What is “wellness” and why does it matter?

Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.

“…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” – The World Health Organization.

“a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.” – The National Wellness Institute

    The above definitions of “wellness” are courtesy of the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services. I personally think of wellness as a survival skill for modern “first world living”.  It is an act of finding self awareness and using that knowledge to make choices that give balance in our life. It’s kind of like saying, I think I’ll have a salad for dinner because I ate a bowl of ice cream for lunch.


The UC Davis page does a great job of explaining one way of understanding the balancing act of well-being by outlining the Seven Dimensions of Wellness (Emotional, Physical, Mental/Intellectual, Occupational, Environmental, Social and Spiritual).

Seven Dimensions of Wellness Banner

Why does wellness matter though and how does one actually achieve it?

Daily life for many of us contain stressors and threats in the form of the foods we eat, the work we do, the entertainment we are drawn to.  When we practice balance in the seven realms described above, we can expect to feel less stress, more gratitude and fullness of life, healthier connections and relationships with people we love and more joy despite what hardships come our way.  We know ourselves better and begin to make choices that help us feel good in a big picture kind of way (as opposed to the in-the-moment-good you might feel when in the act of eating that bowl of ice cream).

Wellness is a way of being.  It is an active practice of checking in with ourselves and assessing the choices we make and the ways we think and feel and noticing when things don’t feel right and then learning ways to put things back in place.  For example I know that when my shoulders and neck hurt and I feel a headache coming on it means I feel stressed.  When I feel stressed it’s usually because I may be spending too much time in stillness wrestling with my own thoughts.  I know that I need to go for a walk, call a friend and get out in the world and out of my own head in order to feel more balanced and to maintain my wellness. This process begins with self awareness.

Self awareness doesn’t come easily to all of us but there are things that can help:

1. Keep a journal–record thoughts, feelings and things you did that day. Before long you may notice a connection between how you think and feel with what you do with your time.

2. Try a yoga class–yoga is a practice that uses movement to help build our awareness of our bodies and mind.  Other activities like dance, running, Qi-gong, martial arts, can help you build awareness too.

3. Change one small thing in your regular routine–maybe you decide to cut soda or energy drinks our of your diet for one week.  Notice how you feel? What felt hard? Did your sleep or appetite or thoughts, feelings or relationships change? If so how?

See what works for you! Share your experiences here if you’d like.

Art Gives a Face to Homelessness

“[Street artist] Skid Robot humanizes the homeless by incorporating them into his art, creating scenes in which the subjects aren’t just a faceless person, down on their luck.” –Huffington Post


Before becoming an art therapist, I volunteered for a time at a homeless shelter in Somerville, Massachusetts.  I worked with another woman and we did art projects with children, taught mothers how to make healthy meals on a tight budget and most of all formed relationships with the young, often single parent, families residing in the small shelter.  It was an experience that in many ways informed my path toward art therapy and mental health counseling.

Years later, I went on to do further work at a wonderful program called Housing Families, Inc. in Malden, Massachusetts, where I interned as an art therapist.  In that role I learned even more about how fine the line truly is between having and not having. With the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, any one of us can find ourselves in the category of “homeless.”

I’ve lived in Burlington, Vermont now for 4 years where my interactions with people who are homeless or at risk of becoming so have continued in a variety of ways.  I see how easily people turn a blind eye to the plight of those on the streets and in my time here I’ve continued to ask, “What can I do? How can I help?”  These questions come less from a place of feeling as though I know better or have something others need but more from a place of wanting to shine a light on humanity in order to help our society as a whole give those who’ve found themselves on the margins a sense of dignity and hope. I wish to promote the message that people faced with homelessness are part of our community regardless of the circumstances they live in.

Street artist, Skid Robot, in LA appears to have a similar motive to my own.  His approach of creating graffiti art of the needs, hopes and dreams of those living on the streets is controversial but the intent behind his artistic actions is pure stating for the Huffington Post, “I’m drawing attention to a human being who more often than not is looked at as nonexistent.”  I value his work and the message he is sending.  It is my hope that Whirled Tree Arts can have a similar impact in our East Coast communities.

Skid Robot has a GoFundMe campaign to support his work as does Whirled Tree Arts.  Feel free to learn more about both our missions here:

National Art Campaign of Compassion

Whirled Tree Arts. Help Us Grow.

Yoga for your thoughts. And a cat video.

“Studies have shown yoga practice to produce a relaxation response that mimics the best anti-anxiety drugs on the market today, and that it can also help people with mild depression, insomnia, and ADHD. “

In preparation for some upcoming Whirled Tree Arts workshops that combine art with yoga, we’ve been doing some research on just what the benefits of yoga actually are in our western lives. In our quest for information, we came across this little article…


…which cites how practicing yoga can be just as good or better for our health than medications. Yoga is something anyone can do and there are lots of YouTube videos to help you test it out if you’re not sure about heading to a public class yet.

Give it a try…or at least watch this 🙂

Art for your kids!

It’s the weekend…do you have plans? How will your children be spending their time?  How about with an art activity that is simple, fun and educational…

This little video from YouTube is a cute demonstration of a super easy, SUPER affordable creative activity for your little ones. With just 3 simple ingredients you likely already have in your kitchen (milk, dish soap, food coloring) your kids will be entertained endlessly with the magic of mixing colors and creating marbleized shapes and designs.  Plus it’s educational and enriching for all ages. What will they learn? Relationships between cause and effect, colors, color mixing, sensory integration, just to name a few.

Put the screens away and try this out!

Try this variation too:

  • food coloring and shaving cream (or whipped cream for an edible version): spread a layer of cream on a tray, drop some food coloring on top, swirl the colors with a toothpick, press some white paper down on the design. Remove the paper and wipe away the cream to see your designs on the page! Use the paper in crafts: make a book, make a collage, write a letter…the possibilities are endless.

shavingcreamart-1024x576click the photo for more great ideas from a Whirled Tree favorite resource.

Does making art make you happier?

“…When you engage yourself artistically and use your imagination you can help regulate your blood pressure and your heart rate.”

About a year ago I came across a video on YouTube while looking up art projects to use with a group of adolescent girls at an outpatient treatment center. It’s a video posted by Soul Pancake in a series they did on the science of happiness.  If you haven’t seen Soul Pancake’s videos yet, you are missing out.  They are the perfect balance of inspiration, humor and education and this little number on art therapy became one of my favorite go to demonstrations on what art therapy is, how it can be applied in practice and how a simple reflective art exercise can literally make you feel better. Instantly. No lie. I’ve seen it happen time and again and this video captures that magic perfectly.

Check out the video for yourself and if the spirit moves you, give the exercise a try! We’d love to hear how it went for you! Write to us here or send us a picture or video through our website, http://www.whirledtree.org/contact-us.html

Make art and be happy!

Can Art Change People’s Lives?


Street artist, JR seems to think so.  He has spent over a year facilitating the largest global art project probably ever by connecting people and communities through installation art and photography.  This TEDtalks video shares more of his mission and passion.  It is pretty inspirational and humbling to witness how one artist’s vision can change the world on a pretty massive scale and it aligns so fully with our mission at Whirled Tree Arts to connect people to people through creative experiences.

To learn more about JR’s project, check out www.insideoutproject.net where he invites us all to “stand up for what [we] care about by participating in a global art project…together we’ll turn the world… INSIDE OUT.”

A Quote to Inspire the Artist in Each of Us

Many people we’ve run into seem to think they aren’t artists because they can’t draw or paint anything more than a stick figure (at best).

At Whirled Tree Arts, we like to believe that if you can make a mark on a page then you can make art.  Our art is about the process, not the product.  What’s good art or bad art? What’s pretty versus ugly? If you had fun doing it, does it matter what it looks like? If it expresses a thought, feeling or idea that has value to you, then shouldn’t the image and the experience of making the image have value too?

As this quote states, the desire to create is a natural part of being human.  Don’t deny the urge! We dare you to pick up a pencil or pen and make a little something today. Perhaps it will be the best, most liberating stick figure you’ve made since you were twelve…