Mandalas (a Sanskrit term with various translations, but generally interpreted to mean ‘sacred circle’) are a form of spiritual, geometric artwork designed to visually capture and represent deep thoughts, events, morals, and other meanings.
Usually taking the shape of a circle, these unique designs are used by many cultures to help people focus, reflect and meditate on whatever story or meaning it represents, commonly in pursuit of a particular spiritual, emotional, or psychological purpose.
The popular use of a mandala for meditation throughout history and across cultures is a testament to its effectiveness, helping us to cultivate dharana, creativity, introspection, and calm.
To help you experience mandalas for meditation, in this article, we’ll be looking at four methods of using a mandala for meditation:
- Contemplative Observation
- Mental Visualization
- Mandala Walking
- Mandala Art Therapies
4 ways to use mandalas for meditation
#1: Contemplative Observation
One of the most common uses of mandalas for meditation is in the form of contemplative observation.
This might sound a little fancy but is actually a very simple process that involves observing the shapes, colors, and other details of the mandala, as well as observing your physical experience, thoughts, and emotions with a curious, open, and non-judgmental contemplation.
This meditation helps greatly in our quest of cultivating mindfulness, reflection, and a receptive attitude, which assists us in gaining insight and deepening self-awareness.
1. First, find or create a mandala that resonates with you visually and symbolically. If you can’t find one that you connect with, try creating your own, using colors and patterns that evoke whatever captures your intention.
Tip: the larger the mandala, the more detail you’ll be able to pack in!
2. Next, find a quiet and comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. Arrange cushions, a meditation mat, and whatever else you need to get comfy in a seated position where your back is upright and supported.
Optional: You can also try lighting candles, playing soft music, or lighting some incense if it helps you relax.3. Place the mandala on the floor a foot or two in front of you, or at eye level such as mounted on a wall.
4. Now, take a few moments to relax and center yourself before beginning the meditation. I recommend taking a few deep breaths, releasing any tension in your body, and clearing your mind of any distracting thoughts. Your body should be relaxed as if it were sleeping.
4. Now you’re ready to begin the meditation. Gently gaze at the center of the mandala, allowing your focus to soften and expand. Try not to strain your eyes or force concentration. Simply let your gaze rest on the mandala naturally.
5. As you continue to gaze at the mandala, thoughts, emotions, and sensations will likely arise – which is totally okay! Just observe them without judgment or attachment. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the mandala.
6. After a few minutes of gazing at the center of the mandala, allow your gaze to gradually move outward, exploring the intricate details of the patterns and colors. Notice how the different elements interact and how your perception of the mandala shifts.
7. After a few minutes of observing the mandala, begin contemplating its symbolism and meaning. How does your interpretation reflect your personality, life experience, and desires? How can the mandala meaning help you on your path?
8. Finally, when ready to end your meditation, slowly close your eyes, take a few breaths, and gently bring all of your awareness back to your body and the present moment, reflecting on the practice.
#2: Mental Visualisation
Another common method of using a mandala for mediation is mental visualization, wherein we meditate on a design in our mind’s eye.
This can take focus and practice, so be patient and trust that with time and regular meditation, you will become more adept at creating and visualizing mandalas in your mind, deepening your meditation practice and reaping the benefits of this powerful technique.
1. For mandala visualization, it’s important to be in an environment conducive to relaxation and focus. For this, find a quiet and safe space where you can sit comfortably without any distractions.
2. Once focused and comfortable, you next need to set your intention for the practice. That is, decide why you want to meditate and what you hope to achieve through this visualization. This will help guide your design during the process and direct your efforts.
3. Now, close your eyes gently and take a few deep breaths to relax your body and mind. Allow all your tension or stress to melt away with each exhalation.
4. Now, time to start the visualization. In your mind’s eye, visualize a blank canvas. which will serve as the starting point, the base, for creating the mandala.
5. To start drawing the mandala, begin by envisioning a simple shape or pattern at the center of the canvas. While most mandalas are circles, don’t confine yourself and choose whichever shape comes to you be it a heart, a triangle, or any other geometric shape.
6. Once you’ve chosen your shape, time to add the details. Starting from the inside and working your way out, begin to add more intricacies to the initial shape.
Imagine lines, curves, figures, shapes, and geometric designs radiating outward from the center. Visualize each detail with clarity and precision, trying to keep the mandala symmetrical and balanced.
7. As you continue to expand the mandala, you can also introduce colors, perhaps choosing those that resonate with you or have specific meanings for you. Visualize these colors filling the shapes and patterns of the mandala, creating a vibrant and harmonious image.
8. As you visualize, maintain a peaceful focus on the mandala. If your mind starts to wander or distractions arise, gently bring your attention back to the wise image you are creating.
Tip: If this concentration is difficult, I find it helps to move my hands as if they are drawing and tracing the details which appear in my mind’s eye while keeping my eyes closed.
9. Once your mandala is complete, time to observe and explore your creation. Look at each line, shape, and color as if you are studying a work of art you’ve never seen before.
Ask questions like: What does this mandala say about me? What does it say about the world?
10. After a few minutes of this, you can choose to continue meditating on it, focusing on its details and symbolism. Or, you can let the mandala’s image gradually fade away, returning your attention to your breath, body, or another point of focus.
Walking meditations are great for beginners to seasoned meditators alike, and particularly useful for those who find it difficult to sit still for prolonged periods of time.
And luckily, there are a number of ways to incorporate mandalas into walking meditations that can be done pretty much anywhere.
The method we’ve chosen here involves creating your own large mandala and walking along its pathways, encouraging reflection on ourselves and on the symbolism.
1. Begin by finding a quiet, spacious open area either indoors or outdoors. Then, start to mark out a large, circular path on the ground using chalk, sand, pebbles, or any other suitable material.
2. Next, create a mandala at the center of the circle with flowers, marbles, crystals, leaves, and any other objects you’d like to incorporate.
3. Take your time and think about how you can design the mandala to represent any intentions, events, aspirations, or qualities you wish to cultivate and reflect on during your walking meditation.
4. When your mandala is done, begin slowly walking along the circular path, moving in a clockwise direction. As you walk, experience the journey as a metaphorical exploration of whatever the mandala symbolizes at that particular point.
5. Each step moves you deeper into the mandala and closer to its core, hopefully reflecting your experience of a deeper meditation and connection with the mandala’s central qualities.
6. While walking, continue to reflect on the symbolism of the mandala and its relevance to your life. Contemplate how embodying or understanding its qualities can bring about positive changes or transformation.
7. Repeat the circular path as many times as you like, continuing to contemplate, and internalize the mandala’s symbolism with each round with an attitude of calm and non-attachment.
Optional: I recommend also incorporating breathing techniques into this practice. Again, there are a number of ways to do so – from Ujjayi to Bellows Breath and more. Research each technique and try a few out to see what works for you.
#4: Creating Mandala Art
Many forms and features of mandala meditations overlap with the wonderful world of art therapy, which uses artistic expression to delve into and find peace with emotional and psychological difficulties.
From mandala coloring books and carving mandalas in the sand to making a personalized yantra – the act of creating a mandala can in itself be a form of meditation, fostering mindfulness, self-expression, communication, and self-reflection – oh, and it’s great for kids!
Remember, mandala art therapy is a super personal and subjective experience. There are no right or wrong ways to create a mandala.
Just explore, experiment, and enjoy the process of self-expression and self-discovery!
Here are some instructions to get you started with mandala art therapy:
1. Find a blank piece of paper, colored pencils, markers, or any other art supplies you prefer (watercolors are my personal fave!). You may also want a ruler, compass, and eraser for creating precise geometric shapes.
2. Now you’ve got your supplies, time to set up your space. Find a quiet and comfortable space with good lighting where you can focus your art without feeling cramped.
3. Next, take a few deep breaths and set your intention for the practice. What do you hope to reflect on or cultivate through this mandala art meditation? To help create a mindful, peaceful atmosphere, try playing calming music or lighting a candle or incense.
4. Now, begin by drawing a large circle as a starting point and build your design from there, drawing or coloring the center of your mandala first. This can be a simple shape, pattern, scene, or that serves as the focal point of your artwork and reflects your intention.
Tip: If you’re starting out or practicing with kids, it can be helpful to use a pre-drawn design. which you can find online or in coloring books.
5. Gradually work your way outward, adding intricate patterns, shapes, and lines to your mandala. Experiment and let your creativity flow – don’t worry about making it perfect! Remember that the process is more important than the final result.
6. Select colors that reflect your intention. You can choose colors intuitively or use color symbolism as a guide. For example, blue can represent calmness and openness, yellow can symbolize joy and warmth, and green can signify growth, nature, and balance.
7. As you create your mandala, remain aware of the present moment. Notice any sensations, thoughts, and emotions that arise, observing without suppressing or expressing them. Let go of any judgments or expectations and simply enjoy the meditative process of artistic design.
8. Once you’ve finished your mandala, take a few moments to observe and reflect on your artwork. Notice the shapes, colors, and patterns you used. Reflect back on your intention as well as on any emotions or insights that emerged during the process.
Tip: I personally find it really helpful to keep a journal to record my intention, thoughts, and experiences with each mandala I create!
If you’ve enjoyed this article on mandalas for meditation, why not check out some of our other similar articles: