Do you remember the first time you folded a paper airplane? Origami is an ancient, peaceful craft that is not just for children and can also be used as a way to enhance mindfulness for people of all ages.
The word origami comes from the Japanese words oru, to fold, and kami, paper. The exact origins of this ancient practice are unknown but has been traced as early as 6 BC to Buddhist monks, who used origami for ceremonial purposes. The first known written documentation of origami was not until 1797 in the book Hiden Senbazuru Orikata (The Secret of Folding Thousand Crane Folding).
Modern origami was popularized throughout Japan and the United States through exhibitions of the work of Akira Yoshizawa, the grandmaster of origami, who developed a standard way to teach folding origami models with illustrated diagrams.
In Japan, origami is a popular art form that is commonly integrated into the curriculum for children in elementary school to help them develop patience and spatial skills as well as enhance memory and concentration.
Here are five ways origami can promote mindfulness.
1. Origami is accessible anywhere, anytime, with just a sheet of paper.
Samuel Tsang, London-based origami teacher and author of The Book of Mindful Origami, has been teaching origami since 2003 to children and adults and believes that origami is for everyone. Tsang blends origami with mindfulness and suggests self-reflective questions with each model. He notes:
The great thing about origami is that it can be done anywhere as long as you have a piece of paper. I often fold origami on the train to work in the morning.
2. Origami enhances the ability to be aware of what is happening in the moment and focus. Origami has been studied as a tool for children to develop spatial and perception skills, learn mathematics, refine dexterity and hand-eye coordination, as well as improve concentration. Origami has been shown to improve spatial visualization and mathematics skills in middle school students. It may also be useful for teaching children with special needs mathematics and could help improve attention in children with attention deficit disorder, although more scientific studies are needed in this area.
3. Use origami to practice letting go of self-judgment or perfectionism.
Tsang notes how origami "is a peaceful hobby, a beautiful art, a craft, a science and a meditation all in one." If you're a beginner in origami, the complex models might feel a little intimidating, but it’s important to let go of judgment and give yourself and time and space to practice. Tsang recommends learning folding simplest models first, such as a paper plane, fortune teller, or boat.
As in other mindfulness practices like yoga or meditation, the key is letting go of perfectionism, self-criticism, or self-judgment. Tsang explains to his students:
I tell my students that despite having folded hundreds of thousands of cranes my models are still not perfect and the reason why is because we are human not machines; we can not fold to that level of accuracy and precision.
4. With practice, origami can become a form of a focused attention meditation, a category of meditation which trains the mind on an object. Focused attention meditation has been shown to stabilize the mind and promote calmness.
Before being able to reach meditation through origami, you must first get to know the folds by heart. After this initial learning stage, you are then able to fold with a meditative and focused approach. Tsang emphasizes that origami is not about folding the most complicated model, but about using origami to meditate and achieve "perspective, persistence, patience, and practice."
5. Share the gift of origami to connect with others, including your children.
Origami is not just a solo practice— at the end, you have made something personal that you can give to someone that you care about. Tsang has found that origami can light up children's imaginations and sense of joy:
Children are fascinated by origami as there is a magical quality to turning a flat piece of paper into a 3D model. We live in the age of the internet, the I-pad child who has infinite entertainment videos and games at the swipe of a finger. But if you give them an origami flapping bird you can really see their face light up and see this genuine smile and fascination.
You can not only share the physical gift of origami but use the folding process to think of loved ones. Tsang has designed a special Squirrel model for his daughter and explains that when he works on building that model, "it can take 20 minutes to complete but during that time all I am thinking about is my daughter in a positive light."
Samuel Tsang’s The Book of Mindful Origami is available in the U.S. October 2016.
For free printable instructions and diagrams, you can find instructional diagrams online at the Origami Club.