I love the fact that the name of our center is Mountain Waves Healing Arts. The name was created with the idea that the healing professions is truly an art expressing the science of the body and mind. Yet, it also alludes to a fundamental form of healing: art. Through out history, every culture has incorporated pictures, stories, dances, chants and many other symbolic expressions as healing rituals. In the past century, science has dominated the art/science balance in the healing arts almost to the exclusion of the former. Thankfully, in the past decade art is regaining some status to it’s healing power. Even some medical schools and hospitals are incorporating programs with titles like Arts in Medicine.
There is a lot of anecdotal information about the healing power of artistic expression and appreciation. There is also a growing body of solid research connecting the engagement of the creative arts and the positive benefits on our physiological and psychological states. The healing benefits of art come from both creating one’s own artistic expression, or through the appreciation of someone else’s expression. I recently took a vacation with just that intent: to experience some art and culture as a way to renew my spirit and sense of well being. I found it interesting that in the process of appreciating what I saw, there were times when I was inspired to capture my impressions with a photograph or a video. I was creating my own artistic expression from someone else’s artistic expression. Here are two examples from that trip.
Both creating and appreciating art creates changes in neural activity in the brain which reduces anxiety, lowers cortisol and other stress hormones, lowers heart and respiratory rates, improves the functioning of the immune system, increases our tolerance to pain, and simply improves our mood.
Numerous studies have measured the impact in both creating and appreciating music, visual art, movement and expressive writing. In all four types of artistic expression, all of these physiological and psychological benefits were demonstrated. Creating art, in particular had the added benefit of expressing emotion and experience in a symbolic way that gave voice to something that was otherwise unexpressible. Pain, fear, trauma are all able to find their way into symbolic expression through art in ways that are safe and accepted. This expression can often restore a person’s positive identity and sense of self worth, especially following traumatic injury.
The visual arts like painting, sculpture, and textiles can provide the most profound medium to give rise to healing expression, often before the creator is even aware of the need to express it. Studies of patients recovering from cancers and heart disease have shown ability for expression through visual art to reduce pain and place their illness in a context that is understandable for them so they may fully integrate their healing process. At the same time, simply appreciating visual art can provide solace if even for a short time.
Music is probably the most researched form of healing art with its demonstrated capacity to sooth and provide a mental refuge from pain. In studies with heart patients, music was found to reduce stress and anxiety and lower heart and respiratory rates. In studies with cancer patients, music therapy produced an increase in their sense of control, reduced pain, increased immunological response, and generally reduced both the physical and psychological symptoms of the cancer.
Movement therapies like Tai Chi, dance, theatre not only reduced stress and anxiety, but also improved patients sense of body image, quality of life, and physical mobility. Alzheimer’s patients also experienced improved cognitive functioning and other psychological measures of quality of life.
Patients using expressive writing and journaling experienced reductions in pain, fatigue, depression by those experiencing fibromyalgia. Patients with HIV experienced increased immune system responsiveness and increased lymphocyte counts.
How one creates or appreciates art doesn’t matter on its ability to positively impact your wellness. You don’t need to be an “artist” to express and create in this way. To me its about providing an outlet for the stuff in our lives that is being brushed aside or worse: repressed. In doing that, the only way for that repressed energy to express itself is within our body which creates a “dis-ease” in our cells and tissues. If left unchecked it can often lead to the chronic disease that permeates our culture. In the video below, a therapists suggests the idea of “painting a scream” and that no one knows what a scream looks like, let alone what your scream might look like. So paint your scream. Dance your pain. Sing your fear as often as you need to, so that you can live your joy.