Center Yourself With a Mandala

Carey Jacobsen

In an effort to practice what we preach, our departmental team has begun a practice of starting our meetings with a “Mindful Minute,” or some caregiver capacity exercises. (Caregiver capacity is one of our seven essential ingredients of trauma informed care, based on the understanding that you can’t care for others if you don’t care for yourself.) We all know the value of taking time for oneself; we tell our clients and the parents and families we work with to do this all the time. We know it is good to get enough sleep and exercise and all that other good stuff. But, so often we say and think we don’t have time to take care of ourselves; our lives are busy; our caseloads are high, and our time stretched too short. These may all be true. It may be too difficult to carve out 45 minutes for the gym or even 30 minutes for lunch.

But I bet we can all find just five minutes.

Our first caregiver capacity exercise was art-based. Mandalas are a simple circle or a circle with a pattern inside. The mandala is a symbol that has been around for hundreds of years. In religious worlds, it can represent the universe or the relationship between inner and outer worlds. It has been adapted in many different forms in art therapy and psychology.


Mandalas are traditionally an eight-inch empty circle. In art therapy, the direction is to use the circle to contain your inner thoughts and feelings using lines, shapes and colors. Mandalas are also available with patterns inside. Many times, using the patterned mandala allows for rhythmic, patterned repetitive drawing activity. The design gives boundaries and shapes to complete, allowing for structure, and all these things contribute to a calming, regulating activity. There is no pressure to be “good at art” if there is a set pattern available. I have used mandalas for myself as a journaling activity, for clients I work with as an expressive art technique and for clients as a regulating activity. I have left extras in the classrooms and schools in which we work.

For our department meeting, I created a mini-mandala, only about four inches in diameter and found several mini-mandala pattern designs. We only needed five minutes and some colored pencils to create our mandalas. Some people gravitated toward the open circle, others chose the patterns. Some stayed inside the circle, others filled the paper. Some covered every space with color, others left areas white or blank. Some shared about their drawing or drawing experience, others did not. It really only takes five minutes!

Instead of playing Candy Crush on my phone, perhaps I can take five minutes to do something relaxing and centering. I am looking forward to what others will bring for future caregiver capacity exercises.


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