Yoga and Adult Coloring Books: Reduce Stress, Inspire Play


Love it or hate it, the adult coloring craze has hit the mainstream. From bookstores to department stores, coloring books for adults have taken up their own fancy displays in our favorite stores. I can only assume these were a hot ticket item for holiday giving as they were strategically placed in highly visible displays in nearly every store I visited this holiday season. According to CNN, adult coloring books are also responsible for a recent surge in book buying. As a graduate of an English Lit. program, this makes me very happy. It also makes me very curious. Why is coloring for adults currently so popular? Has the current focus on self-care caused many adults to explore this pastime that was so dear to many of us as children?

As someone with young nieces and nephews, I admit to putting crayon to coloring book quite regularly—and to be honest, it is most always with glee. It's an opportunity to connect with these little ones over an activity that brought me hours of joy as a child. I decided to do some hands-on research, as well as some good old-fashioned internet sleuthing to unearth why coloring has become so intriguing to adults. I asked friends and family what they thought about the practice of coloring. Many exclaimed, "Well, it’s meditative, right?" Coloring is definitely relaxing, but I was a bit hesitant to compare it to my essential, daily meditation practice. Several other individuals that I spoke with responded less favorably, "Why wouldn’t I just create my own piece of artwork?" It seems, for some, the practice of coloring is seen as lowbrow, since the template is already set and the "colorer" is not actually creating anything "original."

Most of the time in my practice I prefer to turn down the decision-making process and surrender to a led class—similar to staying inside the already-created lines of a coloring books.

One morning during my home yoga practice, I made an interesting parallel between coloring books and my practice. I live on a beautiful and remote island in the Pacific Northwest, which doesn’t have a yoga studio. Therefore, excluding intermittent travel to nearby cities for workshops and classes, my yoga practice is largely a home-based practice. And while I love the freedom a home practice provides, I often find myself gravitating toward online classes, rather than doing a self-led practice. Why is this? As a 500-hour RYT I am fully capable of creating my own practice. So why wasn’t I? This is where the parallel comes in. Most of the time in my practice I prefer to turn down the decision-making process and surrender to a led class—similar to staying inside the already-created lines of a coloring book. When provided with a coloring book page, the pressure is off to create something from scratch, and the participant can simply focus on the process. Of course, there's still room for a level of creativity: we can choose our colors and whether or not we choose to stay in the lines. Similarly, in a led practice there is still room for self-expression through modifications and kramas (stages of evolution in a practice, sequence, or particular pose), yet the pressure is off to create a “from the ground up” practice. Creativity does not need to be an all or nothing pursuit.

If you find your curiosity (and creativity) piqued by the attractive coloring book displays at your local bookstore, but you're still a bit hesitant to indulge in the coloring craze, below is a list of the ways that surrendering to the practice of coloring can be beneficial for your well-being.

Coloring Books Combat Decision Fatigue

As earthlings in the modern world, we're bombarded with constant decision-making. Our lives have been sped up by technology and we're often expected to be available 24/7 to those seeking a response from us. We have lost the ability to "shut down" for periods of rest. Also, the amount of information available to us is staggering. We're constantly sorting and filtering new data. When we engage in a simple, focused, activity (such as coloring), we are able to pause this pressure on the mind to constantly make decisions, and, in turn, the brain has a chance to unwind from this decision fatigue—an uncommon (and essential) state of being for our hard-working brains.

According to Neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis, “...making a series of small, inconsequential decisions (teal or mahogany for this squiggly line?) may give us a refreshing sense of self-control after a long day of big, important ones.” Similarly, in a personal yoga practice, surrendering to a led practice takes away the pressure of creating a new sequence and allows us to concentrate on the simplicity of moving through a chosen practice with focus.

Not All We Do Has to Be Productive

Several individuals that I questioned about coloring said that there was no way they had time to sit down and color a page in a coloring book. What with the laundry piling up, errands to run, and emails to respond to, they said they simply wouldn't be able to find the time. And I feel where they're coming from on this. As adults, we allow ourselves to get caught in the belief that we must be doing something productive at all times and that anything left undone is a failure. There can be a massive amount of guilt involved in allowing ourselves downtime. However, we all know what happens when we don’t take time to recharge our batteries. We become depleted, ill, resentful. You can’t give from an empty well. Allowing ourselves even a short amount of time to simply be, without the pressure of offering something of tangible significance to the world, is essential to sustaining our appetites and energy for all that we must accomplish. If need be, start small. Set your timer for 15 minutes and allow yourself to pick up that colored pencil and create a refrigerator-worthy masterpiece.

Coloring Encourages Play

Life can get pretty heavy for us grown-ups. I know that I certainly lament days spent in pursuit of fun and play—the days of childhood. The secret is: There's no reason why we as adults have to give up on fun and play! There is no one watching us and waiting to scold us for enjoying ourselves. You have permission to allow yourself time for play in your day! Yet this can be difficult when we've forgotten how. Picking up a coloring book is an excellent and simple way to begin learning how to play again. No pressure, nobody needs to know. Crank up your favorite tunes, pick out your crayon colors, and have fun!

And It Promotes Stress and Anxiety Relief

Apparently, researchers began studying the psychological benefits of adult coloring before it became a trend. One particular study, recorded a decade ago, exposed a test group to a high-stress situation, then provided half of the group with a mandala to color in, and the other half with a blank piece of paper. Those given the mandalas showed a significantly higher reduction in anxiety than those who were given blank pages. The study concluded that the rhythmic repetition of coloring brought about a state of relaxation for these study participants. 

Coloring Teaches Our Brains to Stay Focused on One Thing

How many times have you checked your Instagram feed since you started reading this? Multi-tasking has been taken to a whole new level with smartphones and the multitude of devices promising to simplify our lives. Now, as we have access to more information, it is easy to become overwhelmed and feel as though we are constantly flitting from one thing to the next—never really allowing ourselves to become fully absorbed and focused on the present situation. Honing in on the intricacy of a mermaid’s tail, a peacock's feather, or a complex mandala forces us to be deeply focused on one task. And keeping our hands busy takes away the nagging addiction to check our newsfeeds. It also allows us some time away from screens.

Honing in on the intricacy of a mermaid’s tail, a peacock's feather, or a complex mandala forces us to be deeply focused on one task.

Coloring Encourages Creativity Without the Pressure 

Last but not least, coloring allows us to be creative without the pressure to create something from scratch. It also removes the pressure to produce something "significant" or "masterful." We are free to color outside the lines, if we like, or even abandon a coloring page partway through without fear of being reprimanded, missing a deadline, or having our work deemed invaluable. Most of us would welcome more creativity in our lives—or at the very least a reminder that we arecreative. We all are! However, creativity is a muscle that must be exercised in order to work. Many of us aren’t encouraged to be creative in our daily lives and soon lose or forget about this natural ability. Reawakening our creativity boosts a sense of self-worth, opens our minds to look at problems from a different angle, and illuminates more options for innovative thinking than our often rigid decision-making processes offer.

So, if coloring is a way for us to remember that we are creative, that we deserve playtime, and that we can have options to relieve stress and anxiety without medication, I say viva la coloring book!

About the Teacher

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Emily Trujillo
Emily is a RYT-500 and teaches yoga classes on San Juan Island, WA. She weaves her love for nature, myofascial... Read more