Episode description

Mental wellness is as crucial as our physical wellness. There is no second alternative to that.

Our guest – Rupa Parthasarathy is the founder of Mindkshetra and is a bicultural storyteller. Rupa is a mum of 2 young people and is a mental health advocate on a mission to nurture life stories using creativity.

*A content warning that this episode discusses depression.

If this content is upsetting you can find support at https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support or call Lifeline on 13 11 14

You can find more of her works at: https://www.mindkshetra.com/


The following transcript has been automatically generated and may contain errors.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to another episode of Stories of Community Resilience by three triple Z. I am Chris malika Bhadra and today or tonight, depending on whichever part of the world you are listening to me from, I’m going to be talking about something that is very important and at the same time is not often talked about or addressed in certain parts of the community. I’m going to be talking about using arts for well-being and mental health. And I’m joined by a very established and distinguished guest. But before I officially introduce her, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I’m meeting tonight, the people of the Kulin Nation. I would also like to pay my respect to the elders past, present and emerging. So I have with me Rupa, um, who is the founder of mine, Chaitra. Rupa is a bicultural storyteller. She’s a mom of two young people. She’s a mental health advocate on a mission to nurture life stories, using creativity. And a little bit about mine Chaitra. Mine Chaitra is a creative wellness studio with a social enterprise business model working towards an SDG goal of good health. Culturally Creative ME is a program that partners with local cultural artists and invites them to teach their respective cultural arts to young people in the community. On that note, Rupa, very good evening. How are you doing tonight?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:01:35] Um, thank you for having me, Chris And I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land I come from. I come from the nation of Ura people, and I would like to pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging. I’m really good. Thanks for the opportunity. Um, and your question was, how did you come with the idea of starting.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:01:56] First question that when and how did you come up with that idea?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:02:00] Um, I was actually trying to find a place to start my practice, and everywhere I went for a rental lease, they would ask me questions like, Are you going to use sand? Are you going to pour paint? And I found that there was a lot of hesitance and resistance in what I was doing, even among professional professionals. So I’m looking for a professional counseling space. And I started talking to my friends and my friends said, Oh, you’re into entering into a niche market. Nobody would want your services. And I said, But we all have a mind. Why should we not be talking about mental health? Um, and I guess when people close doors, you try and kind of try to find opportunities. So I try to lease my own place and the idea came up with, um, there is so much taboo in South Asian communities, especially when we talk about mind and mental health and mental health. In in itself, the definition of mental health means wellness, not illness. So chaitra in Sanskrit means a sacred place. And I wanted to create a sacred place for the mind where everybody felt safe, um, supported and without any stigma to talk about mental health. And that’s how Mind Chakra came into being. Uh, it’s like a gym for your mental health. That’s amazing.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:03:22] And I like the way you put it because as you mentioned, there’s a lot of stigma. And I slowly I’ve seen not only in the South Asian diaspora, but in other communities as well. The minute you say mental health, people just say, Oh, you something is wrong in your eyes and it’s good that you are doing it. We need that door to open up for people like. Um, the next thing that I want to know from you is what is the relationship between art therapy and personal development. If you could just please elaborate on that.

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:03:48] There are a lot of synergies when it comes to working with arts and and taking care of our personal development. A lot of our personal development comes to this comes from the space of self-awareness, storytelling, a little bit of awareness of yourself. Arts in itself is therapeutic. Arts therapy is actually a professional field using a professional person. But there are a lot of benefit when it comes to engaging in a mindful practice. I call engaging in an art an active meditation. So there is a lot of connection for you to tune into the here and the now and to be able to do it on a practical basis. Right. Um, you know, that’s the kind of space I come from where I’m going to use the analogy again, we do walking, running, jogging, yoga, so many things for our physical health to take care of the mental hygiene. But when it comes to the personal development of self-awareness, seeking validation, understanding boundaries, self-expression, I think art, storytelling, creative arts is a great medium to engage in, to kind of explore that particular arena. So and that’s how arts and personal development is connected, because both have the synergies of talking about gaining self-awareness, being in the here and the now. Yeah, understanding where you want to go to setting goals. There’s a lot of analogies and metaphors using both.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:05:17] So when you say about art therapy, right, is there a specific kind of you mentioned about creative arts? I know, but it’s like an umbrella term for all arts we pursue. But when in your years of practice do you or have you realized that, okay, this form of art is more attuned to mental wellness rather than that form of art? Or would you like to suggest that any art form that I would like to pursue will take me on that journey?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:05:43] So the field of arts therapy is a is a very specialized kind of a field which has to be facilitated with a professional who has completed a certain amount of hours and gone through professional training in counselling and visual arts and different kind of arts. So you you can come across a visual art therapist, you can come across a drama therapist, you can come across somebody who uses just sound therapy. Um, so in, in the field of arts therapy in itself, you need to have a professional qualification and you need to go through rigorous training. Um, if we are talking about that. So what mind Chithra does is it does things in three ways. One is actually engaging with clients who have this diagnosis, which is the mental illness. That’s where my I’m a qualified, registered trained art therapist in counselling. So I use that skill set to do that, which is similar to counselling, but the use of arts, the other umbrella which we use is using engaging in arts in itself arts as itself therapy. Yeah. Which then means you can use any form of artwork and I don’t, I don’t teach the class is not about learning the skill. So you don’t come like it’s not like a paint and sip class where you come and have enjoyment. It is like you use the more to express yourself and gain an understanding of yourself. But the everything is around the theme, right? The third thing I do is use of cultural art stories and how our culture plays a part in our mental health. Because I’m from a South Asian background and I have an Indian heritage and I’ve been here for 20 years, there is a dearth of conversation and nobody talks about the culture you come from. I’m a second. I’m a first generation Australian raising second generation Australians who have no clue of what how I was brought in. So it’s like a I’m trying to create an environment where I can still keep all the lineage and the learnings. Yeah. Um, but without all the things which don’t serve us, there’s a lot of things in our culture which don’t serve us. Yeah, but also there’s a lot of art form which we have been used and we should be practicing. So that’s kind of the three things which we do using mind. Chaithra To answer your question, the field of arts therapy in itself is quite wide, wide and you can find a visual art therapist, you can find a drama therapist, you can find a psychotherapist who uses only sound therapy. So it depends on the modality, like how you would go to a doctor and you would find different specialisations people who specialize in different modalities. It’s a similar way.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:08:25] Wonderful. And then if I have to break down that question even further for you, what is the relationship between art and therapy? How do you join the dots in those two aspects together?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:08:38] So there are two philosophies. One is arts itself is therapy, which is doing art, but you don’t need any professional to help you. Yeah, you just taking a walk, taking a pain, doing some sculpture, spending some time with yourself, doing general arts itself as therapy. But you’re having a quick downtime, what we call a quick recharge of yourself. Um, that is one aspect. The other aspect is art therapy. Art therapy is actually facilitated by an art therapist. There are steps in which you are facilitated. You come with a problem. There is a way in which they use counselling and they use art making as a mode for you to express what you’re going through. Then we set goals and the art you make is not about the product, it’s about the process. So there is a lot of technique and skill set which goes into it. When we talk about art as therapy, you know, often people confuse and one of the common myths, which is that there is no qualification required. If I can do art, I’m an art therapist. Um, that would be the case if we if we say every person who gives, you know, medicine can become a doctor, right, then that is it. That’s not how it works. It’s a specialized field. So there’s a lot of there’s a lot of interrelationships and there’s a lot of crossovers which happen. But it is you need to be really aware on on what you’re going for. Are you just going for a recreational kind of stuff where it’s a distraction? Yeah, there is nobody to facilitate. There is no psychoanalysis, there is nothing, there is no psychoeducation behind it. Anybody can do it, which we can all do, which is a simple like journal writing, or you’re just spending hours doing paint by numbers. It’s like a art in itself is therapeutic, right? So that’s the one form. The other is using facilitation kind of thing.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:10:34] Um, going back to culture, I know you mentioned this before that, you know, we are all South Asian descendants. We have a certain history. Lineage and Traditions. A lot of things needed to be filtered out. Blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to that detail. But having said that, how do you connect us to our roots and culture? Are they mutually exclusive or they’re conjoined?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:10:58] I think arts is part of every culture, not only South Asian culture, every single culture which has been existing in this world to start with, the land which we are on, you know, Aboriginal culture, which is one of the oldest cultures in the world, which we have to acknowledge storytelling and Dreamtime is a big part of, of the culture. And if you don’t acknowledge that and come from that place of understanding and knowing certain terminologies, the language, how healing is done, what it means if you if you are going to ignore the entire part, you’re actually you’re causing more trauma and disconnection. Culture and art is what connects us to our core and not only South Asian culture. Every culture, if you see, has an arts practice which actually encourages you to engage in some form of mindfulness. What has happened in this modern era is we are trying to modernize everything and leave behind the meaning behind it, thinking that’s old fashioned. One of the examples is I don’t know. One of the examples I can give you is I grew up in a traditional Tamil household where we used to use Kolam or putting Rangoli as outside our houses. And that’s a practice which traditionally a woman does early in the morning. And as feminism started coming in, the narrative slowly started changing, saying, Oh my God, you’re trying to, you know, um. Kind of pressurise this woman to get up early in the morning and do all that. But the actual meaning behind it is traditional rules or earlier what used to happen is the person who gets up early in the morning wanted to create an environment where it felt safe and sound and they wanted to start this practice of going into the day with intention and mindfulness.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:12:51] Okay? And they started doing that. But by getting early in the morning before the sun rises, which we all know, it’s really good, a golden hour for us. The oxygen is pure. You go out, you disinfect the house, and then you engage your hand. And I you sit in a squatting position, which you, we all know is yoga. We’ll all do it. And we use actual organic materials, which now comes as packaged in saying organic, which is our rice powder. And the metaphoric meaning behind it is we need to realize that we need to live in the moment no matter what patterns we put. There are a lot of outside people. Outside forces which are going to redesign the life we want. And life is momentary. Being in the moment is what you need to do. So you wanted to start a day like that, right? It’s so happened that because we are from a patriarchal culture that it got told that women only have to be doing this, but it’s not necessary that actual practice, cultural practice will not be done only by women. So what we try and do, what I try and do in mine is go back to the actual meaning of why that art form was introduced, what is the benefit of it? And we all know neuroscience is that when you engage in pattern making, no matter what, even if it’s a simple doodle, you kind of improve your focus, improve your concentration. You know, you get so many neuroscientific benefits as well. And just by a simple 5 to 10 minute regiment of a daily practice of putting rangoli or kolam, right? And you do different designs, which means you are setting a day and starting the day with intention.

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:14:30] You are in the moment. You’re starting the day with gratitude. You yourself are creating an environment where you feel pleasant. When you are feeling pleasant, you’re going to go into the day making others feel pleasant. Absolutely. Um, and that was like a downtime of, of starting so small, small things like that. So in fact there is an art therapist in Singapore who uses just teaching rangoli to treat depression, you know, and not only South-Asian culture, every single culture has a lot of art practices. And that is where I kind of think we are missing the connection between art and therapy. And I think it’s a it’s a great connection to go back to and teach our kids, not because it is and again, it’s not fashionable, you know, to get up in the morning and do it. But again, if you bring it as a daily ritual and I’m hoping that this is kind of something which will take you away from the screen time, help you spend time with the nature right. And an easy way, which you can do at your home. It’s and I believe in prevention is better than cure. Um proactive practices is better than seeking. Um. So my my my dream would be that I don’t have any clients who come to me for an illness and that I’m able to teach everybody some proactive steps where they are happy and they are able to take care of themselves. So that would be the end goal for me.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:16:00] And amen to that. And I could connect with what you said because being a dancer, I feel that when I’m rehearsing or when I’m on the stage, those five minutes, I’m just there. It’s so my it’s filling my mind with just that one point in time. And I don’t have to think about all the negative thoughts that I might have at any other point of time so I can totally connect with you on that. Um, before I let you go, one last question that I wanted to ask you is. If you have a difficult day. Right. You talked to so many people. People come to you with all sorts of issues. How do you take care of your mental health? At the end of each day?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:16:41] Oh, I have this practice where I have to do something for myself each day, so that is a non-negotiable thing. So I would go for a walk, listen to music, do something creative, write gratitude journal. There are different things I do on different days, right. Um, and I have also trained people around me to read the symptoms of when I’m feeling down so that I will be able to communicate to them and say I’m having a bad day. Um, so I think it is very, very important for us to open up and say to people around us, You know what, I’m not feeling well. Yeah. Um, so I guess I have created an environment for myself, one where I’ve become self-aware and two, I’ve also educated people around me to figure out, um, or do you need a moment to yourself? Do you need to go for a walk? Do you need. Do you want to see, you know, do you want to watch a video? Do let’s listen to that. So that and I’m not afraid to say, you know what? I’m not okay. Yeah. And I have this, um, thumb rule of thumb that if it is not if you, if you feel like crying, you need to cry. But it it is based on the impact it is going to have on your life. So if it is not, if you’re not going to bother about it in five years time, the maximum I would, I would allow myself to kind of went over it is around 15 minutes and after that it is like. We need to get on with it. So all emotions are welcome in my house.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:18:07] That’s probably I’ll take that as a tip and put that in my list of to do things because sometimes, you know, emotions go unchecked and they are left, right centre. But yeah, that’s a very important I think. It’s absolutely okay to have days where you’re feeling like. It’s not okay. Right? There are days, like when you feel like you’re not okay. You don’t have to be happy all the time. My goal is not to tell people that you can be happy. My goal is to tell people that you need to be peaceful no matter where you are at in your life. Happiness, sadness, emotions will come and go. You just need to be aware of how you would be able to regulate them. And then they are all part of life. All all emotions are good emotions for me.

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:18:50] Having said that, I think it’s also important for us to learn like we are not as trained as you guys are, but for me as a commoner, it’s very important for me to learn how to pull myself out of those that negative cocoon of thoughts, because once you get into that, it’s very absorbing. It absorbs you completely. It’s like quicksand. You go deeper and deeper. So it’s very, very important for us to learn, okay, you’re having a bad day, cry it out, sit with your thoughts, but come out of it in due time. Otherwise you’re just going to sink.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:19:20] That’s it, 100%. So I kind of. What what if I have to give you one tip? I would say the same. Like, I’d repeat what I said earlier. If it is if you’re not going to. So the three questions I ask my kids. Right. Have you heard somebody? You know, is it something which is irreplaceable? Like, you know, Absolutely. You’re grieving for somebody, you know, because grieving takes time, right? Yeah. Um, is it something you can learn from? Right. If it is something you can learn from and in five years time, it’s really not going to matter, then the maximum would. You should cry about it. And of course, you’ll feel disappointed. That’s right. 15 minutes with an alarm. Do something. And then and I think a good walk. Don’t underestimate the power of a good walk or even even just watching. Something which doesn’t make sense. Like I watch a lot of serials and I’m into a lot of Bollywood dramas. And yeah, I think watching Bollywood dramas helps as well. If you just have to switch off and you know.

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:20:21] It gives you a stress of another level, but. Sometimes it’s okay to kind of do. The other thing is you just write. The other thing is just think about something which cheers you up or. Exactly. You know, in our culture, a cup of tea seems to be the salve for everything. So always a chai helps.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:20:40] Maybe. I don’t know. But. Yeah. Um, last thing. What would be your message of resilience to our listeners?

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:20:47] I kind of my one message I would like everybody to do is your mental health is as important as your physical health. Don’t underestimate it. If you’re doing something for your physical health, great. If you’re doing some mindful practice for your mental health, absolutely wonderful. But if you’re not. It only takes five minutes and you need to figure out what what is the one thing which ticks you and you have to do it proactively, not after you feel anxious or or or sad or towards the illness side, whatever that is.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:21:23] Wonderful. Thank you so much for your golden words mean. Um. Very, very important message conveyed all across. And now to my listeners. If you’ve heard us for the first time, I really hope that you’ve had something to take away from Rupa’s golden words, her experiences. And if you’ve heard us for a while on stories of community resilience, I really hope that you like what you hear on the podcast and you’ve got any thoughts or feedbacks. Please write to me. I’d love to read your thoughts. I’ll be back with another story of community resilience very shortly. Till then, we are living in very difficult times. Please take care and stay safe. And thanks again for joining us. Have a very good evening.

Rupa Parthasarathy: [00:22:00] Thank you so much for the opportunity. Chris. You have a good evening to you as well. And thank you to your listeners.

Chris Mallika Bhadra: [00:22:08] This has been a story of community resilience by three triple zed.