Breathe. Pause. Spend Just 20 Minutes Looking at This Art to Relax and You'll Feel Better

Times are stressful. Election stress (and post-election) stress, COVID fears, economic anxiety, you name it. All fueled by television ads, friends on Facebook, the talking heads on cable news– it can sometimes feel like you can’t escape it. But when we slow down and actually spend extended time with a work of art, we can experience something completely new. With the simple practice of Mindfulness, we have the opportunity to engage with a work of art in a more intuitive way for a fresh, direct encounter.

Local artist and UMMA docent Laura Seligman is a mindfulness and meditation teacher who has led a series of mindfulness tours at the Museum for several years. We recently interviewed her about how she got involved with the mindfulness community, why looking at art is so relaxing, and how you can start meditating on your own at home while looking at art. 

It won’t solve all the world’s problems, but it’ll help. Take a deep breath and dive in!

What inspired you to want to offer mindfulness tours at UMMA? 

When I lived in Los Angeles, I attended a few programs that offered mindfulness in museums. That experience inspired me to create a contemplative experience at UMMA that drew on my background as a visual artist, a long-time meditator, and a docent. There is a palpable shift that happens when we engage a work of art with all of our senses and quiet reflection.


Choose a piece of art to spend some time with
Click on the work to see related mindfulness and reflection prompts

Can you tell us about the physical and emotional benefits of mindfulness?

It’s now well documented that mindfulness practices reduce stress, inflammation and chronic pain, improve sleep, lower blood pressure and affect many other health issues too numerous to name here. These practices help us quiet the mind, become more compassionate to ourselves and others, and pay attention to our bodies so we can begin to relax. Over time we also become more sensitive to others and the environment around us. What a gift during these unpredictable times!

What is it about UMMA, and museums in general, that makes it a good environment for mindfulness? 

Most people look at a work of art for approximately 30-60 seconds. Much of that time is spent reading the label. Slowing down to experience a work of art can be a surprising act of discovery. A more contemplative approach interrupts this deeply ingrained, fast-paced way of looking and allows something very different to emerge. Practicing mindfulness invites a fresh, direct and spacious interaction with one single work of art and increases our enjoyment.

Do you have a personal favorite piece of art at UMMA?  

I am drawn to the Lipstick Building painting by Enoc Perez located in the Contemporary Art gallery. The painting references the Lipstick Building in NYC, named for its shape and color. While doing research to present this painting for the Meet Me program (for people with memory loss), I was moved by the love story that inspired the painter, the scale of the work, and how materials were used in innovative ways.

Do you have any favorite books or other resources about mindfulness that you want to recommend?

Yes! Several. 

Laura provided the following list, which we at UMMA have augmented with our own favorite resources. 

For more details on other courses offered by Laura, please contact her through her website: www.lauraseligman.com

U-M resources

Websites for FREE guided meditations 


Books on Mindfulness Meditation