mapping the body, the journey

this past weekend, as part of my art therapy training, i participated in a two-day workshop on body mapping with Christine Lummis, BA, D.K.A.T.I, R.C.A.T — a lovely, authentic and skilled art therapist based in the Kootenays of British Columbia.

what is body mapping? 
Body Mapping is an arts-based process/activity that becomes a “visual journey of the body’s story” (Lummis, 2011).  at the beginning of the day, we talked about the history (see below) and ways that people use the process — to explore disease, body image, life experience and more. we then began the process of making our own – i was excited, anxious, and curious to see where we would go .. and where i would go …

i won’t go into all the details — there are several specific steps/directives that were followed throughout the two days.  at the end of the two days, each person had created a unique map body but where we had placed the information was somewhat similar — thus creating a legend that we could all acknowledge and witness in eachother’s process.  powerful, moving, and so creative!

i’d like to share a my visual journey and a bit of my own process and images … please be gentle as you look and take it all in.  what would you do with these directives and ideas?  perhaps you will be inspired to create your own or seek out an opportunity in a group setting to do so. i’m sure that if i started this process tomorrow, my image would be different — who knows how much?!

one of the first steps was to trace asupport person‘s’ body and then have someone trace my own body onto the paper. in the left bottom corner, i paintedwhere I come fromand in the upper right corner I paintedmy goals and visions‘.  

at this stage, i had also completed a few of the other directives that included outlining my body, filling in the support body with colour, printing my own hand and foot onto the page and painted personal power symbols onto my own body. 

where I come from ~ it was important to me to acknowledge all the people and places that i come from — including my family and extended family and the beautiful landscape that has sustained them for a hundred years.  there is sorrow, loss, connection, disconnection and love. it is good to recognize the love.  











visions/goals ~ my vision/goal is the integration of where i come from in a way that is uniquely my own. bringing together and letting go. holding on. acknowledging painful parts and being with them in compassion. finding new ways of being and becoming.

i came into the process with the intention of compassion, kindness and light to myself and my journey.  sometimes i get caught up in the painful parts but this process allows an acknowledgement of all of it. one of the parts that i resisted and then found more resonance with as the process went along was painting the support person and naming all the people and things that support me — it really serves as a good reminder that i am not alone.

painting marks on the skin, marks under the skin, creating a self portrait (so difficult but once i got into it, i enjoyed the process — still not sure if it looks like me), diseases including treatments, side effects and self-care were all part of the process.  for example, i explored respiratory issues and my recovery from pneumonia through colours and images in the upper body. i did not write a message to the public but i included things i think of in difficult times like: be gentle, be kind, be brave. i am an ocean of calm. it just takes time.  


the final piece is integration.  this means filling in the spaces, going in to layer and/or gloss over parts and emphasize others .. whatever feels right at this time to finish the piece.  i spent lots of time here just bringing the energy of completion and wholeness to the piece.  and really could have worked through particular parts much slowly than over a two-day period (which is, of course, possible.. body mapping can be done in any length of time over any period of time as long as you give enough time!).  

i loved this process.  it is a creative, engaging, structured way to explore my own journey. there are many specific directives to follow and this creates a sense of order and safety; however each directive is an opportunity to explore the self, the body, and relationship to others in a very personal and deep way.  i would like to create a body map each year as a visual representation of my own growth and journey … but the process is so big!  perhaps a mini-body map with a larger one every five or seven years (that’s the enviro-geek in my talking).  i look forward to exploring the process and parts of the process in other contexts and learning more!

if you want to learn more:
Body Mapping was developed by Jane Solomon, an artist from Capetown, South Africa in response to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.  Here is a link to her book (click on the blue link at the bottom of the page): “Living with X”: A Body Mapping Journey in the Time of HIV/AIDS. A Facilitator’s Guide.

The Moon, The Stars, and a Scar: Body Mapping Stories of Women Living with HIV/AIDS — this article, by Carole Devine includes the history of both body mapping and HIV/AIDS, powerful stories, and inspiring images.

Short blog post includes history and major organizations involved.

Canadian Medical Association Journal article 

Khayalitsha Hospital Art Project


8 responses to “mapping the body, the journey

  • kparks

    this is amazing! and quite the challenge to know your self so well that you can produce that intricate of a portrait. Awesome, and Love.

  • Christine Lummis

    Wonderful description of your process Jessica. I appreciate your courage to share it with others in such a beautiful and honoring way. Thanks for your participation!

    Christine Lummis

  • Kay Gravell

    Hi Jessica, It was great to read of your experience of body mapping. I have been using body mapping to explore my experience of breast cancer. I recently facilitated a workshop on body mapping at the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association National Conference in Brisbane in November last year. I’ve included a description of my workshop on my blog which you might like to check out.

    I also came across a Chilean woman who has been doing body mapping; she did a poster presentation at the International Conference on for the study of sexuality, culture and society in Madrid in July last year. I’ve put some info I got from her below. You might want to follow up with her:

    Body Mapping Jimena Silva Segovia Dr. of anthropology
    Universidad Catolica de Norte in Antofagusta Chile
    Thesis “power relationships between Chilean women from two generations: forming and breaking alliances, dissidence and oppostition between mothers and daughters Beca Conicyt 2006 – 2009

    Methodology of Body Mapping
    1. Biographical writings – help participants to create their life trajectories – autobiographies and individual’s self interpretations
    2. Narrating the written (De Villers, 1999 & Ferrareti, 1981) – horizontal, vertical, winding or circular openings into lived experience.
    3. Body mapping – using collage, writing painting etc on outline of body shape.
    4. Emerging body expressions – conglomerate of different expressions leading into intersubjective work where participants generate new opportunities for rebuilding themselves and recreate their body project again

    Hope to keep sharing info with you.

    Kay Gravell

  • More on Body Mapping | breastless landscape

    […] I just came across a woman in US who was writing about her experience of body mapping. Its such an amazing feeling of connection to come across people on the other side of the world exploring similar topics. She has written about her experience of particpating in a 2 day body mapping workshop on her blog […]

  • bodymapping – developing new narratives for our lives « arcticfoxfire

    […] therapy student Jessica Leavens wrote a beautiful account of her experience at a 2 day bodymapping workshop. Please do click on […]


    How long did it take you to create “mapping the body, the journey arts and crafts collective”?
    It has got quite a bit of decent info. With thanks ,Oscar

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