journal art therapy

Sharing Healing Arts & Relaxation Experience

Art Therapy at Living Beyond Breast CancerOn any given day, people are stressed; the economy, families, aging parents and raising children.  Research shows that having a hobby you love can offer mental, physical and spiritual benefits that may  improve your health and well-being.  Add being sick to the stressors of everyday life, and scheduling hobby time might help your immune system by decreasing cortisol.  Hobby time becomes a very beneficial distraction therapy.

Robert Reiner, PhD, a New York University psychologist and author of a study mentioned in the Journal of American Medical Association, showed that sewing was more relaxing that playing a card game.  George Washington University psychiatrist Gene Cohen, M.D., author of “The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain” and an expert on the health benefits of creativity for older adults, says that trying new things and being creative‚ by singing in a choir, taking dancing lessons, painting or doing crossword puzzles or brain teasers‚ promotes brain plasticity (flexibility and growth) and even prompts our brains to rewire, which may fend off dementia and help to maintain health. “When you challenge the brain, your brain cells sprout new connections, called dendrites,” he explains, “and new contact points, called synapses, that improve brain communication.” Crafters know that crafts de-stress.  When you are engaged in a craft, your attention is to your work and for a “moment in time” your worries, anger, obsession and anxiety temporarily are put on the back burner.

Engaging in a hobby that you love, whether it is photographs, gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, quilting, throwing a pot on a wheel and other hobbies, can distract you from your worries, by making you be present in the moment.  Hobbies can give you a sense of accomplishment; allow you to be quiet, empty your head of the days’ events, to center yourself, to be still.

Conversations with patients over the years have allowed me to know how hobbies give them immense joy.  Years ago I worked in a Dialysis Center where we actually put on a Patient’s Hobby Day to highlight their arts and crafts.  Returning from a recent conference I remembered that day.  I realized that it is important to encourage patients to discover or rediscover their creative side, that it is therapeutic during their treatment time. I now encourage massage therapists to engage their clients in conversations about hobbies, share them on bullentin boards that can be viewed by other patients.

The Relaxation Response, a feeling of bodily and mentally calm that’s been scientifically proven to enhance health and reduce the risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression,  happens whether you are meditating, yoga, receiving a massage or engaged in knitting, sewing, painting, or any other craft.  If patients share their activities, that might encourage other patients to think of activities that they might engage in. When patients continue or even try a new hobby, their Quality of Life may  improve during treatment.  Engaging in conversations that highlight patients’ hobbies might encourage other patient to realize how important it is to knit that afghan for their grandchild or complete that scrapbook for their daughter.

It is because I have seen first hand how my pottery time centers, calms and makes me focus on the task at hand and empties my head of chatter, that I love talking to patients about their hobbies.  Not everyone wants a massage or wants to participate in physical activities.  Emphazing the mind-body connection of quilting, knitting or any other similar activity helps patients to see the positive aspects of hobbies as relaxation techniques.  

 Doorway to Healing Cure, Summer 2011 article that highlights suvivors finding meaning through art.  I believe loosing one’s self in an art project can calm the mind of useless chagger and help your immune system.


It has become apparent to me that I miss working with clay and miss the company of people who love to play with clay.  As I return to a hobby I love, I hope to encourage everyone to find time to create something that will be cherished by your friends and family.

Kayaking is my quiet time, the rhythm of the stroke of the paddle as it slices through the water, calms me in a way I can’t explain. Working within my physical capacity, never more that 4 hours, but I delight in the fact that I don’t hurt at the end of the day.

As a line dancer in 3 dance classes, I have come to see the importance of a social community that engages in an activity. They cheer you on during difficult times, celebrate “good times,” and share everything in between. In any given class I attend, there are survivors, dancers or family members in treatment, or posssilby dealing with the loss of a family member. We are all there with each other to SHARE for each other. The diversion in learning harder and harder routines, empties our heads of stressful times. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments, as our friendship become as important outside of class as in the one hour lesson. There are students of all ages, but for most of us in the 50+ age bracket, we dance to; laugh, eat chocolate, look good in our jeans, drink wine, celebrate life and for community of like minded line dancers.

As an oncology massage therapist, I realize the importance of time spent at play, it renews me, allows me to take care of myself so that I can take care of others. It is not just the physical exercise to heal tissue from overuse, too many massages that take care of others, but leave us with repetitive stress injuries. The emotional healing of meaningful hobbies is just as important. The good news is that when we realize how important to create for inner peace, joy, and bliss, we can fully engage in conversations that help explain to our clients how important hobbies are. Of course you will get all the reasons that they can’t; too busy, no money, extra family responsibilites along side treatment. Hopefully in time, you can show them how small increments of time can be beneficial to them, that it is good medicine; body, mind and spirit.

Toni Muirhead at Flash Mob event in West Palm Beach, FL
Toni Muirhead at Flash Mob event in West Palm Beach, FL

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