Yoga & Wellness visits Soul Art Center to understand how art can play a crucial role in healing people and empowering them.
When you walk in for an art class at this enormous studio in Downtown Dubai, you do not get a technical session on painting. It is about more than holding the brush “correctly” or painting on canvas. One moment you could be tracing your entire body on a big piece of paper and the next painting with your hands and legs while swaying meditatively to music.
“A few years ago, I visited a hypnotherapist for depression. It was suggested I work on my creativity chakra (energy point) by doing something that I love. In 2010, I embarked upon a journey of self development by exploring alternative therapies. I mixed these therapies with art and began to heal. I was able to express my feelings, de-stress, control my frequency and my energy,” recollects Lama Mardini, the founder of Soul Art Center.
Lama, who grew up surrounded by the rich art and culture in Syrian capital Damascus, has loved to paint since childhood. However, she got caught in Dubai’s fast-paced life while working as a marketing research manager and lost her connection with art.
In 2015, however, she quit the corporate life and decided to help others heal in a space that provided a combination of therapies with a focus on art. “In Dubai, one has the option of visiting a wellbeing centre for specific therapies or take courses that teach technical art only. I wanted art and therapy in one package; as for me, art was about much more than producing paintings,” adds Lama.
The centre seeks to empower people through art and movement. Says Lama, “While researching for the centre, I found a study published in a national daily which stated: ‘60% of UAE residents were highly stressed due to the lifestyle (long working hours under pressure, meeting deadlines, competitive environments)’. Many have difficulty expressing, or even acknowledging their emotions. This could lead to development of physical illnesses. Thus, the idea is to help people connect with themselves at a different level.”
Lama’s team believes that everybody is an artist and has the ability to express their emotions through art. The focus is not on the end result (the painting) but the expression. “It does not have to look good. The moment you get in the mood and use the brush or the pencil, there is art. Like music, art also reduces stress, clears the mind and connects you within,” says Lama.
The centre offers a range of workshops customized by a team of healers and therapists. “We combine techniques like neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), meditation, yoga, relaxation, dance, drawing, painting, energy healing, chakra healing and hypnotherapy. Each of the workshops have specific themes such as loving yourself, balancing chakras and releasing feminine energy among others. While some sessions focus on drawing and painting, others involve meditating and dancing,” Lama adds.
For instance, during a session on ‘self love’, the participants are asked what loving oneself is like, how they converse with themselves and what tone (empowering or weak) they use. “We combine meditation, movements and painting activities to enable people with introspection. We see them opening up during the two-hour workshops held for two weeks and afterwards turn their lives around,” says Lama.
Similarly, for the art therapy sessions, the participants are told that they are not there to make beautiful paintings. They are guided step by step on how to feel and move. In Lama’s words: “The sessions are about looking into ourselves and not the outcome or completion (of the painting).”
Draw Your Movement
In this 90-minute workshop, the participants sit on a life-sized paper and use charcoal to draw their own movements that flow with the vibe created by the background music.
According to Lama, this activity makes you feel like you are in the centre of the universe. The background music depends on the session’s theme. For instance, if the focus is on releasing anger, the track could be an instrumental one with handpan or piano.
“Charcoal is a good element to hold for energy as its soft texture feels good. The drawing could progress symmetrically or in any other direction. This process helps the participants with self expression. The end result does not matter,” says Lama.
In this session, the participants help each other trace the outline of their entire body on a life-sized paper. The next task is representing how you are feeling, emotionally or physically, in various areas of your body, by drawing or painting those areas inside the traced-outline.
“Participants get deeply involved in this activity. For instance, one may paint their stomach area black representing illness,” adds Penny. Lama says, “The process of this activity is similar to hypnotherapy or meditation that allow you to identify issues within your body. It could be that a person’s psyche is making them stressed, which reflects on the physical and biological body. Thus, by drawing or painting parts we are giving that issue a voice and an image.”
The next part of the session is to trace one’s body or parts again, depending on which area they want to focus (change or beautify) on. “Like other therapies we work on the issue energetically. This time you use colours that you like and draw things that make you happy. The image is now a representation of how you want to feel in that part. Some tend to draw animals or flowers that could mean emotions such as strength or calm. During this process you heal; that area in your body heals,” says Lama.
Movement: The focus is on one of the seven chakras every session. The instructor teaches dance steps relevant to the specific chakra in focus. “Each session will have a quick dance for all chakras and then narrow down to the one in focus. For instance, while working on the root chakra, the steps would focus on strengthening and balancing the legs. The instructor will use words associated with earth while you are drumming and rooting your body,” explains Lama.
Art: In the process of drawing their chakras, the participants try to understand what each one means and the energy behind it. Lama adds, “This also helps understand the psychological aspect of the chakras. The activity helps you introspect your emotions and express them. For instance, relationship and trust issues may emerge from the heart chakra. One needs to talk about it and meditate in order to heal. Again, the final drawing, the visual representation is not as meaningful as the expression of it.”
Penny Tawil, chief operating officer of Soul Art Center says, “Most of our facilitators are certified hypnotherapists, yoga and meditation instructors, energy healers and NLP coaches, while some are visitors to the city. The entire team sits together to brainstorm ideas for the unique and specific workshops. We combine our skills to create courses that help people express themselves through art and movement.”. The centre also offers other workshops like ‘Unleash Your Feminine Flow’, ‘Silent Retreat’,‘ Soul Dancing’ and ‘Spirit Dancing’.
“Many individuals feel stuck in life as they are not connected with their inner selves. Nor do they know how to do so. It is as if society is giving them life goals and they go on ticking those boxes like they are on autopilot. The art and movement therapies basically help to get you out of the autopilot mode and re-programme yourself. It is a constant process of finding yourself and what you really want. We help you discover your passion on the journey to self discovery and work towards it. This empowers people,” says Lama.