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Art Therapy Exercises to Move Emotions in a Creative Way

In Ayurveda, we pay attention to the wellbeing of the emotional body (the Vigyanamaya kosha) just as much as the physical body. When I work with clients, we always address their emotions. The key isn't to always be happy and blissed out all the time, which is impossible and not healthy. The goal is to be present and honor of all emotions as they arise, with compassionate curiosity.

The more we stuff our emotions, bypass them or feel shame about the fact that we are sad, mad or scared, the more imbalanced our emotional body becomes. Emotional inflammation can trigger physical inflammation, due to the connection of the vagus nerve to our digestive tract, and the impact our nervous system and endocrine system has on the health of all cells in our body. This is why so many people don't get the relief they hope for from eating a strict diet, taking supplements, or trying to be positive all the time.

Though these specific art therapy exercises aren't technically Ayurvedic, they are helpful, and a playful way to move emotions and help us be more self-aware.

While there are licensed art therapists, you can do many of the same art therapy exercises at home that you would do in a clinical setting. You don’t have to be a great artist to receive the benefits of art therapy. Anyone can draw, paint, color, sculpt, or create a collage. Skill is irrelevant in art therapy. The act of creating is what’s important.

Have fun with these art therapy activities:

  1. Make a collage with photographs that you love. Go through your old photos and make copies of some of your favorites. If you are missing a loved one who has passed away, it can be very nourishing to make a collage of pictures that make you think of them.

  2. Create sock puppets and put on a play. Making a couple of sock puppets will put a smile on anyone’s face. You can act out a scene from your life. Maybe you want to re-enact a fight you had with your spouse. Or help a child vent their frustrations related to a bullying incident.

  3. Build an altar. Create an altar that is unique to you and will help you to connect fully with your spiritual side. This altar can represent something you are wanting to create more of in your life, such as courage to ask for a raise, or represent a loss that you are still experiencing. The altar can be objects you already own and found objects in nature. You can add and remove pieces as you feel moved.

  4. Create a sculpture that matches your mood. Get your hands on some clay or Play-Doh and let your imagination run wild. Feeling anxious? Create a sculpture that represents that feeling. Dealing with some rage? See what ideas you have for representing rage with clay.

  5. Draw a picture that represents utopia to you. What is your version of a perfect life or a perfect world? Draw it. What makes it so perfect for you?

  6. Create a painting that represents your childhood. What are the most important moments of your childhood? Will you include only positive memories? Or are you in the mood to get your hands dirty and deal with the negative events, too?

  7. Draw or paint a difficult emotion you are feeling. Find a way to represent them in a piece of art. It could be as simple as a tangled ball of a yarn, or a page covered with black ink.

  8. Draw or paint your positive traits. Do the same with your positive traits.

  9. Make a dreamcatcher and find a place to hang it in your home. If you don’t know what a dreamcatcher looks like, look it up online. Create your own version of a dreamcatcher and put it in an appropriate place.

  10. Draw a scene from one of your nightmares. This can be an actual nightmare, or one of your worst fears or worst case scenarios. Since we’re on the subject of sleep and dreams, recreate a scene from a recent bad dream. Remember, it isn't about depicting it in a way that someone else looking at your artwork could interpret the details of the dream or fear, it is about expressing it in a way that feels authentic and moves your energy.

  11. Create a map of all the personal connections in your life. Put yourself in the center and diagram all of the relationships you have. Compare that to all the relationships you had 10 years ago. What’s changed?

  12. Paint a rock. List your values on the rock and put it where you can see it each day.

  13. Draw your safe place. Use any medium you like. Create a place that makes you feel safe from the world.

You can keep a sketchpad and a small set of colored pencils or crayons on your coffee table or bedside table so you can express yourself whenever you need to. You don't need to wait until you have a whole day, the right art supplies, or know how to do it. Be like a child and relish in how satisfying it feels to create and honor how you feel. Instead of numbing out with too many episodes of a TV show or scrolling on your phone, experiment with one of these activities and see what happens.


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