Ways to compliment your breathwork session with mandalas

What is a mandala?

Mandalas are artistic geometric compositions shaped as circles that follow different patterns in each layer. The word mandala comes from Sanskrit and it means circle. Mandalas have been used as spiritual awakening tools and symbols of prayer in various traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Shintoism. The journey of the mandala, starting from the outer corners ending in the centre, reflects the spiritual journey of the person. Moving closer to the central point is like travelling through the layers of the unconscious and progressively reaching the point of ultimate oneness, cosmos and wholeness. 

Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung pioneered re-introducing mandalas to Western civilisations. Jung studied artistic manifestations of the unconscious and suggested that the mandala represents “psychological expression of the totality of the self”. In the past few years, mandala drawings have gained more and more popularity and are used as a tool to relax and heal. Now, you can come across colouring and drawing books with mandala themes in most bookstores. Mandala drawings are even being used as a form of art therapy. 

There are different kinds of mandalas used for various reasons. The main types of mandalas include: Teaching Mandala, Healing Mandala and Sand Mandala.

  • Teaching Mandala is a symbolic practice, where every figure represents a philosophical and religious approach. Practitioners aim to create a mandala that is a visual, symbolic manifestation of the ideas and values they have learned. 
  • Healing Mandala is an intuition-based mandala, practiced as a meditation technique. Internalising wisdom and facilitating states of calmness is the aim. 
  • Sand Mandala is made from different coloured sand. It is used by Buddhists as a traditional practice. The focus is on emphasising the temporality of life. 

Symbols in mandala

“Mandala is a geometric configuration of symbols”, where each shape represents a symbol. Most mandalas include a symbol for Buddha’s mind such as a tree, flower, or jewel. The centre point of the mandala is free of dimension and it symbolises the starting point of devotion to the infinite. The center is surrounded by layers of circles with various patterns which represent the entire universe or the universe within. The outer layer of the circle symbolises “the cyclical nature of life”. 

Some of the most common symbols in mandala include:

  • The eight-spoke wheel represents Buddhism, a journey into liberation and rebirth. 
  • The bells represent clarity and emptiness in the mind, allowing space for wisdom to fill in. 
  • The upward triangle symbolises action and energy whereas the downward triangle means creativity and a hunger for wisdom. 
  • The Lotus flower is a sacred symbol that represents balance and spiritual awakening.
  • The sun represents the universe, energy and life. 

Mandala and Breathwork

Following an intense breakthrough in breathwork, the client tries to find ways to integrate this experience. Breathers need to translate this new-found wisdom into their daily lives, internalise the insights and let go of things that don’t serve them anymore. Expressing oneself through art, journaling and sharing your insights can be examples of the integration process. These complementary techniques are usually encouraged and guided by the breathwork facilitator. Many practitioners encourage clients to experiment with mandalas as a tool for the integration process and it is especially common in the holotropic breathwork approach. 

After the clients meditate on their insights, they need to express, internalise, and process the experience. Mandala comes in aid at this point. They complete the visual/right brain aspect of the integration process. Creating something symbolic and concrete helps to seal the experience. 

Clients are provided with relevant tools or taken to a room with art supplies where they can express their creative urges after the breathwork session. Here they are asked to create their own mandalas. Some clients express their breathwork experience with one mandala, some create more than one, each representing different layers of their journey. Breathers share their mandalas with the group in sharing sessions and interpret their experiences. Openness, vulnerability and honesty during the session enhance the therapeutic process and increases the bonding within the group. Mandalas are not interpreted by the facilitators in the breathwork integration process. Breathers explain and interpret their own art. 

Creating your own mandala

You don’t need professional supplies to practice mandala, with a quick visit to the supermarket you can obtain all the tools you need. The list of things for mandala drawings are: sheets of paper, pencils, a drawing compass, a ruler, a protractor and some markers and fineliners/ink pens of your choice. You can draw mandalas using only a pencil however colouring, bolding and defining the patterns using different supplies can boost your creativity and inspire you greatly. Pencils have an uncertain finish whereas bold pens mark stability and make the lines come alive. Thus markers and various colouring pens are recommended. 

Mandala is not a test, how the final result looks is irrelevant. What matters is surrendering yourself to the rhythm each circle takes you and expressing your inner world freely. Mistakes should be welcomed and accepted as a part of the process. Do not hold back if you want to try something experimental. Creating something that mirrors your inner world is much more important than creating something pretty. Try to channel your breathwork experience and the important insights you have gained during the journey. 

To start your mandala session take a few minutes to relax and reexamine your breathwork journey. Observe the visions and mental images going through your head and try to find a pattern. Planning your mandala can be helpful since it can help you focus better on the rhythm. Listen to your spirit, your body, your emotions, your mind and what they want to express on the paper. Try to liberate what you have been holding back and let the creative energy flow through your body. Take a minute to choose your pens and markers. Start doodling on the paper and let the image spill to the paper naturally. For a satisfying result, it is important to hear the rhythm of the mandala, letting the harmonious patterns speak to you. 

The mandala is a part of your therapeutic process. Drawing and perfecting the mandala, repeating the same patterns again and again, is a deeply relaxing experience that can increase your ability to live in the moment. Your creation is aimed to reflect a holistic expression of your journey and your inner self. It is a drawing of wholeness representing your whole and infinite self. 

Mandala activities can be supported with pleasant relaxing music or a completely quiet environment. Make sure you sit in a comfortable position and there are no distractions in the environment. Mandala requires your full focus and devotion. 

To draw benefit from the therapeutic effects of mandala ask yourself the following questions and reach important inner conclusions. 

  • Are there recurring themes in your mandalas? 
  • Do your drawings take inspiration from or represent any traumas and problems you have experienced?
  • Are there any clues about your future in these mandalas?
  • Does your mandala art tell a story?
  • Are there special and unique lines and patterns that have meanings for you?
  • Which colours did you use in your drawings, what might they mean?
  • Is the overall tone of your mandala hopeful and light or is it a darker picture?

Learn more holistic techniques to elevate your every day wellness in our Breathwork Method Practitioner Training.


References

Grof, S., & Grof, C. (2010). Mandala drawing and the processing groups. In Holotropic breathwork: A new approach to self-exploration and therapy (pp. 91–98). State University of New York Press. 

How to create a Mandala in art therapy. (n.d.). https://www.creativecounseling101.com/how-to-do-mandala-art-therapy.html. 

Mandalas & art therapy. Hoffman Institute UK. (2020, January 20). https://www.hoffmaninstitute.co.uk/mandalas-art-therapy/. 

Mandala drawing. Holotropic Breathwork in the Desert. (n.d.). https://breathworkinthedesert.com/workshop-info/breathwork-integration-activities/mandala-drawing/. 

Theory and practice of holotropic breathwork. (2016, April 13). Holotropic Association. https://holotropic-association.eu/how-to-ensure-safety-quality-criteria-for-gtt-facilitators. 

What is a mandala? History, symbolism, and uses. Invaluable. (2020, September 23). https://www.invaluable.com/blog/what-is-a-mandala/. 

Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, September 4). Mandala. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala. 

Zagrobelna, M. (2017, October 16). Art therapy: How to draw a mandala. Design & Illustration Envato Tuts+. https://design.tutsplus.com/tutorials/art-therapy-how-to-draw-a-mandala–cms-29570. 

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