Bringing children closer to nature through yoga and art

By Camelia Chinmayashakti

Children playing with flower petals.

Flower showers are one of children's favorite mandala making moments

More easily recognized in the West as art, mandala making is a yoga and art based activity that helps reconnect us with nature through a pleasurable personal experience. This summer I was happy to facilitate mandala making for children and adults using rose petals, grains, leaves, twigs, spices, pebbles, conkers, cones and herbs. Mandala making is mostly known in the UK through the Buddhist tradition within which the emphasis is on the execution of traditional designs with precision and focus.

The yoga tradition of eco-rituality offers a different experience of mandalas. Through the Bihar School of Yoga I learned to create mandala using not coloured sand but natural materials which I would collect from nature with the aim of experiencing their positive effects. Shifting the emphasis from the need to execute mandalas with precision and focusing in on connecting with the colours, aromas, shapes and textures of seasonal material allows children and adults with little experience to explore the calming and inspiring effect of mandala making.

Children recognize instinctively the beauty and diversity of the natural materials and are easily attracted to play and create. Jamie Rose who had her daughter Millie at the Tiger Mandala Event at the V&A Museum of Childhood this August commented: “I’ve never seen kids engaged in an activity so easily and for so long. I had to drag Millie away.” As children get captivated by the play, parents have a chance to relax on the canvass laid out on the grass and become more in tune with their own capacity to relax and enjoy themselves. “As addictive as play-doh! And I’m 36,” said Glenn who participated with his daughter Amelia at the mandala at the Folk by the Oak Festival this July.

My inspiration to facilitate mandala making experiences for children and adults living in London was motivated by a passion to raise environmental awareness without preaching. Living in an urban environment has its rhythm and although we appreciate the bouts of sunny weather in the summer, the bloom of cherry trees in the spring and the burnt sienna autumn leaves it is easy to become oblivious of the natural environment around us. Our interaction with nature is no longer intimate. We have mastered ways of overcoming the restrictions she places on us by supplementing our food choice with imported goods, heating our flats in cold weather and turning on the electricity bulb when night falls or before the sun rises.

It’s difficult to make nature relevant to a city dweller because we don’t see her, feel her, touch her, hear her, smell her on a daily basis morning, lunch and dinner. We are surrounded by too many man-made objects and require little assistance from nature to recognize her power and might, her generosity and our immense need to be in harmony with her.

Say you had a relationship with nature that was as close as the one you have with your children – you see them all the time, you feed them, bathe them, you clothe them, you console them and give them attention and love. You live with them day in and day out, immersed in their presence, the rituals of your day conforming to the needs and requirements of your children.

But how are you to have such a close connection with nature that would create in you the necessary motivation to want to make adjustments in your lifestyle that would help nature prosper like you would do to see your kids flourish? In the city interacting with nature in an intensive manner is difficult – you have the bus to catch, the chair in the office to sit on, the window on the 5th floor to look out of.

Children on a carpet making mandalas.

The mandala making set up is like a 'fragrant sandpit' where children can explore their creativity with products of nature.

Children need to read their books, play on their computer games, watch TV, text friends, do chores at home and sleep. Where and when will they let nature in – the occasional trip to the park, the random potted plant on the window sill, the annual trip to the countryside. The reality of our urban life is such that some children have become so alienated from nature that they see soil as dirty and unpleasant. They do not associate soil with the glory of a food giving media because to them the joy of food is acquired from a shop or refrigerator.

Mandala making uses yoga techniques to put participants in a more relaxed and positive state of being through the beneficial effects of a tactile experience with products of nature. One of the key features that sets mandala making apart as a pleasurable and valuable activity is that it provides an unstructured activity within a safe space where children and adults can develop a more intimate relationship with products of nature and learn to relate them to their own experience of self.

“I think it’s nice to give children the freedom to explore. They learn a lot by taking risks and experimenting without having to adhere to a structured exercise,” said secondary school teacher Sue Johnson whose child got to experience a mandala in a garden near Regent’s Park in May. Bringing children closer to nature through play helps not only their emotional, physical and social development but also helps sensitize them towards being more considerate and aware of our environment throughout the seasons and the need to be in harmony with ourselves and nature.

Camelia Chinmayashakti is a mandala artist, photographer and edible landscape designer. She runs Sea Mandala workshops for children and adults outdoors during the summer, and would like to find opportunities to run seasonal mandala workshops for children in schools and nurseries. See seamandala.com

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