Can a 5000 Year Old Ancient Art Improve Your Mental Health?

by Moheeni Paul
henna art and mental health

Well, let’s explore this! Did you know that henna existed for over 5000 years and it has been documented that mummies in Egypt used henna as a cosmetic?

Henna tattoos may be a recent trend but you’ll be surprised that the tradition of applying henna to the body has pretty much touched the majority of cultures worldwide. Mehndi is the Hindi word for henna, which you may have come across. Henna is the Persian name for a flowering shrub called Lawsonia Inermis and can be found in very hot countries such as India, Africa and parts of Australia. The dried henna leaves are crushed into a fine powder and mixing oils and sugar makes the paste. Henna is known for having medicinal benefits such as reducing fever, headaches, athlete’s foot and burns. As well as it’s medicinal use; the very natural and organic substance when applied to the skin creates a lovely orange stain and has become a very popular form of art.

So what’s the link to stress and anxiety you might ask? Well, if you’re a fan of the social media world, you will see countless profiles of henna artists creating the most phenomenal pieces of art through the secret language of henna. Individual images depicted on the skin through this art form represents and symbolises part of a story for example, a peacock represents femininity and fertility. A mandala represents balance, unity and harmony. These images are depicted on the skin and are a form of self-expression. More and more artists are using henna or paint cones to design artwork on the body, candles, canvases, cards and even gift boxes. Whilst creating these, there is somewhat a form of meditation that’s involved in having the space to unwind, clear your mind and focus on creating intricate patterns using a technique that takes years of practice to perfect through the control of the cone.

The idea of creating spaces for individuals to take a henna cone and learn how to control the pressure of natural henna or paint cones and then apply it onto a surface to create an intricate pattern is somewhat very therapeutic. It means we just focus on that one single thing! Which in turn means, the clutter, the noise, the stresses, the anxieties we have and the constant disorganisation of our thoughts in our heads become less and less important as we concentrate on mastering this technique. Creating beautiful designs inspired by botanical plants, geometry for mandalas, real-life portraits, animals or patterns gives us a sense of freedom to be able to express ourselves and our creativity by feeling free to draw whatever we like without boundaries or rules (although there are a few simple rules on how to hold the cone…but who cares!) the point is, recreating a design using such an ancient art form brings about a sense of balance and really brings us back to thinking about the root of all our anxieties and stresses in the world.

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year” – www.mind.org.uk

This figure is huge and now there really is a push for earlier mental health interventions to take place. By simply introducing the idea of art paint sessions where individuals can take time out of the day to illustrate, paint, or even draw simply means they are giving themselves ‘self-care’ time to really bring that oxygen to the brain and breath. Painting using ancient art is not only therapeutic and relaxing but also a way of exploring new ideas and thinking outside the box. It’s a great way to get those creative juices flowing, to feel like a kid again and to be more courageous in a safe environment where there is no competition or judgement, and each to their own, every art piece is a form of one’s individual ideas and expressions of emotions so it can’t be wrong! The introduction of calligraphy has become a massive trend especially in the wedding industry and so the idea of applying a word, affirmation or inspirational quote to your body through a real tattoo or henna, means we are instilling a change in our thought process to either relive a positive moment or remind us of what we should believe in. I have a tattoo on my wrist which says “Patience is a virtue”. This is a reminder to myself every day that I should take one step at a time, keep things simple and not over complicate my thinking, and just be patient because things will fall into place. That, and the chances of mishaps is much less frequent when you go at a slighter slower pace and not at 100 miles an hour, which is how our brain feels, and that’s why it’s important that art creates the opportunity for us to slow down, take some deep breaths and just be in the present moment just like it says in the book by Eckhart Tolle ‘The Power of Now’.

I have taught several henna art inspired workshops including work with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and they’ve all responded in the same way “I feel so relaxed and peaceful when I create designs using henna”. There is something to be said about using art as a way of focusing our minds on clearing out the clutter, creating more clarity, breathing space to unwind and express ourselves in a more non-verbal way. We have now introduced Mandala Henna Paint Nights, Prosecco Afternoons and are continuously seeking to support organisations through therapeutic art workshops to add more value to individuals in the workplace. We have also introduced #TheMehndiMindsMovement which is a new unique initiative in North London whereby individuals from all walks of life who may be suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, trauma or boredom can enjoy some hot drinks and biscuits, whilst picking up a natural henna cone and paint in a two hour drop-in session to bring a community of people closer together.

The power of art is endless and definitely a way of relieving stress and anxiety whether it be in the private/public sector or at home, it’s a great way of tapping into your creative mind and finding your “YOU” again.

Next workshop: Mandala Henna Paint night at Drink, Shop & Do on Thursday 9th May, tickets available here.

To find out more, why not catch Moheeni on the socials? 

www.moheenipauldesigns.com 

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