Why is it that peaks in career inevitably lead to valleys in health? What was an unbelievably exciting professional development, editing one of the world’s biggest style and culture magazines, quickly turned into freelancer burnout. And I mean fast. That culmination of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress started to affect all areas of my life — migraines became more frequent, sleep deprivation was a norm, and even the simplest of workouts felt absolutely overwhelming. As for my attitude towards every new writing opportunity that came my way? Downright apathetic.
My peers in the media industry didn’t get it. “You’re living the dream,” they’d insist, implying that needing to slow down was somehow ingratitude. A port in a storm came in the form of my friend, an artist, who suggested that I give adult colouring a try. Citing its many benefits, she promised it would not only calm me, but also prove to be a welcome distraction from the overlapping deadlines that had taken over my life. And while it certainly sounded appealing, I didn’t quite trust myself to set my laptop aside and put colouring pencils to paper — unedited articles and half-written drafts beckoned. That’s when I went online in search of a better solution and stumbled upon something entitled Mandala Art Healing Meditation.
Admittedly, the first thing that piqued my curiosity was the fact that mandala is the Sanskrit word for ‘circle’. An avid traveller, I first picked up on the significance of this closed, corner-less shape during my 2018 trip to the chaotic city of Kathmandu. It was at Boudhanath, the centre of Tibetan Buddhism in the Hindu-majority country of Nepal where I observed monks silently walk clockwise around its white dome. Prayer flags of all colours fluttered in the wind and pilgrims spun the many cylindrical prayer wheels that contained scrolls of Buddhist mantras.
As with the many rhythmic activities that I turn to in times of stress, I found the repetitive nature of this environment relaxing, almost meditative. I started to circumambulate, suddenly aware of the toxicity behind the phrase ‘going around in circles’. At that moment, I had nothing to accomplish except walking the circumference of that stupa, and it felt like highly familiar territory — the circle is present in the repetitive spinning of whirling dervishes as well as in the obligatory ritual of tawaf, both significant in my Muslim faith.
Suitably intrigued, I made my way to Miracles Wellness Center on a Saturday morning, still exhausted from the workweek that hadn’t quite wrapped — and continued well into the weekend. A brief introduction on the mindfulness practice by Rreema Aidasahnni, a Wellness & Energy Healing Therapist, revealed that a mandala is a spiritual symbol that represents the universe in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Its centre, meanwhile, denotes the origin of all existence, the point from which everything began.
The mindfulness practice started with a short meditation, allowing participants a few moments to set intentions. And literally all I found myself craving was more emptiness, as counterintuitive as that sounds. Sure enough, meditation made for an awakening of my body, making me acutely aware of how laboured my breathing was. “The mandala will choose you,” said Rreema. And it did. While many of the mandalas on the table were wonderfully ornate, I gravitated instantly to the one that had an uncomplicated beauty, its simplicity ideal for my state of mind.
Starting from the centre, one’s intuition dictates what colours are chosen, and mine began with a vibrant orange and bright red to reflect the intensity of life. And once I made it past the centre, I found myself reaching only for shades of blue and purple to fill my mandala’s many layers — a yearning for tranquillity and peace, evidently. What followed was a colouring session during which I was blissfully unaware of time, an absolute luxury in a life riddled with deadlines. Yanked into the present, all I could hear was the sound of repetitive pencil strokes, each reconnecting me with my inner child.
All the sensations that I’d been ignoring for weeks were now screaming for attention, demanding to be heard — throbbing temples, stiff shoulders, sore wrists included. Inwardly acknowledging each ache and pain before continuing, I carried on colouring, becomingly increasingly relaxed with each layer. Rreema later explained that anxiety levels gradually decrease as you colour, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate.
Incidentally, mandala art simultaneously engages both the left and right brain hemispheres — the patterns are symmetrical, while the individualised use of colour employs creativity. Still, conventional art therapy that is more free flowing has its own place, according to Rreema, aiding in cases of trauma recovery.
At home, I’m often guilty of giving up on wellness practices halfway through, but in the serenity of that dimly lit room at Miracles, nothing else mattered until my mandala had been formed. The session wrapped up with a guided meditation to invoke the mandala’s energies to relax, unwind, and focus on the moment. This time around, following Rreema’s lead was a lot easier as she directed us to first focus on the centre before slowly taking in the mandala as a whole, layer by layer. Its hypnotic beauty took hold, revealing everything from stars and petals to the sun and a flower — all elements of nature that unite us as one.
Above all, the appeal of mandala art is its simplicity, its accessibility, making it a great gateway into the world of meditation. At a time when wellness is the ultimate aspiration, there is an undeniably dark side to the wellness industry, one that can sometimes feel exclusive and elitist. But not this. Today, I keep the mandala in my workspace, serving as a much-needed reminder to establish boundaries and schedule time off. “No” is a complete sentence, after all.