Therapeutic Health Benefit of Pottery Play

Oriental medicine is largely based on the principle of meridians, according to which good health is attained by allowing body energy to flow smoothly through the meridian channels in the body. If there are interruptions, there is ill health, which is then treated by applying treatment (pressure, puncture, heat, etc) to a point to regularize energy flow. Though the relationship between the points on the meridians and the corresponding parts of the body is still being debated, people have increasingly turned to alternative therapies, especially those from the Eastern world.

Pottery plays an interesting role in all this. It allows one to indulge in therapy for ailments like hypertension, blood pressure, stress, anxiety insomnia and so forth, even in the absence of medical supervision. Since the fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the human body, they are also our richest source of tactile feedback from our environment – so our sense of touch is intimately associated with our hands. Therefore pottery, or even simply ‘playing with clay’, has immense therapeutic benefit as all the pressure points in the hands are stimulated with the hand movements, and the wet clay eliminates the possibility of any damage from friction on delicate skin. (In fact, some beauticians even recommend clay masks for instant enhancement of the hands!)

Pottery production is a process in which wet clay body (clay mixed with other minerals), is shaped and allowed to dry. The formed clay body, or piece, may be ‘bisque or biscuit fired’ in a kiln to induce permanent changes that result in increased mechanical strength, and then fired a second time after adding a glaze. Or a piece may be fired once by applying an appropriate glaze to the dry unfired clay and then firing in one cycle. Pottery that is fired at temperature in the 800 to 1200o C range, which does not vitrify in the kiln, but remains slightly porous, is often called earthenware or terra cotta. Clay bodies formulated to be fired at higher temperature, which are partially vitrified, are called stoneware. Fine earthenware with a white tin glaze is known as faience. Porcelain is a very refined, smooth, white body that, when fired for vitrification, can have translucent qualities.

Home (or studio) pottery is of two popular types- handworked and wheelworked. The process of making ceramic ware on the potter’s wheel is called ‘throwing’ or ‘turning’. A ball of clay is placed in the centre of a turntable, called the wheel head, which is turned chiefly using foot power (a kick wheel or treadle wheel) or a variable speed electric motor. Often, a disk of plastic, wood or plaster is affixed to the wheel head, and the ball of clay is attached to the disk rather than the wheel head so that the finished piece can be removed easily. The disk is referred to as a ‘bat’. The wheel revolves rapidly while the clay is pressed, squeezed, and pulled gently into shape. The process of pressuring the clay into a rotational symmetry, so that it does not move from side to side as the wheeled head rotates is referred to as ‘centring’ the clay- usually the most difficult skill to master for beginners.

Additives can be worked to moist clay, prior to forming, to produce the desired characteristics in the finished ware. Various coarse additives, such as sand and grog (fired clay which has been finely ground) give the final product strength and texture, and contrasting coloured clays and grogs result in patterns.

Colorants, usually metal oxides and carbonates, are added to achieve desired colour. Combustible particles can be mixed or pressed into the surface to produce texture.

The best part of pottery is that anyone can do it, anywhere and the costs can be kept minimal if you so wish. The first steps would be to visit your local potter’s village, or pottery store, or track down a pottery school. You can source your material for them or even use their kilns to fire your creations once they are air dried. If that entails too much work to fit into your schedule, you can simply buy children’s play-dough or even begin with basic homemade play-dough made with flour, some adhesive and a preservative like antiseptic solution. First your air-dry your piece, then color it and finally fix the color with thick coats of varnish to make it water and inspect proof. Voila, your own masterpiece and the added benefit of a calmer you.

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