Mandalas are circular designs that represent wholeness. The word mandala derives it's name from the Sanskrit word for circle. In the western world, a mandala often comes in the form of printed design on paper or depicted in artwork that is admired for it’s intricate details and vivid colors. What a mandala means depends on the context in which it is used. From modern-day coloring pages and stress-reduction drawings to eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. The world of mandalas is rich in symbols and meanings.
The mandala has a long history and is recognized for it's deep spiritual meaning and representation of wholeness. Many people and cultures have attested to the mandala’s intrinsic meaning. Buddhists, Hindus and Native American tribes have all derived meaning from the mandala and it's captivating beauty. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung has called it “a representation of the unconscious self.”
The “circle with a center” pattern is the basic structure of creation that is reflected from the micro to the macro in the world as we know it. It is a pattern found in nature and is seen in biology, geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy. On our planet, living things are made of cells and each cell has a nucleus — all display circles with centers. The crystals that form ice, rocks, and mountains are made of atoms. Each atom is a mandala. Within the Milky Way galaxy is our solar system and within our solar system, is Earth. Each is a mandala that is part of a larger mandala. Flowers, the rings found in tree trunks and the spiraling outward and inward of a snail’s shell all reflect the primal mandala pattern. Wherever a center is found radiating outward and inward, there is wholeness–a mandala.
The very nature of creating a mandala is therapeutic and symbolic. The shapes and colors you create in your mandala will reflect your inner self at the time of creation. Your instinct and feeling should inspire and guide you through the process of creation.
Ultimately, you will be creating a portrait of yourself as you are when creating the mandala. So, whatever you are feeling at that time, whatever emotions are coming through, will be represented in your mandala.
As with most art therapy, it’s not about the final product…it’s about the journey. When you reach your destination, you will have a representation of something meaningful and personal…a snapshot of you for a brief moment in time expressed through your mandala.
A mandala is a map or record of a journey; so, draw your journey. The four sides of the outermost square of traditional mandalas are gates, so you might imagine entering your exploration of your journey from one or all edges of the paper. Making your own personal mandala can be both fun and enlightening as you strive to represent your characteristics, values and desires in this artistic form.
Some ways of thinking about our journeys can be:
From who I thought I was to who I really am
From outer to inner
From childhood to adulthood
From not knowing to knowing
From knowing to not knowing
Consider the meaning of some common symbols to determine if they belong in your mandala.
Circles: Circles can represent eternity or the infinite. In religious terms, a circle symbolizes unity, wholeness and protection. It can also symbolize the sun.
Triangles: Triangles represents the trinity of body, mind and spirit. Triangles with the point facing upward may symbolize spiritual growth, while those with the point down make represent the physical world.
Flowers: Flowers typically represent life and renewal.
Leaves: Leaves and vines often represent eternity or rebirth.
Hearts: Hearts are the universal symbol of love and compassion.
How to Draw a Mandala Outline
To draw you own mandala you will need a piece of drawing paper, a soft lead pencil, a ruler and a compass or a a stencil of circles. If you do not have a compass, you can use cups, bowls, a roll of duct tape or other round household object in the size you desire.
Trace a large circle onto the paper. Typically, you will want to make the circle as large as possible as this is the outer edge of your mandala, but you can make it smaller if you wish.
Draw a faint horizontal and vertical line through the circle dividing it into four equal quadrants. You can divide it further into 8ths if you prefer. These lines will serve as guides as you add your designs to the mandala and will help you determine the exact center of you mandala.
Mark the point where the lines intersect in the center of the circle. This is the center of your mandala.
Draw a small circle approximately 1-inch from the center dot so that the dot is in the middle of the circle.
Repeat the procedure drawing concentric circles spaced 1-inch apart until you are within 2 inches of the outer circle. This will create a wider circle around the outside of your mandala.
Adding Details to the Mandala
Now that you have the base of your mandala you are ready to begin adding your own designs to personalize it.
Draw a shape to fill the inner circle of your mandala. You may wish to draw a flower, a shape or even a special symbol. This should fill the entire inner circle.
Fill in the next ring of the mandala with the desired design and repeat the pattern all the way around to fill the ring made by the second concentric circle. Use the cross lines you drew earlier to keep the designs the same size and shape.
Repeat the procedure with each ring working your way to the outer ring.
Add decorative scrolls or designs to the outer ring to complete the mandala design.
Erase your guidelines drawn through the center of the circle.
Use a black permanent marker to outline the mandala design. Although this isn’t necessary it will give you a nice contrast and make the design and colors stand out.
Color the mandala with colored pencils or markers. Some prefer to use only two colors for coloring the mandala, but you can use more if you desire. Consider choosing a predominant color and an accent color for the majority of the pattern and add a splash of other colors throughout the mandala.
Benefits of Mandala Coloring
Modern mandalas we can see in coloring books or contemporary artwork are used as means to reduce stress, connect with oneself and appreciate forms of beauty in the world.
One study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association showed a significant increase in anxiety reduction when participants colored fairly complicated geometric patterns, such as those found in mandala coloring pages.
Here are just a few of the ways mandala coloring may be able to help you:
Decrease stress. Coloring mandalas takes a great deal of focus; you have to decide which colors should go in which spaces and work carefully to stay within the detailed line work. Focusing on these aspects helps the other problems and issues in your life start to slip to the back burner of your mind.
Ease depression and anxiety. Coloring has been shown to help with the physical and psychological symptoms associated with mild depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. One possible reason is that the repetitive motion of coloring acts as a self-soothing behavior.
Cultivate your creative side. Coloring in any form gives you a way to express yourself without worrying about what anyone else thinks.
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