Adult Colouring In: Can you Colour your Way to Mindfulness?

In the last while adult colouring in has exploded in a big way. Books of colouring in now regularly top the adult best seller lists and I’ve even seen pots of pencils with photocopied sheets of patterns in GP waiting rooms sitting with the magazines.

Many of these colouring books tout themselves with words like mindfulness, therapeutic and stress releasing… i got to thinking is this a way we can encourage mindfulness practice?

Studies have shown that colouring in pre=drawn patterns can significantly reduce stress and depression (1). Colouring complex geometric patterns such as mandalas can induce a meditative state that reduces anxiety (2). Dr Stan Rodski is an Australian neuropsychologist who also authors his own colouring books, who has seen people relax and been able to measure the physical proof in heart rate and brain wave changes. he believes the repetition and attention to detail helps people switch off from other thoughts and focus on the moment (3).

So grab those coloured pencils and pens, find those pictures and pattern outlines. there are benefits to be found in colouring in past our primary school years. And to take those benefits to another level add in mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a quality that can be brought to bear on any activity, similarly any activity can be done mindlessly. So it seems just grabbing a picture and some textas might not in itself make this a mindfulness practice. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”. Similarly in DBT mindfulness requires “intentionally living with awareness in the present moment; without judging or rejecting the moment; without attachment to the moment”.

So this seems to suggest if I’m absent mindedly colouring away thinking of something else, or if my focus in colouring is making it look perfect to upload to instagram for lots of likes that afternoon I’m not being presently aware.  If I’m determined to make it look prettier than the last one there will be judgements at play. And if I’m focussing on my colouring to avoid thinking about that problem I have I’m shutting off my full awareness – an excellent distraction but not mindful! And of course I’d never sit colouring until the picture is finished ignoring the other things I wanted to achieve in my day and call it mindfulness (clinging to a pleasant experience here!).

To colour in mindfully throw yourself into the experience (participate mindfully). Colour with awareness of what you are doing and the thoughts that arise. Stay in the present moment and while colouring, just colour (do it one mindfully). Be non judgemental about your work – it is as it is! And finally be effective, not right. As wonderful as colouring might be DBT gives you an arsenal of skills for your life including different mindfulness practices so be sure to mix things up! And if it’s not for you that’s all good too.

Kathy MadsonComment