How art-making changes your brain waves

How art-making changes your brain waves

This blog is inspired by a recent talk I attended by the elder midwife, Whapio, who spoke about peak experiences at the Wise Woman Herbal Conference in Asheville. Check out this interview where she speaks about altered states of consciousness and more. Below is my understanding of what I heard, written through the lens of art therapy.
Did you know that making art sends you into an altered state of consciousness that actually changes your brain waves? If you’ve made art recently, you’ve probably felt it but may not have known what was actually going on. In ordinary reality, we operate in beta brain waves. This is where we think, make decisions, follow directions, and write instructions. A new parent in orchestration mode is 100% in beta. Beta is important so we can have jobs, drive our cars, and strategize about keeping our little ones safe. But it’s not a place where we heal or create.When you make art, a shift happens. Your breathing slows. Your thoughts slow. And your brain waves slow – from beta to alpha. This is an extraordinary place where our senses are alive. We hear things with new clarity, we see the richness of color, and feel the textures of the materials we’re working with. Alpha is the place where we experience flow, a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (check out his TED talk). Artists are familiar with this place. It’s where you lose your sense of time and place as you are consumed by the creative task at hand.

As you continue slowing down into theta brain waves – and maybe this is what separates art therapy from an art class or crafting –  is you develop a sense of deep knowing or understanding that is very distinct from thinking. And, it’s more profound than the benefits of creativity and flow. As an art therapist I am lucky to be a witness to this incredible process. Here’s what I see: my client is in the midst of working on a piece. She’s immersed in her art, painting about something in her life. Seemingly out of nowhere she starts crying.

She’s startled by her own revelation and caught off guard by the truth she’s just seen in her artwork. 

These moments are unexpected, powerful, and clarifying. I call them “aha” moments and I see them happen to my clients all the time when they shift into theta, where our subconscious lives. Theta is about our relationships, our past, our dreams. It can be dark and heavy and also insightful and incredibly meaningful.

Beyond theta is delta, the deepest state of consciousness where our most profound experiences live. It’s a rare treat to have a delta experience while art-making, though you can bet it will be life-changing.

With this beta knowledge of what your brain goes through while art-making, see if you can track your own experience of going into an altered state of consciousness through art-making. See what you notice as you transition from thinking, to feeling, to deep knowing and what you learn about yourself in the process.

Happy art-making from your companion, guide, and witness,

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