Find Harmony through Hands-on Activities

Mind-body balance artwork.
Illustration by Kristen Uroda

Modern life often requires relentless multi-tasking: working, caring for children or elders, exercising, prepping meals, attending to notifications and newsfeeds. If balancing the competing demands and distractions of daily existence sometimes feels overwhelming, know this: there is an antidote.

One way to minimize stress and return to work refreshed is to dedicate time each day to hands-on activities that occupy mind and body with a single task. Such practices allow you to focus, recenter, and reenergize, says Rajita Sinha, founding director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center, where researchers investigate ways of mitigating the effects of stress on our bodies and brains. “When we engage in tasks that fully engage our hands and senses, our mind, breath, and body are present in total synchrony, stress-free,” says Rajita, also a professor of psychiatry.

Here are three of the many opportunities at Yale, in person or by Zoom, for staff to slow down, de-stress, and recharge.

Coloring for calm

On Thursday afternoons, Maytal Saltiel, associate university chaplain, takes a break from delivering pastoral care to the Yale community for an hour of “Cookies and Coloring,” hosted by Chaplain Sharon Kugler (who also bakes the cookies) in the chaplain’s office basement, a technology-free area called the “Breathing Space.”

During the weekly sessions, “I can opt out of our busyness culture,” Maytal says. “When I focus on coloring, I can feel my breath slow down and my mind quiet.” The change Maytal intuitively feels in her body is backed by science, which has shown that meditative activities like coloring stimulate the part of the brain that regulates anxiety, decreasing stress and building resilience.

'Cookies and Coloring' provides joy, laughter, and creativity — things we all need every day.

Maytal says listening to her body while she colors allows her to return to work refreshed. “I think it’s important for everyone to find a moment to pause during their workday,” she says. “‘Cookies and Coloring’ provides joy, laughter, and creativity — things we all need every day.”

“Cookies and Coloring” meets Thursdays from 4 - 5 p.m. in the basement of Welch Entryway C or, when weather permits, in the Bingham courtyard; no registration required.

Digging for creativity

Restorative activities can inspire creative thinking, says Diego Ellis Soto ’24 Ph.D. and a Global Food Fellow. He volunteers at the Yale Farm during their Friday open workdays, to “let go of the day-to-day worries of writing papers, coding, teaching, and writing grants.” Those responsibilities are part of his work as a graduate student studying the impact of rapid environmental change on animal habitats in the lab of Walter Jetz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of forestry and environmental studies. Diego says he finds planting veggies, harvesting corn, and weeding crops “meditative and educational,” and when his mind lets go, ideas emerge.

Listen to “Farm Birds Sing a Song”

“The sound of the shovels, the birds, and the chickens, all making noises at the same time...was like music,” Diego says.

“I was sitting on a rock looking at the farm, listening to the sound of the shovels, the birds, and the chickens, all making noises at the same time. It was like music,” says Diego, who also plays synthesizers and classical piano. “I had to make a song about it.” He strategically planted microphones around the farm for a month, gathering enough bird calls to produce the short piece “Farm Birds Sing a Song,” now on Spotify.

Learn more about volunteering at the Farm this spring, summer, and fall.

The fabric of fellowship

Cynthia Smith, associate provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity, finds calm and community through knitting, a craft she rediscovered when her first grandchild was born. As she began working on a hat for him, she found the “rhythmic process” of knitting to be as relaxing as it was productive.

With the assistance of Lisa Kimmel, director of wellness and education at Yale Health, Cynthia organized a biweekly knitting group under the umbrella of Being Well at Yale, which supports employees in building healthier lifestyles. A group of about 10 regulars now meets by Zoom every other Monday night. “Everyone shares a bit about what’s happening in their lives and with their knitting,” Cynthia says. “If anyone is stuck with a particular stitch or a pattern, there is always someone willing to help.”

To participate in Monday knitting group meetings, email Cynthia Smith at

Organized hands-on activities are open to everyone at Yale. If coloring, farming, or knitting isn’t your thing, check out the Yale Affinity Groups for other restorative pastimes — or start your own.