If you’ve tried your hand at pottery, you’d know that hours can pass without you thinking of anything else but the clay in your hands — whether it’s moist enough, if it’s shaping up properly or if the pottery wheel’s going too fast.
You have to be completely in tune with the clay in your hands and react to what state it is in so you can work with it. All five senses required.
Just like how meditation can still your mind and allow you to focus on the present moment, it’s the same with pottery: get lost in your thoughts and your clay will likely teeter and fall from the wheel.
The rise of pottery and the slow-living movement
Due to our fast-paced urban lives, we’re thinking a lot more about slower living. Something that would allow us to take a break from our tech world, something to keep us grounded and help us go back to basics.
Pottery checks all these boxes beautifully.
The act of pottery making in itself will force you to slow down. Try and rush it, things will crack and break and fall off. There’s no instant gratification that we’re so used to.
Ask anyone who has tried their hand at pottery and they would tell you that it’s hard work. It takes a whole lot of time. Squeeze too tightly and it’ll likely distort. Try and rush it and watch the clay spin out of control
After half a day’s work at the pottery wheel, your work is far from done. You’d have to wait one to two days so that the clay dries out. Then you’d need to place it in a kiln to fire it. It’s a long drawn out process; one that requires a great deal of patience and dedication.
This slow-living movement is also causing us to move from buying things that are mass-produced by soulless machines, to buying objects that are lovingly and mindfully handmade by an actual human being.
As human beings, we all crave connection. Drinking our morning coffee from a ceramic mug that’s made from scratch by hand gives us just that — the warm, fuzzy feeling of connection. Ceramic ware and pottery making bring us back to the earth in a digital world of screens and blue light.
No doubt celebrities like Brad Pitt professing his love for pottery and Emily Ratajkowski posting pictures of herself elbow deep in clay have helped accelerate the pottery trend. British potter Kate Malone was also quoted saying, “pottery is the new yoga.”
No wonder pottery is on the rise — it’s no exception here in Singapore. We spoke to Poh Sin Yong from Arudio Pottery Studio. “I think it’s something to do with creating something with our hands,” he says. “Our hands are like outlets of creativity and by making or creating pottery, we open ourselves up to express our inner world.”
Pottery as therapy
Picture a potter sitting at her pottery wheel, fully absorbed in her craft — shaping up something beautiful with bare hands and nimble fingers. To the onlooker, that vision is somewhat idyllic and serene. There’s a quiet, romantic calm about it.
But for the potter, she’s in her own world. With skilled fingers that come with practice, she molds and shapes wet clay as she likes. With one foot tapping lightly on the wheel pedestal, she is in control. Time stands still and her mind empties out.
It’s physical. It’s focused. It’s meditative.
Don’t take our word for it — in fact, various studies have found a significant correlation between art making and physiological and psychological healing.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that levels of cortisol (stress hormones) in the body lowered significantly in 75% of the participants who engaged in art making.
It is also widely known now that pottery has therapeutic effects on people specifically with depression and mental illnesses, triggering a cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins and serotonin.
Since our fingertips also contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings, playing with clay stimulates the pressure points on our hands and soothes our senses, contributing to a feeling of well-being.
There’s also a shift from focusing on external noises to an inner focus, giving us a much-needed break from the information-dense world.
“Pottery has been a necessity for thousands of years — to make pots for cooking, transporting things like water,” Sin Yong says. “It’s also deeply rooted in human development and culture. Even historians get information about a civilization just by studying its pottery.”
“For example, ancient Greeks provided us with not only the most distinctive vase shapes and antiquity, they also gave us some of our oldest and most diverse of cultural beliefs.”
For such an ancient practice, it’s hard not to be mindful about it. Clay also provides a natural way to connect the mind and body in that present moment — something that is much needed in our hectic, multi-tasking lives.
The practice of mindfulness is to cultivate a mental state of paying attention to one’s sensory, cognitive and emotional experiences — intentionally and non-judgmentally. When we’re at the pottery wheel, all of our five senses are at attention. This contrasts with the usual state of our mind, where it’s constantly wandering wherever our thoughts would take us.
Deeply rooted in Buddhism, the entire purpose of mindfulness is to “experience enlightenment”, “perceive the true nature of reality” and “attain wisdom and compassion”. According to Buddhist teachings, this would bring us to the holy grail of life — ultimate fulfillment.
From a science perspective, there’s also various beneficial effects to our brain: practicing mindfulness reportedly decreases anxiety, increases feelings of happiness and can even be constituted as cancer therapy.
With mindful meditation, it’s about learning to observe our thoughts without judgement. The idea is that eventually we’d start to better understand them. Whilst playing with clay, we are able to let our minds rest in the here and now. Fully engaged, fully present, focused on the process of creating your art.
It’s not difficult to see its allure — after all, kneading clay with bare hands is as down-to-earth as it gets in our tech-filled world.
A die-hard beauty addict, Margareth lives for iced lattes, lipsticks and pedicures. She believes wearing a red lippie can magically solve almost anything. When she’s not writing, you can find her devouring make up tutorials and stalking celebrities on Instagram.