Self-Expression: Art Therapy Activities

Art therapy with crayons
Art and a sketchpad

“The simple act of creative expression connects us with an inner-self of vitality.”–Doreen Meister, MA, MFT

Meister is an expressive arts therapist who practices out of Oakland, Calif.  I recently read an article where she discussed the benefits of art therapy and gave three techniques that you can try yourself.

The article “3 Art Therapy Techniques for Anxiety” talks about the importance of art for calming the nervous system and allowing people to work through things that may be troubling them.  Says Meister: “when we’re focused on creating, our minds shift from worrisome ruminations.”

Art Therapy: Another Tool for Self-Expression

I happened to have a sketchbook and box of crayons on hand, so I decided to modify one of the activities from the article: select a crayon, draw a squiggle across the page, flip the page over, decide what the squiggle reminded me of, and turn it into some sort of drawing.

For someone who doesn’t draw, this activity was fun for me.  Starting with a squiggle is easy…and there’s no pressure to draw “real art.”  I turned my squiggle into a ghost family holding hands by a river. I think they must be fishing in a forest because I think the brown lines filled in with green represent a wooded area of trees.  There’s grass on the other side of the river, and they’ve all signed their name: ghost, ghost, ghost, ghost, and ghost.  img_7200

I also had fun just coloring on a blank sheet of paper.  If you haven’t colored for a few years, give it a try.  Even writing your name in crayons or drawing simple shapes can turn into a hour of self-expression!

Journal, if you wish

If you want to take it one step further, you can journal about what your picture means to you or how it connects to your daily life.

Read 3 Art Therapy Techniques to Deal with Anxiety at Psych Central for specific ways to use drawing with crayons as ways to deal with anxiety.

Exercise as Self Expression

img_7022-1This morning, I had an insight that I decided to share here.

I’ve been experimenting with Qi Gong, thanks to a friend at work.  Qi Gong is an exercise I enjoy.  The moves are simple. It feels good.   And it’s helping me feel more grounded.

Perhaps because Qi Gong is new to me, it feels more mentally engaging that yoga, where I tend to worry more whether or not I’m doing it right…and if I’m going to get corrected.

Qi Gong helps me feel like I am in my body.  My feet on the ground. My hands scooping up energy.  My arms punching out and pulling in.

Qi Gong for me is a form of self expression.  Me, expressing myself, through the movements of my body.

Feeling the movements and not trying to escape from them.

I think that exercise became something physically painful to me in junior high school.  From then on, even when I really wanted to enjoy it, exercise was not about self expression.  Exercise was other things: punishment, pain, inadequacy, something to escape from, a competition, something to get over, something to avoid, a way to take up less space in the world.

It’s hard to express yourself through exercise when your mind is focused on just one thing: WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE OVER?!

For me, I can’t be in my body when I’m trying to escape from it.  So, running never worked for me because I could never be in my body when the exercise was so physically and emotionally painful for me. I would mentally disconnect or just not do it.   On the other hand, I have a student who loves to run.  It clears her mind, and it makes her feel invigorated and ready to take on the day.

Thinking back, there are some forms of movement that I enjoyed as a child or that I enjoy now. When I was young, I loved gymnastics and playing on the bars at recess and at home. I also loved the freedom of riding my bike and enjoyed the roller skating rink. When I was eighteen, I loved going to local dance clubs.

As an adult now, I enjoy walking.  I can walk with friends or by myself.  Walking has choices.  Walking feels good.  I can observe life as I walk.   I can walk slow or fast.  Walking is not a competition, and there’s not a trainer or teacher who wants to correct my walking moves. Walking is just another way to BE.

Interested in Qi Gong?  I like this video, and there are many more choices on YouTube.

Journal, if you choose: does thinking about exercise as a way of expressing yourself change your relationship with it?  Is there a form of movement that you really enjoy, and if so, what is it?  Why do you think you enjoy it?