Part of Bali’s fame comes from its creative arts: carving, painting, dance, puppetry, weaving, batik, furniture, and many more. When you’re in Bali not only can you observe all of these arts, you can also learn and participate in them yourself.

Now the question is, what does this have to do with healing, medicine, or wellness?

Before I answer that question from my ‘Western’ viewpoint, let me answer it with a story from here in Bali.

A Balinese family had a member who was ill and getting sicker.  They’d been to many healers but nothing was working.  They visited another healer who, after communing with the spirits (channeling), told them they hadn’t perfomed enough ritualistic offerings so they needed to make a special offering to the gods. They decided to engage the performing arts as the mechanism to appeal to the gods for greater help curing their sick family member. The family commissioned a dance performace, along with the ritual and ceremony appropriate for such an important event.  Then the dance was performed for the gods and the healer-priest, as an offering appealing to the gods to aid the recovery of the sick family member.

While this is not typically how Western cuture approaches illness recovery, performing arts, nor spirituality, it is an interesting idea.  Which brings me back to the original question, what, if anything do creative arts have to do with healing?

Does art have the power to heal? Or is it simply pleasure for the senses? Can creativity and working with the hands aid recovery? Can engaging in creative pursuits prevent illness?

Let me throw a couple ideas out there…

  • Engaging in creative arts, whether that be drawing, dancing, playing music, flower arranging, etc can relieve stress, much like exercise.  And with stress relief we experience falling levels of cortisol, anxiety, anger, all of which can tax the body tremendously leading to a weaker immune system. Therefore the creative arts can actually help our bodies be healthier, stronger, and more resistant to common illnesses and other stress-induced ailments.
  • Creating art can be an outlet for emotions that might not otherwise be vented.  By releasing these emotions and letting them flow through into the artistry, they are not taxing the body in ways I mentioned in the emotion-body connection.
  • Enjoying art, whether by creating it yourself or viewing others,’ lifts our mood, enlivens our spirit, distracts us from our ‘daily grind,’ and overall can lead to more enjoyment of our life.  And happiness (or lack thereof) is increasingly cited as a source of wellness.

Here is another story for those who prefer Western medical viewpoints: a family member of mine had a long painful battle with cancer.  In fact, she was still in pain and suffering dearly for it. So her doctor, a good’ol M.D., suggested she try a jewelry-making class.  He said this would help her regain strength, control, and dexterity in her hands, while distracting her from the pain. Art or working with your hands can be thought of as a type of moving meditation. As she’d always had an interesting jewelry, she followed his advice and found it helped her immensely: giving her a creative outlet for her emotion and pain, allowing her to engage in something she enjoys while producing wearable art, and helping her to better manage her pain.

Now, if that’s not considered the “healing arts,” I don’t know what is!

What is your experience with or assessment of arts or creativity affecting health, healing, recovery, wellness, or happiness?