Exploring the Role of Creativity and Somatics in Mental Wellness

January 5, 2024

Two elements that are essential for an overall sense of mental wellness relate to how we harness our innate capacity for creativity and how we engage in somatic healing practices. Let’s look at each one separately and then how they are synergistically interconnected. 

Understanding our Creative Nature

We are innately creative beings not just for our capacity for decorative or expressive arts but because of our bodily and mental capacity to constantly adapt and adjust to the life and the world that we are living in; the world and environment that we are breathing in and out and constantly relating to. 

We need not look solely at the treasures of art works human beings have created throughout civilization to acknowledge our innate creative nature, but at how we regularly navigate the twists and turns of everyday life. How we problem solve and take care of one another and continue to show up even when we don’t feel like it. 

Harnessing our creativity for health and wellness does not mean we must exert some effort to develop artistically notorious projects, but that we take time to honor our life force, known as prana in Yoga philosophy, and that we recognize how much creative energy we are using every minute of every day just to be alive.

Using Expressive Arts for Mental Wellness

There are a number of benefits to harnessing our creative nature for our mental wellness. Much of what we experience and make meaning of in life exists on a nonverbal basis, that is why engaging in creative expressions and expressive arts therapy can be so powerful and unlocking that  words alone cannot reach. 

Expressive arts therapy and activities can include a wide range of practices such as doodling, painting, working with clay, listening to and moving to music, as well as journaling and writing exercises and dreamwork. Given that creativity involves the use of imagination, when we engage in creative initiatives we access underutilized parts of our brain and allow the habituated and overactive parts a chance to rest.

Also, intentionally engaging with our creativity allows for catharsis and the release of pent-up emotions. Using other means of expression aside from verbal narrative can allow the  externalization of internal struggles in new ways. When we create space for and allow a fresh perspective on feelings, we can foster a sense of release and emotional freedom. 

We can also gain a sense of empowerment through creative expression which leads to the discovery of new ways of problem-solving, increasing self-esteem and can offer a sense of control over our narrative. Working creativity through the expressive arts encourages flexibility in thinking and promotes adaptability and improvisation and play. 

Somatic Practices and Therapy

Our bodies are our vehicles to carry us through life, and we are embodied beings. We have all heard of the Mind-Body connection. Frankly, I think of our beings as being one “MindBody”, which is a singular unit in which the mind and body are not separate entities but one composed of multiple systems that are always in communication with one another. 

Our mindbodies are constantly sorting through and organizing millions of bits of information and  sensations, whether we pay attention to them or not, and information is constantly being absorbed and processed at lightning speed. 

Somatic work, which is derived from the Latin word soma which means flesh, is a method of going directly to the source underneath the stories and narratives as we tell ourselves. Somatic work is grounded in mindfulness practices that deepen and expand our awareness of our present experience of being alive in the here and now and attending to what we experience. 

Getting to the heart of what is in our lived experience is not always accessible through words alone and might not always be recognizable, nameable are easily decipherable. That’s why somatic work, and taking the time to bring mindfulness and attention to our unified mindbody can be so very powerful. 

Utilizing breath, stillness, movement, experimentation and discovery, working somatically with issues relating to trauma, relationships and life transitions for example can unlock new information and permit growth in ways that talk therapy alone cannot reach. 

The Synergy of Expressive Arts and Somatic Therapy

There is much overlap within both Expressive Arts and Somatic practices that lead to mental wellness. While our narratives are important, much of our story and what we find meaningful is stored on a cellular, somatic level. Expressive arts and somatic work can cut through cognitive blockages, providing illumination of previously unknown parts of ourselves.

Both expressive arts and somatic work can be meaningfully engaged with through the guidance of an experienced clinician, whether in a personal setting, within the dynamic of a group, or through practices you can explore independently in a secure and private space. And both practices require an openness to try something new, to explore and discover previously unreachable parts of oneself and a willingness to drop any agenda for a particular outcome.

These therapeutic approaches, in their unique ways, facilitate transformation by encouraging an attentive presence to the current moment. This process effectively quiets our often overactive, negatively biased minds, which are prone to getting trapped in repetitive patterns of stories and narratives. By allowing ourselves to experience the present without judgment or the urge to alter it, we create a space where genuine change can occur, paving the way for newfound insights and understandings to surface.

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