Monday, August 26, 2013

The Healing Power of Celtic Art: How Celtic Art Helped Me Heal My Body and Mind After Giving Birth

So I just had my first baby this past May and the recovery from labour and delivery was not exactly what I had envisioned. I had imagined myself strolling through the Halifax Public Gardens eating an ice cream while pushing a peaceful, sleeping baby along in a stroller just weeks after he was born. I had imagined myself walking the dog while my newborn babe slept cuddled up to my chest in a snuggly.
I had imagined myself roller-skating at six weeks postpartum and being able to practice yoga again.

Now, those of you who are already mothers might be saying to yourselves, "Angela, what were you thinking?"

But my expectations were not as far off as to what the books and the nurses tell you. I was being optimistic, I suppose, but not unrealistic, but boy, was I ever off in my expectations of what my healing process might look like.  I had a hard labour, 22 hours, a natural birth as I had hoped it would be, but I was not counting on pinching a few nerves in the process, thereby rendering my left foot practically useless. Walking down the hall became a huge challenge, and when they sent me home from the hospital three days after giving birth to a beautiful baby boy, I knew it would be a long time before I'd be taking my little one on a leisurely stroll through the Public Gardens.

I was aware that moving around and getting outside were vital for my mental and physical health, and yet my life-lines to the outside world were as shut down as the nerves to my left foot. My husband, family, and friends were very supportive, but I knew I needed something that I could do on my own in order to cope. Without being able to safely walk carrying my baby, what could I do? What could I do to keep myself sane for the next two months while I sat around my house waiting for nerves to heal?

I could draw, that's what I could do.

So while my baby napped, I drew. I drew celtic spirals and celtic knots and celtic vampire bats and celtic mermaids and celtic versions of fairytales. I drew celtic spiders and celtic angels and celtic butterflies. I drew and drew and drew and drew some more. I drew celtic art 'til my head was spinning and I went to bed seeing the under/over repeating patterns of the never-ending lines, weaving in and out, over and under, until I drifted off to sleep. I drew when I should have been napping, because I knew that it was the celtic art that was keeping me going, the never-ending lines keeping me sane when my life had changed so much. My baby slept and I drew. For the first month, that's all I knew. Breastfeeding, diaper changing, and the never-ending lines of my celtic art.

Over time, my nerves healed and I could walk again. Hurray! I thought, I can go out an play! But again, my hopes were dashed, as my energy level was so low that a twenty minute walk felt like running a marathon.

And so I kept drawing. More celtic knots, more never-ending lines, more celtic spirals that spun endlessly into infinity. And my baby slept on.

And now, almost four months postpartum, I feel like myself again. I'm roller-skating almost every day, doing yoga, walking the dog with a sleeping baby in a snuggly, and yes, we have even made it to the Public Gardens several times. And while my baby sleeps, I still draw, maybe a little less now that I feel that I have my mobility back, but the lines must go on and so I draw whenever I can.

It wasn't until recently that I discovered that there is such a thing as Celtic Art Therapy, an experimental form of art therapy where clients trace the lines of closed line celtic knotwork, apparently taking clients out of the fight or flight response and into a more mindful, meditative cognitive state. And while there is only limited observational evidence and case studies to go by, I cannot help but reflect on my own subjective experience in creating celtic art and drawing all of those lines.

Is that what I was doing, drawing my brain back from fight or flight into a more meditative state? While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest this is so, I am curious as to what you think.

Below is one of my earlier pieces of celtic art, my rendering of a celtic "T" from the Book of Kells.

Now, you may have to zoom in super close, but grab a pencil or a pen, and start tracing the red line, start anywhere you like, and just notice what happens to your body and your breath as you follow the knots under and over one another.

Does it make a difference in your brain chemistry? Does it change how you think, how you breath, what you feel? Does celtic art have true healing power? I'll leave that for you to decide.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay., Twitter: @AngelaDMac