
We can start by noticing the feeling of the pencil between our fingers:
What’s it actually like to hold a pencil?
Where does it touch the knuckles and pads of the fingers?
How loosely or tightly are we holding it?
We can try holding a little tighter, noticing how the bones and tendons of the hand and wrist move, something we may feel all the way up into our arm. We can try holding looser too, noticing the relaxation this brings. Both of these things will affect how we move the pencil, how free and easy it all feels. We may also start to notice how the rest of our arm, our shoulder, even our torso is involved in colouring, especially as we shift in our chair or choose another pencil. And of course all the time, we’re sitting in a chair and our feet are on the floor, and we can notice how this feels too.
Three: Becoming colour aware.
The brightness and joyfulness of colour—turning that black and white page into a rainbow—is one of the great pleasures of colouring-in. And bringing more mindfulness to colour and its effects on out mind and emotions can only add to the pleasure.
Firstly it’s interesting to notice how we choose colours:
Does our hand hover over the pencils whilst we think and analyse about what will look best, or do we pick up colours by instinct?
What happens when we deliberate and what happens when we go with our intuition? Which feels most satisfying?
We can also start to become mindful of how different colours make us feel: Do blues make us feel more tranquil and oranges feel energising? Perhaps green gets us down, but black feels deep and peaceful?
It’s entirely personal and our response to colour may change day to day which is why it’s important to check-in and notice our response.
Finally we can actively choose colours to improve and enhance our mood. If we check-in before colouring-in and notice we’re a bit agitated and anxious and we’ve noticed the peacefulness we feel when using light blues and greens, then we might choose to use light blues and greens again.
Colouring-in can become a way of actively and mindfully turning difficult moods around and increasing our sense of wellbeing.
Four: Try mindful doodling.
There are lots of other simple ways to be mindfully creative without needing to be an experienced or confident drawer. If we enjoy colouring-in then mindful doodling is also a lovely practice to explore and it helps us move outside the lines someone else has drawn and develop our own natural, playful creativity.
With a nice fat black pen, and with our eyes shut, we can doodle simple spirals and wavy lines (or anything we like for that matter) onto a sheet of paper. Keeping our eyes shut helps us focus on the physical feeling of drawing, on the pleasure of just making marks, and stops us from analysing what we’re drawing or trying to make it look like the illustrations in the colouring-in books we normally use.
We can doodle like this for several minutes if we want to, keeping mindfully aware of our physical bodies and of our breath. Then to finish, we can open our eyes and colour-in our own doodles. Even really simple doodles, like a series of wavy lines running across the page, are really satisfying to draw and look great when they’re coloured in.
Author: Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Author’s own & LaVladina/Flickr