How Art and Creativity Can Have Health Benefits

We undertake creative pursuits such as writing, acting, drawing, or dancing simply because we enjoy them. Intuitively, we know that creativity is good for us, and our creative passions make us happy. But what does science have to say about the benefits of creativity?

Creative activities make us feel happier, and they’re a great outlet for emotions. But what are their other health benefits?

Some pursue creative activities as a hobby and some do it for a living, but no matter what road we’ve taken to unleash our imaginations and need for free self-expression, it’s pretty clear that making things is part and parcel of being human.

We have been creating since prehistoric times: more than 39,900 years ago, our ancestors left some of their first marks — the outlines of their hands and crude drawings of animals — on the walls of caves.

We could go as far as to say that our need to create things is in our blood; this has served us well over the course of time, as we have learned to create tools and shelters, cook food, make medicines for various ailments, and set bones.

Sometimes, however, we have created things just for the sake of it. It could be said, as Oscar Wilde infamously proclaimed in The Picture of Dorian Gray, that “all art is quite useless.” But is it, really? (I sometimes wish I could tap Mr. Wilde on the shoulder and ask him, “Well, if art is so useless, why did you write so assiduously?”)

Aside from any philosophical arguments that may be brought to the contrary, a lot of research in the medical field has actually suggested that art — and, more specifically, being creative — is, in fact, quite useful for our mental and physical well-being.

Below, we look at some of the benefits that creative endeavors — from writing to dancing — can bring us, and we encourage you to incorporate even more creativity into your own life.

Improved mental health

Drawing, painting, or molding objects from clay has been scientifically proven to help people to deal with different kinds of trauma. In a comprehensive article on The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health, Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel say that “[a]rt helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer.”

“[A]rtistic self-expression,” they continue, “might contribute to maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity.”

A number of studies have also found that writing — expressive writing, in particular, which requires participants to narrate an event and explain how it affected them — can help people to overcome trauma and manage negative emotions.

In much the same way as visual expression, this type of writing allows people to take negative situations that cannot be changed and integrate them into their life’s story, creating meaning for events that left indelible marks — such as a medical diagnosis, a loved one’s death, or a violent experience.

One qualitative study that interviewed male survivors of childhood abuse found that asking them to write about their traumatic experiences allowed them — in conjunction with specialized trauma therapy — to make sense of the trauma in deeply personal ways.

‘Immediate impact’ vs. ‘long-term benefits’

Immediately after writing down one’s experiences, the writer might feel an increase in negative emotions as they recall bad incidents. However, the long-term effects are positive, said Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, the authors of a review of studies that focused on expressive writing.

“The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood, and physical symptoms, and a decrease in positive mood compared with controls,” they write, adding:

However, at longer-term follow-up, many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes, and self-reported emotional health outcomes.”

Expressive writing doesn’t just help with trauma and negative emotions. A 2001 study found that asking people to write about positive experiences and about “the best self” that they wanted to develop in the future was also associated with an increased sense of psychological well-being.

Similar effects were noted in a later study that asked participants to write about “intensely positive experiences.”

Brain-boosting effects

Speaking of writing, research has also shown that writing down things down can help with learning and memorization.

However, if you take the shortcut and type the ideas that you want to remember, that won’t actually do you much good. If you want to learn more efficiently, researchers say that you have to go old-fashioned and put pen to paper.

Putting pen to paper can help us to learn faster. 

But writing isn’t the only path to a better brain. Albert Einstein reportedly said that music was so much a part of his life that if he hadn’t been a physicist, he would certainly have evolved into a musician.

Well, it does appear that making music can have a significant impact on how well different areas of our brains communicate with each other.

review published in 2014 suggests that individuals with musical training — such as those who learned how to play an instrument — have improved connectivity between the two hemispheres of their brains.

Another creative pursuit that improves our cognition is play-acting. A study from 2004 found that older individuals who were encouraged to participate in theater performances had improved psychological well-being after 4 weeks. They also exhibited better cognitive functioning.

In particular, the participants experienced better word and listening recall, as well as improved problem-solving abilities.

Physical health benefits

“Studies have shown that […] individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians, and better immune system functioning,” write Stuckey and Nobel.

randomized trial that involved people undergoing HIV treatment showed that expressive writing helped participants to boost their immune system.

While it is unclear why people who wrote about their experiences on a regular basis exhibited an increased CD4+ lymphocyte count.

Both writing and listening to music have been linked to an improved immune system response.

CD4+ lymphocytes are key to the functioning of the immune system, and they are one of the main targets of the immunodeficiency virus.

Writing was also seen to help with chronic pain management. People dealing with conditions that made them experience chronic pain had improved pain control plus a decline in pain severity after expressing angry feelings in written form over a period of 9 weeks.

Music therapy has immune system-boosting effects, as well. Music affects our brains in complex ways, stimulating the limbic system and moderating our response to stressful stimuli.

According to Stuckey and Nobel, listening to music “may help to restore effective functioning in the immune system partly via the actions of the amygdala and hypothalamus.” These brain regions are implicated in mood regulation and hormonal processes, as well as in the body’s inflammatory response.

Dance and the body

Creativity can also be a very mobile endeavor, and this mobility brings its own set of benefits. For instance, a study focusing on breast cancer survivors found that dancing helped to improve shoulder function in participants and that it had a positive impact on their body image.

Moreover, dancing can be a fun way of staying — or becoming — fit. In 2014, a woman who lost 100 pounds just by sticking to her dance routine became a media sensation.

Recent research has shown that Zumba programs can improve blood pressure and triglyceride levels, while previous studies linked aerobic dance with better weight management.

A Korean study from 2007 that looked at hip-hop alongside aerobic dancing found that participants not only experienced improved psychological moods but that they also reported lower levels of fatigue.

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted,” wrote Mary Shelley in her introduction to Frankenstein, “does not exist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.”

From 1818 — when Shelley’s novel was first published — to the present day (and well before that, and well beyond now) creativity has been the ultimate means of reigning chaos in and drawing benefit out of it.

So, if we can bring some order to our mental or physical states just by journaling, smudging paint, or learning to play the guitar, why not take advantage of that and welcome more art into our lives?

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Dark Moon in Aquarius ~ A Partial Solar Eclipse

Today we have a New Moon in Aquarius at 1:05 pm PST (4:05 pm EST) with a partial solar eclipse (which although not as strong as a full eclipse it will still pull on you so best not to make big or new decisions today). We are moving through February with no Full Moon and that my friends, is something I have not written about before! With February sandwiched between two months of Blue Moons (yes, we will see two Full Moons in March as we did in January) we can look to this Moon as an awesome time to deeply seed intentions and watch them find stability and grow strong over these next weeks and months.

This week has a lot going on alongside of this New Moon/Partial Solar Eclipse with yesterday being Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday and tomorrow starting the Chinese New Year of the Earth Dog. Aquarius is an air element, sharing her energy of knowing as she inspires us to connect to our power of vision or innovative ideas ~ a time to remember you are a light! Aquarius is ruled by Uranus the planet of revolutionary vision ~ giving us the ability to visualize new possibilities, YES!

Tomorrow, February 16th, we move into the Chinese Year of the Earth Dog, a year where our successes our gained through justice and honesty ~ values that are grounding. Dogs are loyal, honest and trustworthy and the earth element enriches her character by adding stability ~ we can all use this stable, reliable energy this year.

So let us do a simple ceremony to draw down the new moon energies ~ using our hands to create and bring those intentions into our body reminding us of where we want to focus our attention to bring our thoughtful intentions to fruition!

Sweetgrass Talisman

 

  • Collect the following:
    • Sweetgrass braid
    • Beads
    • Ribbon
    • Permanent marker for writing
    • String
    • Your intention
  • Place your into a bowl of water and let it sit for 30 minutes or more ~ if you like you can add some essential oils to the water (Myrrh is nice for the nervous system or Geranium for soothing and calming the mind or delicious Neroli!)
  • While your sweetgrass is soaking take a few minutes to open your ceremony with sound, or fire (candle) or a few minutes of meditation to gather your intention and energy. I love to start by lighting candles and then drawing a tarot card to center and bring my intention into my energy field with symbols and words ~ however you like to start your ritual do it!
  • Drain the water and pat your sweetgrass dry with a paper towel
  • Choose two strands to work with and try to find ones that are the same length and have more than one strand at the end (i.e. the start thick at the top with one strand, but break into two or three strands before you reach the end).
  • Take your sweetgrass and string a few beads onto the strands ~ you can use clay, gemstone or any beads you have that can bring your intention forward! use the ones that are shorter or the longest depending on where you want to have the beads landing in your braid. Once you have them where you want them, tie a small know around them (this is why it is important to wet the sweetgrass so that it is pliable and does not break).
  • Next, take your ribbon and write or draw your intention onto the ribbon ~ depending on the ribbon you use you can write on one side or both sides.
  • Once you are done writing your intention and adding all your beads take the ribbon and the two strands of sweetgrass and tie them together at the top with your string. Tie it tight so that it does not come apart once you start braiding them all together.
  • Braid your three strands ~ one ribbon and two sweetgrasses. You can have someone hold one end of the string while you braid or place the braid between your feet holding it with your big toes (!) and braid it ~ you will find the way that works best for you.
  • Once you get close to the bottom of the strands ~ tie another string to hold it together.
  • BEAUTIFUL!!!
  • Now hang it in your room or somewhere in your house, car, etc to keep your intention rolling through you and your thoughts until the next Full Moon or until you feel it coming to fruition. Say the words you wrote as well as think them ~ it will be a magical two weeks!

Keeping our energy moving with thought and symbols is a way to become a creative influence in our lives and others. Keep your vision clear and know that your possibilities are infinite.

Flowers For Dyeing

The flower garden provides an abundant supply of natural dyes. Leaves and flowers of many of our most beautiful flowers also are suitable for coloring wool or cotton. Good recipes and instructions for dyeing yarn and cloth are available in many books. Including mordants, such as chrome or alum, when you dye will not only fix the colors but will bring out sharper, brighter shades.

We created a pdf file for this post because of the largeness of the content; I sincerely hope this works. Our first time creating with Google Docs!

Flowers For Dyeing

flower color wheel

Full Moon in Cancer

LET US WELCOME THE NEW YEAR
FULL OF THINGS THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Yesterday we stepped into a Full Moon in Cancer at 6:24 pm PST (9:24 pm EST).  Get outside tonight to see her rise ~ she will be spectacular ~ catch her light. The Moon rules cancer and loves being in her sign ~ a sign of water.  Cancer reconnects us with our oceans of emotions ~ a time to nourish ourselves and connect with our true feelings. Water is healing and one of the best conduits for our emotions ~ a great time to bath, hydrate or make soup!

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the New Year or this Full Super Moon than taking a self-caring, ritual bath. Taking time for you on this first day of the year is a wonderful way to start the year with a self-care practice. Let this bath ritual guide you into the year in a way that is nurturing and intentional. You can create your bath time so that it not only becomes a self-care ritual but a daily/weekly/monthly cleansing and healing. We are blessed to have access to clean water ~ something we take for granted daily.

Water Ritual:

    • Begin by selecting what you would like to add to your bath ~ it can be bath salts, essential oils clay, oatmeal or apple cider vinegar. Each has its own healing properties.
    • Begin your bath water and place your salts, clay, essential oils etc. under the running water while thinking of the healing properties each one offers.
    • Gather your candles, diffuser, music, tea or whatever you choose to bring with you into your bath to better connect with yourself.
    • Before getting into the bath, bring forward your intention for the water to share with you ~ for this moment, this day, this week, this month or this year!
    • Once in the water, connect with the element of water and her elemental spirits. If you have added essential oils, connect to the smell and plant spirits. They are there to work together with you and your body.
    • Sip your tea, listen to your music, take in the candlelight and just be. Nothing more. Give yourself at least 5-10 minutes of connecting with the feeling of the water on your skin ~ how when you move, it moves, what it feels like to place your face in the water or immerse completely. Connect with the smells of the essential oils and how they make you feel. Watch the candlelight and where you connect with it in your body. As you sip on your tea follow it down your throat and into your body. Be aware of your body and how it interacts.
    • Notice how you feel when you get out of the bath ~ are you relaxed? smiling? what feelings did it invoke?
    • As you let the water out of the bath thank the elemental spirits for sharing with you and bless them all.

Soup Ritual:

    • If you shop today for your soup ingredients, be happy with all you encounter at the store, be kind, be joyful as you choose what you are to place in your water and body!
    • As you cut the vegetables ~ be grateful to the earth and all those that touched them to get them to your table (farm workers, truck drivers, store hands etc)
    • As you add them to the water, thank them for the healing they will offer your body with their vitamins, proteins and minerals.
    • Bless your food prior to eating.

We are all stepping into the New Year with hopes and dreams ~ let yours begin with a self-ritual that is nurturing to your body and soul.

Turning of the Wheel ~ Winter Solstice

Today, December 21st,  we celebrate the Winter Solstice ~ a turning of the wheel that gives us the opportunity to connect with the subtle changes and cycles of the season and help us attune with the inner changes and cycles in ourselves. This is a beautiful day in this hectic time to remember the miracles that surround us daily.

Solstice comes from the Latin words, sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand still. It was named Solstice as it appeared as if the sun and moon stopped moving across the sky ~ as if time stood still for just that mere second ~ and maybe it does!

Although it is the longest night of the year, it is also the start of the solar year ~ the rebirth of the Sun. It can be a beautiful time to remember that our lives are part of a larger energy, always changing, always renewing.

I hope you all placed your intentions under the Dark New Moon in Sagittarius ~ the last new moon of the year. Now as we move into the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, I hope that you will bring those intentions forward again ~ or if you did not place your intention, this is a second beautiful chance to plant and seed.

Taking time for rituals with personal meaning serve as touchstones to help you to open to receiving and internalizing the magic that surrounds you. Here are a few simple rituals for you. Remember to create your space. Light a candle, incense or sage or gather some Evergreen to fill your house with the smell of the woods ~ evergreen symbolizes the continuity of life, protection and prosperity.

  • Host a Tea Ceremony: do this alone or with friends and family. Below is a lovely tea with herbs that are magical for this seasonal time:
    • Any type of apple (or use apple cider)
    • Star anise
    • One clove
    • One cinnamon stick

Wash and cut the apple and boil it in ~ 5 cups of water for 5-6 minutes. Add the clove, anise and cinnamon stick and let everything sit for 5-10 minutes. Strain and if you like add raw honey or another sweetener.

Sit in the dark and drink your tea ~ find a place where you can experience quiet and tune into the silence while sipping your tea. No need to think about what to do ~ just enjoy the taste, smell and feel of the tea in silence. Silence and darkness are soothing to the soul. Drink the second cup. Open to your magical self and all that you carry inside ~ its there for you.

  • Get a pomegranate and take out 12 seeds ~ throw each seed, one at a time, into a fire (fireplace, fire pit or even just a bowl of burning incense. Make a wish for the New Year as you throw each one into the fire. And don’t be afraid to dream big <3.
  • Light a circle of candles and make loving wishes for friends, family, co-workers or even those in need as you light each of them.
  • Watch the sun rise or set ~ ring bells or throw out seeds to offer to the winter birds. Give thanks for both the darkness and the light.
  • Celebrate with silence. Reflect on the stillness of this shortest day. Cultivate stillness in yourself by honoring the solstice with an hour of intentional silence.

And please, if you cannot do any of these rituals on the winter solstice itself ~ please make a time between now and the new year to share a quiet moment with you. Let it be your present to yourself.

I believe in miracles.