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Can art heal?

Using art to trigger endorphin production and increase well-being.

"Do not be casual about the things around you that you love. These are the gateways to your health and fulfilment. These are the triggers for your endorphins and your flow of connecting to vitality”

William Bloom

The healing and therapeutic benefits of creativity are well known, especially when it comes to mental health issues and emotional well being. However the majority of research looks at the benefits of taking part in creative activities, making art, playing music, dancing, role play. I am well aware of how much being creative helps my own well-being, but what about the benefits of looking at and appreciating art, particularly art that you connect with in some way.

It is a well known phenomenon that art can move you emotionally. Sometimes art may provoke disturbing or unsettling emotions or it can be uplifting and make you feel calm or energised. Either way it is making an energetic change in your system. This will be true for any art that you connect to.

Professor Semir Zeki, neurobiologist at the University College of London, states that when a person experiences looking at something they perceive to be beautiful, it stimulates the medial frontal orbital centre of the brain. This is the part of the brain that is also known as the reward centre and releases dopamine, the feel good hormone. The same chemical that is released when we fall in love. This energetic change may only last while you look at the image or object, but is this something we can utilise with intention to have longer lasting beneficial effects?

What if we can use art more intentionally, both in the creative process and in the action of observing art?

Twenty years ago I was at a Kinesiology conference where I heard William Bloom give a speech about a book he had just written called “The Endorphin Effect”. It explained the healing power of endorphins, both in terms of mental and physical health and how we can produce them on demand just by thinking of times we have felt good. The book is full of different visualisations designed to promote endorphin production. During the talk he led us through one of his visualisations where you thought of something, a person or event that made you feel good, and then imagined sending this feeling through your body. By the end of the exercise I was feeling joyful and energised. It also appeared that I could suddenly see energy! There had been a volunteer up on stage and when we came out of it I opened my eyes, looked at this person and could see a white column of light coming out of the top of her head for about 2 feet. My friend couldn’t see what I was on about and I knew it was the volunteer’s aura I was seeing, which is not a normal event for me. The volunteer was asked how she was feeling, to which she replied taller!

Sadly my new ability to see energy was short lived. It would have been very handy as a kinesiologist but it did show me the power of this visualisation. so I bought the book. I found it very powerful, and the general principles are something I have used throughout my life, if not the specific meditations.

You may be wondering what this has to do with art. Well one of the things that Bloom suggests you do is to use art and images as a trigger to boost your endorphins. The more recent research of Dr Seki suggests it will also increase your dopamine levels.

People naturally already do this, filling their homes with photos or art that bring them joy. The secret here is to actually spend time focusing on them to promote those feelings of joy, thus creating a positive, but very real chemical change in your body. The more you do this, the more joy you will feel and the longer the change will last.

Fine art can be even more powerful than just a photo as the artist will often try to capture how it feels to be in that environment, rather than just a representational picture of the place. This may not always be an affordable option but a print will still carry this same energy. And what a lovely pleasurable experience to look for a piece of art with this intention in mind.

Often it is the story that sells a painting. The buyer not only loves the ascetics of the piece but it represents something to that individual that they connect to on a deeper level. Every time they look at the picture, that story and the emotion will be triggered. They just need to take the time to pause and really feel it. I love hearing why a person has bought a piece of my art and to think it could be used in this way is often what motivates me.

It is certainly something I bear in mind when I approach a commission.

Before beginning a piece I like to get a real understanding of why a person wants to have a bespoke piece of art and often collage in personal memorabilia that represents something or some one they love. Handwriting of a loved on, a map of a favourite destination, family photos hidden subtly to only be discovered on close inspection, or sheet music from a favourite song are just a few of the things I have used. I have also been exploring using different energy techniques that can be used during the painting process but that is a whole other post. Watch this space.

A recent commission and a few of the added personal details - combined maps of their motherland and homeland, and a sewing pattern as reference to a hobby with a number of significance to the buyer.

But even if you can’t afford a piece of art at the moment, or just haven’t found the right piece, here are some suggestions of images you could start collecting to use in this process.

A suitable image can be one that represents “anything or thought that brings you pleasure, makes you smile, opens your heart and makes you feel good about life”. They can be broken down into the following categories. Just pick the ones you are drawn to, you don't need to use all six.

  1. Places – those that you adore, places you’ve been to or would love to go to. For some people this could be the Taj Mahal, for others Wembley football stadium. There is no right or wrong.

  2. People, pets and animals – those that you know and love or it could be a celebrity that makes you laugh or inspires you.

  3. Actvities- those that you love to do. This could be anything from cold water swimming or lazing on your sofa watching TV.

  4. Peak Experiences – a really wonderful memory from your past.

  5. Spiritual Figures and Symbols – whatever touches your heart.

  6. Textures, scents, sounds, tastes and colours

How to use these images

  • These images should reflect your taste and style. They should not be what you think is on trend, or what would appeal to others, but those things that you genuinely love. Some people will be happy to print out photos or images from the internet or magazines, others will want beautiful framed art. For some it may be a comic strip that makes them laugh, or cute animals that make them smile. For others it may be a sporting hero or an inspirational quote.

Place the images where you will see them everyday, around your home, on the dashboard of your car if you travel a lot, or at your work desk. You could collate them into an album on phone them so you have them to look at where ever you are.
  • Any time you are feeling stressed pause and look at these images and really focus on how those images make you feel. A photo from a relaxing holiday can be used to take you back to that experience, a picture of flowers can help you reconnect with nature and the sense of freedom this can invoke.

Focusing on this, instead of the stress can help bring you back to your self and help you detach from the stressful situation so you can look at it more objectively.

  • Once you have connected strongly with the positive emotion, imagine sending this feeling to different parts of your body where you may be feeling tension. Use your breath, breathing in the feeling and sending it to the tight area on the outbreath. Use long deep breaths. You don't need to do this for a long time. A few minutes can often be enough to help you feel calmer, lighter and more centred.

Like any exercise this will get easier and be more effective the more often you practice it, so don't wait for when you are stressed. Just look at that beautiful piece of art or favourite photo everyday and spend a few moments reminding yourself why you love it so much. This in simple act alone will brighten your day and enhance wellbeing.

You can also use objects to help with positive mindset and the law of attraction, the subject of another post.

I've also been exploring many other ways of combining energy techniques with my painting process in an attempt to instil a painting with positive energy, so look out for further blogs exploring these ideas.

To find out more about this technique click on the book image.

If you are interested in how I approach a commission check it out here



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