The Enigmatic Exercise That May Benefit Mental Wellness

Poetry has the power to uplift the spirit and heal.

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The uplifting and spiritual power of poetry.

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Try this exercise, suggests Psychology Today. Prepare a fresh sheet of paper and a comfortable pen. Write the words “I confess” in bold, at the top of the page. Underneath, fill the paper with scribbled prose and lyrics related to your passion or confession. Try to use vivid imagery and descriptive metaphors that arouse all five senses at once. Don’t be afraid to go deep, speak from the heart, and bear your soul on the paper. Celebrate your experience-led creation!

Words that heal
It doesn’t matter if the words that come pouring out of the pen, and out of the heart, are publishable. Their biggest impact won’t be on the reader, but rather on you, as the poet. 

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For decades, poetry therapy has been a popular tool for doctors, and therapists alike. As far back as the American Civil War, Walt Whitman utilized poems about courage and combat to inspire and heal wounded soldiers. 

Doctor-poets, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Carlos Williams empathized with patients and kept their own mental faculties in check through the power of prose. Yale and Harvard’s Medical Schools teach aspiring future doctors to connect to healing forms of writing as well.

Mental and physical benefits
In the past few years, a number of studies have emerged, corroborating what lyricists have known all along. The very process of engaging with poetry is transformational and has real-world benefits

Legal Reader cites an article by poetry workshop leaders, David Haosen Xiang and Alisha Moon Yi. Xiang and Yi quote a number of studies demonstrating that reading and writing poetry can improve mental and even physical health. Poetry has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and stress, boost recovery from surgery, and even minimize chronic pain! 

According to Xiang and Yi, “Whether it is coping with pain, dealing with stressful situations, or coming to terms with uncertainty, poetry can benefit a patient’s well-being, confidence, emotional stability, and quality of life.”

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Another study, quoted in this article, followed a group of 44 pediatric patients who were hospitalized. After these children participated in poetry therapy and were encouraged to read and write rhymes, their mental health showed demonstrable improvements. These patients felt happier, calmer, and less fearful. As per the study, for the children “poetry was a welcome distraction from stress and an opportunity for self-reflection.”

A poem that “whispers in your ear”
How do simple words bring about such radical changes? CNN elaborates.

Poet Sekou Andrews writes, “I always say you don't hire the poet to hit the nail on the head for you. You hire the poet to whisper in your ear, tap you on your shoulder, make you turn around and see a version of yourself that is unexpected, surprising and inspiring."

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By tapping into this unexpected and surprising inspiration, these verses can change a person’s perspective and allow one to approach a difficult situation from a fresh, new angle. 

Poems tend to use abstract imagery, metaphors, and enigmatic wordplay. Readers and writers can approach threatening experiences and emotions that may feel too monumental to confront head-on, through similes and lyrics.

According to Psychology Today, poets use the Spanish word duende, to refer to the spirit of passion, inspiration, and a state of heightened emotions where the written word has the power to cause a visceral, emotional reaction.

CNN reports, the very state of duende, achieved through prose, is connected to rewards-sensing areas of the brain, as per a 2017 study investigating the psychophysiological responses (like goosebumps and chills) of listening to verse read out loud.

Tapping into these benefits
In order to reap the mental and physical rewards, CNN recommends engaging with poetry by listening, reading, and writing.

Poetry podcasts, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and The Slowdown from American Public Media, are quick and easy ways to get in a daily poetry fix. 

A collection of poetry books, that is accessible to you, is another good way to incorporate the healing power of the written word into daily life. Finding a poet that you connect to and diving into his or her writings can bring entertainment and enlightenment.

And there are no pre-qualifications needed for bringing that pen to paper yourself. You can experiment with different poetry forms, or find creative writing exercises on the Read Poetry website, designed for the amateur poet. 

Poet Billy Collins, in his poem “Introduction to Poetry”,  described the experience of beginning to reckon with the written word with a metaphor:

...walk inside the poem's room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

However you approach it, flipping on that light switch, and learning to bare your inner feelings, thoughts, anxieties, and concerns through prose, brings with it myriad benefits. 

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