The practice of Chinese calligraphy dates back more than 2,000 years. But in 2017 Xin (Alice) Haung took the art form and found a way to use it to promote healing in a way that makes it as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
"Calligratherapy is the ancient art form of Chinese calligraphy combined with deep breathing exercise and mind training," Haung said. "Together we help to enhance the well being, mental and emotional resilience - that's calligratherapy."
Haung developed the practice when she moved from China to her home in New Zealand. She says the culture shock made it a stressful time. She was having trouble adapting and couldn't sleep at night. Then she mixed up some ink and picked up her brush and found it calmed her mind.
"A good friend of mine who is a Kiwi called Leah is a registered psychologist," said Haung. "She provides counseling for people and she said 'I noticed your mood change.What happened?' So I told her about calligraphy I'm doing and she said, 'that's good, it'll be very beneficial for others' - so she helped me and together we came up with this name calligratherapy."
INVITED TO CALGARY AND EDMONTON
Haung was invited to Calgary to present at the recent Edmonton and Calgary Teacher's Conventions. David Leinster is the CEO of Contemporary Calgary and says the two weekend workshops at his facility were attended by more than 70 members.
"It's amazing to bring such amazing artists from around the world to this gallery," said Leinster. "It's also incredible to bring people like Xin to the gallery, who have these really innovative programs that are really doing a lot of healing, bringing people together through the arts and I think that it says a lot about what we do at Contemporary Calgary."
Cassie Cao is from Vancouver and mentoring with Haung so she can become a calligratherapist. She remembers when she was six years old that she found calligraphy to be boring because of its repetitive nature and constantly trying to perfect a symbol.
"Calligratherapy is different from calligraphy, it's more about connecting to yourself, your mind, talking to the inner you," she said. "I remember when I was kid, I didn't enjoy calligraphy but when I joined the classes with Xin I was like, actually, it's different, it's amazing, you're not doing the technical side too much, it's more about creative, it's more about what's in your mind, clear your mind, talk to yourself, enjoy this moment and live right now."
Cao says the technique can bridge people from all cultural backgrounds as it did with her partner, who's originally from France.
"For him it's really interesting, he told me it looks like a painting (and he could) never learn it, it's impossible for me but when he (put brush to paper) he was like, 'actually you know what, I enjoyed it and I think I know even more about your culture now'."
Huang has trained two Canadian calligratherapists to operate in Calgary and Vancouver but is looking to expand into Montreal and Toronto.
"We do teach people how to handle a brush doing strokes but more important is the mindfulness part," said Haung. "I use this as a medium to help you breathe, help your self-reflection, and help you to create an inner reflection to yourself understand yourself."
"More importantly," she added. "We create a quality time for friends and family to get together, when you write a character or doing a zodiac animal portrait together, they talk, they understand each other more and together they create something memorable."
Learn more about calligratherapy here: www.calligratherapy.co.nz/