By Moheeni Paul
CN: stress; anxiety
Henna has existed for over 5000 years. Henna tattoos may be a recent trend, but the tradition of applying henna to the body has touched the majority of cultures worldwide – it has even been documented that the ancient Egyptians used henna as a cosmetic on mummies. Mehndi is the Hindi word for henna and henna is the Persian name for a flowering shrub called Lawsonia Inermis, which can be found in very hot countries such as India, Africa and parts of Australia. The dried henna leaves are crushed into a fine powder and mixing oils and sugar makes the paste. It is known for having medicinal benefits such as reducing fever, headaches, athlete’s foot and burns. As well as its medicinal uses, the natural and organic substance creates a lovely orange stain when applied to the skin and has become a very popular form of art.
So, what is the link to stress and anxiety? On Instagram, you will see countless profiles of henna artists creating phenomenal pieces of art through the secret language of henna. Individual images depicted on the skin can represent and symbolise parts of a story. For example, a peacock represents femininity and fertility; a mandala represents balance, unity and harmony. These images are a form of self-expression. More and more artists are using henna or paint cones to design artwork on the body, candles, canvases, cards and even gift boxes. Having the space to unwind, clear your mind and focus on creating intricate patterns using a technique that takes years of practice can act as a form of meditation, a space for mindfulness in a busy, chaotic world.
“By keeping the mind focused on just one thing, the clutter, the noise, our stresses and anxieties melt away”
Creating spaces for individuals to learn and perfect their henna technique is extremely therapeutic. By keeping the mind focused on just one thing, the clutter, the noise, our stresses and anxieties melt away as we concentrate on mastering this singular technique. Creating beautiful designs inspired by our own imagination gives us the freedom to express ourselves without any boundaries or rules. Recreating a design using an ancient art form fosters a sense of balance and brings us back to thinking about the root of all our anxieties and stresses and how to combat them.
According to Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year – a frighteningly high percentage. Simply building art into our daily routine, where individuals can illustrate, paint, or draw acts as an amazing form of self-care. Painting using an ancient art is not only therapeutic and relaxing but provides a way to explore new ideas and think outside the box. It is an amazing way to get the creative juices flowing, feel like a child again and be courageous in a safe environment where there is no competition or judgement. Every art piece is a reflection of our individual ideas and emotions, so it cannot be wrong.
“Art creates the opportunity for us to slow down and simply be in the present moment”
The introduction of calligraphy has become a massive trend, particularly in the wedding industry. The idea of applying a word or inspirational quote to your body through a real tattoo or henna means we are instilling a change in our thought process to either relive a positive moment or remind us of what we should believe in. For example, I have a tattoo on my wrist which says ‘Patience is a Virtue’. This is a reminder to myself everyday that I should take life one step at a time, keep things simple and be patient because things will fall into place eventually. Our mental health improves when we move at a slighter slower pace and not at 100 miles an hour, which is how our brain often feels. Art creates the opportunity for us to slow down and simply be in the present moment.
I have taught several henna-art inspired workshops, including work with students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They have all responded in the same way, saying that creating art allows them to feel a kind of inner-peace. Focusing our minds through art allows us to clear out the clutter, create more clarity, unwind and express ourselves in an instinctive, non-verbal way. We have now introduced Mandala Henna Paint Nights, Prosecco Afternoons and are continually seeking to support organisations through therapeutic art workshops to add more value to individuals in the workplace. We have also introduced #TheMehndiMindsMovement, which is a new unique initiative in North London whereby individuals from all walks of life suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, trauma or boredom can enjoy some hot drinks and biscuits, whilst picking up a natural henna cone and paint in a two hour drop in session to bring a community of people closer together.
The power of art is endless and can relieve stress and anxiety at home or at work. It is a great way of tapping into your creative mind and finding your ‘you’ again.
More information about Moheeni Paul and her henna workshops can be found here:
Featured image by Rob Horner