Many relaxation techniques involve added physical activity–running, jogging, aerobics, etc.– that our students often do not have the time, energy, or babysitters to practice. Consequently when I decided to teach a relaxation technique in my student success class, I chose drawing mandalas for several reasons. Mandalas are an ancient part of every culture, so there is no religious or cultural resistance to drawing them. By contrast, Yoga and Tai Chi have an Eastern/Indian cultural association, and Transcendental Meditation has some opponents among Christian denominations. Examples of mandalas can be found in stained glass windows, for example, making them acceptable to most Christian denominations.
I have been drawing mandalas since 1995 when I was searching for a method of relaxation as my father went through the process of dying. I was an exhausted caregiver and a working mom in need of stress relief that was not physically demanding. In various catalogs, I discovered the books about mandalas that I have listed in the resource section below. I found that drawing mandalas brought me much needed relief from stress.
- To present a method for reducing stress in students’ lives through an easy relaxation technique
- Two or three sheets of white copier paper with a 4” to 6” circle drawn just slightly above the middle of the vertical page per person
- Several colored pencils per person. NOTE: I avoid ink markers because they can run out of ink at the most inopportune moment, introducing frustration and distraction into the classroom
- Examples of mandalas (your own drawings and/or books with sample drawings of mandalas)
- CD player
- CD of relaxation music. Avoid using any music that has a recognizable theme or lyrics because the thought will distract from the focus on the design. (See suggested music in Resources section below)
- Handout to give students at the end of class (Appended below)
1. Since I usually do this class near mid-term, I begin with the following scene: “It’s 1 a.m. You have just finished your homework. Your body is exhausted, but your mind refuses to shut down to go to sleep. What are some things you can do to relax?” Record a list of options on the board, and then have the class evaluate each one to determine if it is a wise choice considering tomorrow’s activities and responsibilities. Most of the time, the suggestions include calling a friend, watching TV, drinking alcohol, etc., options which aren’t the most productive ways to relieve stress at 1 a.m., so I begin the introduction to mandalas based on the handout that I will give them later. I promise them an option that is almost FREE, doesn’t disturb anyone else, works quickly, and leaves no hangover.
2. Have students take their pulse for 30 seconds, multiply by two, and then record the number in their notes. That is their current heart rate. When they have finished drawing their mandalas, ask them to take their heart rate again to discover any difference in rates. Emphasize that the student must take his or her pulse whenever he/she finishes, not to wait for the entire class to finish.
3. Have students clear their desks completely, remove coats, etc. I ask them to place items at the back of the classroom to remove distractions from their tabletops.
4. Begin by telling a brief history of mandalas and show them examples. Using the book by Judith Cornell, I show examples of the lovely prints from various cultures and mandalas drawn by Cornell’s students. (I mark these pages with small sticky notes so that I can turn to each easily.)
5. Then I explain how I began drawing mandalas for my own stress relief and show examples of my early mandalas and later ones that show my own style beginning to emerge. To help them turn off their Inner Critic, I explain that there is no right or wrong. Whatever relieves their stress and pleases them is right.
6. Distribute the paper, allow students to choose the colored pencils they want, and establish the following guidelines for success:
- Keep drawing for 20 minutes.
- Keep the pencil touching the paper unless you are changing colors.
- If you do not know what to draw next, simply color over an existing part until the idea for the next part forms.
- Do not talk to a neighbor because you are interrupting their experience.
- Stay in your seat unless it is an emergency.
7. Turn on the music, and tell students to take two deep breaths, which they are to exhale slowly. Place your pencil in the center of the circle and begin drawing. Remind them to take their pulse rate again when they finish.
8. After 20 minutes, ask the students to stop drawing. Ask them to hold up their drawings so that others can see. Process their experience of drawing mandalas, including any difference in pulse rates.
NOTE: I resist the temptation to walk around and see what the students are drawing. I believe it is distracting to them. I often draw part of a mandala with them as I keep track of the 20 minutes.
OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: The class that participated this semester had about 18 first-semester students present—with a mix of male and female, racial diversity, traditional and non-traditional ages. I followed the process described above, and students produced mandalas that were colorful and creative. Most students were pleasantly surprised at their results. Student evaluations were completed by the classroom instructor during the following class period. Waiting to complete the evaluations allowed students time to process the experience and try additional drawings or try them with their children if desired. Here is what some of them said:
- The mandala worked for me because it took my mind off other things.—a chance to relax and let the world go.
- This exercise worked for me because it helped clear my mind. My mind did not wander.
- The exercise and music released some stress—actually it almost put me to sleep. It did relieve a headache. I’m no artist but I felt a release while drawing and coloring the mandala.
- Once you get rid of the tension for that moment, the problem still exists, so what are you to do?
- This exercise did not work for me because I am not a person of art or colors, etc. This is not an avenue for me to relieve stress.
- It worked a little bit because it helped me to concentrate on one thing and helped to get my mind off other things for a while.
- The mandala exercise put my stress at ease. I feel so relaxed and my mind is at a peaceful state. In the beginning of the exercise, I was skeptical about coloring/drawing. I do not think that I am a good drawer, so at first I was going to just draw a tree with grass, but once the music began to play, I just went with the flow.
- The mandala exercise did work for me a little bit because as I got deeper into it, I did forget about other things and started focusing on my work. I wouldn’t use it to relieve my stress. It made me sleepy. At first, like always, I was not willing to try the exercise because it seemed extremely elementary—like I was going back to grade school. Soon I understood how it worked as I tried it, but I don’t think it will help me much.
- I think the exercise did work for me. I felt relieved and it kind of woke me up because I was feeling a little drowsy. But at first I felt silly doing this. I’ll try anything to lose some stress.
- The exercise felt like a grade school coloring exercise. I didn’t really get fulfillment from it.
- I don’t like to draw or color so it was not fun. I didn’t want to try it because I don’t like to draw.
- It worked for me because it made me relax and think about life’s stages and how they occur.
LESSONS LEARNED: This is the third time I have taught this procedure in the Human Relations course, so the process works quite smoothly. The key to success seems to be to remove the sources of distractions from the surroundings and the behavior of other students. While I taught the college success course, I had students draw mandalas in class three different times plus create three more outside of class. After the students had drawn the sixth one, we created a gallery in the classroom where students could hang copies of the ones they liked the best. The benefits, in addition to relaxation, included students’ learning to respect rights of others to work uninterrupted and increased self-esteem and confidence.
IMAGES OF MANDALAS
- Numerous examples of mandalas: http://www.mandalaproject.org/What/Index.html
- Mandala Exhibitions from Ithaca College Math-Art Class: http://www.ithaca.edu/dani/classes/mandalas/mandala_intro.htm
- Mandala resources on the Internet: http://www.abgoodwin.com/mandala/ccweb.shtml#createweb
- Cornell, Judith, Ph.D. Mandala. Wheaton: Quest Books, 1994.
- Mandali, Monique. Everyone’s Mandala Coloring Book. Billings: Mandali Publishing, 1995. (Mailing address: P.O. Box 21852, Billings, Montana 59104).
- Mandali, Monique. Everyone’s Mandala Coloring Book (Volume 2). Billings: Mandali Publishing, 1995.
- Dreams of Angels. Chuck Jonkey. (1996) Catalog available at Metacom. Inc., 5353 Nathan Lane, Plymouth, MN 55442. Telephone: 612-553-2000.
- Peace and Quiet. Sandro Mancino. Reflections of Nature. Canada.
- Relax. Jeff Wolpert. Reflections of Nature. Canada. .
HANDOUT FOR STUDENTS: Creating Mandalas
1. Mandalas are designed to calm your mind.
2. They are especially effective when your body is too tired to exercise and your mind is racing or when you need to be still and your body wants to race.
3. They can be drawn in any size circle with any media.
4. A pencil and white paper is an easy way to begin.
5. Traditionally the mandala is given a name, and the date is placed on the sheet.
6. Children respond well to drawing mandalas once they understand that the goal is how long they can take and how slowly they can work. Drawing or coloring with your children is relaxing for both of you.
–Marcia Backos, Program Director, Bryant& Stratton College (OH)