February is a special month, not only is it heart month and Valentines day sits halfway through the month, bringing out all the love, but it also marks the launch of the Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre annual ‘Art from the Heart’ exhibit. This coveted art show, features the work of our most gifted, talented artists from Community Living Oakville. Their passion for the arts jumps out at you from the canvas and the exhibit never fails to inspire.
The heart has been long touted as the seat of the soul. It is the first organ to develop and emerge during embryonic development. The Egyptians believed that the heart held the key to the afterlife. Its weight determined the fate of the departed in the netherworld. They believed that at the time of death, the heart would be weighed by Anubis, along with other deities, to determine if the soul of the deceased would make it to the afterlife or be stuck in the underworld. If the heart was light, the soul would reside for all eternity in the Land of Two Field, full of joy and happiness, and meet their loved ones who predeceased them. If the heart was heavy, the soul would be stuck in the underworld and would disappear forever.
In ancient Egypt the heart rather than the brain was regarded as the storehouse of our intelligence and our wisdom, as well as the source for our emotions. One of the best ways to get in touch with our emotions and to express them is through the arts. After all “art” is seated within “HeART”. We can see that art literally has a prominent place in heart!
Art has the power to uplift us after a bad day. When we are engaged in art activities what we create provides a reflection back to us that helps us to process our emotions and thoughts. This has been shown to be beneficial in our heart health, as it improves our heart rate variability (HRV). It is a measure of the variation in time between heartbeats. It communicates with our heart rate to slow it back down, relax, and lowers our blood pressure. HRV is a marker for how well we adapt to changes in our brain activity and the world around us. The variation is controlled by our autonomic nervous system and works behind the scenes to regulate our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion, among other key bodily functions.
Art activities have been shown to improve HRV, an important measure of heart health. A consistently low HRV increases the risk of developing heart disease. Some research indicates that artistic expression with certain forms of media may elevate HRV to a heart-healthier level. By creating art in any of its forms, even the simple act of colouring, can help reduce stress levels. When we engage in creative practices it helps us to focus our mind on other things such as processing our emotions, focusing on ourselves, and working on the release of our emotions.
Studies have explored how creative expression affects levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that strains the heart when chronically elevated. What research revealed is that while participants were creating art, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels were reduced significantly in 75% of the participants after 45 minutes of art making. Dr. Krumholz Yale University School of Medicine professor, and member of the board of directors of the Foundation for Art & Healing, (focuses on the connection between creative expression and healing) suggests that creative activities have health benefits – “If stress is bad for you then creative pursuits are the opposite—creative pursuits allow people to find their ‘flow state,’ a mental state in which they are so fully involved in an activity that they become unaware of passing time.”
Many healthcare institutions and other organizations nationwide have embraced art programs. In the US, the University of Florida, for example, has a general art in medicine program that addresses applications of music, painting, dance, theatre, and other art forms in healing practice.
Whether we create art or simply take some time to visit an exhibit or performance and enjoy it, the experience helps reduce stress, lower blood pressure and bring heart palpitations under control. Reduction of stress is especially important as acute or chronic stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million Canadian adults, and is the second leading cause of death in Canada. So let us all take some time this month to pay attention to our heart and improving our cardiovascular health, and do what we can to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. Come take a class at JCHAC.
- Susan Ksiezopolski
Artwork: Geometry by Kathy Ashwell
About the Author
Susan Ksiezopolski, following her retirement from a 32-year career in the public sector, reignited her life-long passion for poetry. In 2016, she graduated from the Humber School for Writers. In 2018, she founded WriteWell to support organizations and individuals in creating a path to success and wellness by unleashing the power of expressive creative writing.