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Forget adult colouring books — Zentangle is the new way to relieve stress and meditate through art

HONG KONG — Flight delays bring out the worst in some people. But travel disruptions don’t bother Hongkonger Cindy Chan. She sees them as a chance to create a Zentangle, a relaxing doodle technique based on repeated circles and flowing lines that’s taking the world by storm.

Forget adult colouring books — Zentangle is the new way to relieve stress and meditate through art

Zentangle refers to the freehand drawing technique of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns.

HONG KONG — Flight delays bring out the worst in some people. But travel disruptions don’t bother Hongkonger Cindy Chan. She sees them as a chance to create a Zentangle, a relaxing doodle technique based on repeated circles and flowing lines that’s taking the world by storm.

Zentangle follows the mantra of “one stroke at a time” and is the practice of mindfully creating beautiful images from repetitive, structured patterns.

Often mistakenly called “Zendoodling” or “tangle doodling”, Zentangle was trademarked in 2003 by Americans Rick Roberts and Mary Thomas. While the name is relatively new, the practice is inspired by the Zen philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism that emerged around the 1st century AD and tunes into the value of spiritual development.

Many people today turn to the freehand doodling of Zentangle to find peace during stressful times. Ms Chan is somewhat of a “tangling-holic,” with no clean surface safe from her creative urges. She’s left her mark on shoes, hoodies, fans, wall clocks, phone covers, umbrellas, tissue paper (“Tempo brand is better than Kleenex”), rocks found while hiking and body parts.

“I went to the United States to keep my niece company because she was having knee surgery,” says Ms Chan. “Before her operation I did a Zentangle on her knee and joked that I had to make sure the doctor operated on the correct leg … The doctor and nurses had a good laugh.”

But Ms Chan is quick to point out that Zentangle is serious doodling, allowing people to be in the present, much like they feel when they draw, do calligraphy or engage in adult colouring books.

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Ms Chan says Zentangle helps people relax and stay focused, adding people have been known to enter a meditative state from “tangling”, a reason it’s often referred to as “yoga for the brain”.

It’s also had serious applications in the health care industry.

In 2017, the Royal Talens Foundation, a non-profit that promotes personal development through art, partnered with the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital in the Netherlands to introduce Zentangle to help the well-being of the 5,000 patients hospitalised there each year.

In Australia, two case studies published in 2017 in the online education platform Eric, showed that Zentangle helped develop children’s fine motor skills and enriched their language experience.

Zentangle workshops have been incorporated into programmes at Hong Kong's Caritas Jockey Club Heartspring Development Centre in Tsuen Wan, while they have also been introduced into some schools.

Hongkonger Marina Ma Wai-ling, a social worker at Caritas family counciling service for the past decade, says she caught the Zentangle bug on a visit to the US.

“I was impressed by how easily it reduced my stress levels,” Ms Ma says.

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Now she uses Zentangle in her workshops, starting with a three-minute breathing exercise at the beginning of each session. “I also encourage participants to draw slowly, one stroke at a time. After each drawing, I ask participants to share their feelings,” says Ms Ma.

And the feedback has been positive.

“One participant who suffered two miscarriages told me Zentangle helped her focus and keep calm, and she still uses it at home,” Ms Ma says. “Others have said they didn’t expect to draw such beautiful drawings, so Zentangle provides them with instant joy.”

Those keen to get in the Zentangle zone can turn to the many books and videos that provide step-by-step guidance.

Ms Chan also holds workshops (she’s a certified Zentangle teacher), with the next one scheduled for August 16 at Hart Haus in Kennedy Town. The Zentangle Hong Kong Centre also hosts workshops.

At the Hart Haus art space, Ms Chan opens her “tool kit” containing a black pen and paper, known as tiles — the few tools needed for this form of art therapy make it not just cheap, but easy to do anytime, anywhere.

And the artistically challenged among us concerned they might get it wrong, don’t stress — there are no mistakes in the Zentangle world. Any “perceived” errors are incorporated into the overall pattern, providing a metaphor for life: nothing is perfect, but what matters is how you adjust to life’s imperfections.

Ms Chan, a film scholar who has taught in Taiwan and Texas, calls herself an “accidental artist”, and says she loves the “cultural democracy” of “tangling” that provides everyone access to making art.

“I have no formal art training but got addicted to Zentangle after joining friends at a class a few years back. Now I draw whenever, wherever I can. It makes me feel like a kid again. I never thought I could become an artist at my age,” says the “50-something” year-old, adding that she was surprised when she sold some of her Zentangle works at Hong Kong’s Affordable Art Fair in the past two years. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Related topics

art health Zentangle mindfulness wellness

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