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Painting Nails Can Be Mindfulness Too

It’s a practice I may not do everyday, but it was an off beat way to open myself up to other practices and techniques for a more mindful life.

Photo by Julia Kutsaeva on Unsplash

I’m one of those people who has tried meditation several times. I’ve managed consistency in some attempts but ultimately I’ve quit the practice (My longest streak has been 5 days!).

However, mindfulness is something I need. In a fast-paced, buzzing life with a tendency to be anxious about the future and its possibilities, I needed something to ground and center myself.

Since I could not cultivate the discipline for meditation, I sought out to find something that could calm my inner chatter. Little did I know that the answer happened to be right on my hands.

The History of My Nails

When I was in college, I indulged myself frequently, with brightly colored nails. I was famous for having two colors on my nails, simultaneously. However, my motivation to paint my nails went down, after I started working. The sheer time and patience it took, made me feel like it wasn’t worth the effort. There were other things I could do, with this time saved!

Soon enough, a close friend and I started going to the salon to get them done. This monthly ritual felt like ‘indulgence’. The fact that I was spending some money to get myself pretty nails and a chat session with my friend, made it feel like ‘self-care’.

I always knew how important my nails were to me. When I did my nails on my own, I would get irritated with chip offs and smudged colors. The messy nails felt like some sort of extension of my self-esteem. My nails were some gateway to assess me. With the salon I had no fear. Their paint work would not budge, no matter what I did to it.

Unfortunately, without realising, I had coddled my brain into believing that perfection was attainable and sustainable.

It took some messed up my nails and the excruciatingly painful and damaging process of scraping off the acrylic, that I decided to avoid the salon and go back to my days of taking color and getting down to business.

A Foil to Perfection

I am a perfectionist and not in a good way. I am the kind of person who will continue to put off something in the fear that the output will not be perfect and then blame my lack of action on procrastination.

When I did my nails at home, there has a high potential for the errors and smudges, making me feel ‘unattractive’ (even if it was in a spot visible to no one except me). This was my trigger to start seeking professional intervention for my nails in the first place.

In due course however, I saw that even professional help was not full proof.

A few botched nail jobs (including one where the scrubbing to remove the old acrylic coating led to bleeding), were eyeopeners and I realized that it was time to go back to something slightly less painful since even the painful process was no guarantee for perfect nails.

Gateway to a Centred Me

Painting my nails, brought a certain calm and peace to my mind. Something only second to writing. The process of choosing the color, painting the nails and the wait for them to dry off, brought with them a certain ability for me to centre myself. To be truly aware of my surroundings. Gradually, I found myself pursuing this a lot of times before embarking on an important task or at the end of a rough day.

Painting my nails become a sensory activity too. It felt as if my senses were united under one focus. Right from the sight of the color, to the smell of the enamel, to the sound of the applicator being dipped into the bottle for more color. It became a soothing activity for all the senses.

Cultivation of Patience with Thoughts

Doing my nails is a 30-minute process, at the least. I apply two color coats and one top coat, each of which has to dry before the next layer. This meticulous process, helped me cultivate a little patience.

I could never for the life of me, sit still without fiddling on my phone for 30 mins at a stretch. Or for that matter any other gadget. But if you’ve ever tried using your phone with a wet coat, you know that it’s a highly risky ordeal. And one botched coat is another 10-minute wait. So I sit tight and wait!

These 30 minutes are some of my most undistracted minutes in a week. Previous experiments showed me that YouTube or background music can be highly unnerving in this process. So, I’m left alone with my thoughts. Also the fact that the wet nail paint, doesn’t let me touch my phone or other distractors, really does making me stay with my thoughts.

During this undistracted time, I come up with ideas for writing, I make small mental checklists, daydream a little and as would be expected, I run off into the future too. The fact that in these 30 minutes I’m one with my thoughts, allow me to bring my mind back to the present and my present priorities. It makes me feel relaxed and calm. The sensory pleasure from the activity too, adds to my comfort with my thoughts and silence.

Colouring Out of the Lines

Nail paint is bound to let loose on your finger. The skins around your nails will be adorned with the color too. This previously irritated me and I would pick up some remover, which would sometimes botch the entire nail which would in turn infuriate me further.

However, I soon realized that if I allowed it, this was something that made me comfortable with ambiguity and mistakes. This realization stimulated my creative juices in a way that coloring as a child had done before. I’ve nearly always felt more creative after a round of nail painting. Not just the fact that the colors are stimulating but also making the choice/trade-off of choosing a temporary color added to my ability of making decisions (and I’m not the person who is comfortable making decisions!).

Allowing the color to run amok, brought an epiphany in me that sometimes breaking boundaries is inevitable. Some rules are only meant to guide you and breaking them is not necessarily the end of a road. Coloring out of the lines is certainly not the end of the road! With a little bit of patience, that nail color once-solid on the skin, could be peeled off with water. But just because the color went out of the lines, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try the next time!

What’s The Point?

Courtesy reclaiming my nail painting process, I was able to bring mindfulness to other areas as well. Since I realized how music/YouTube was proving to be a disturbance for me, I decided to give other activities a shot too without background music.

In the past, I couldn’t read or workout without something running in the background. I had to play something to drown out my thoughts. However, the practice of painting my nails gave me a certain comfort with my thoughts which I could extrapolate further. I now read without music and let my thoughts flow without blocking them. I can assure you, never before have I gotten as much reading done!

Make your mindfulness journey your own.

Just because you can’t meditate or practice the more conventional techniques, does not mean you should deprive yourself of the joy and benefits of a mindful way of life. Keep at it and find your combinations, prompts, and activities to calm the inner chatter. In the meanwhile, I’m off to paint my nails a Ruby Red!




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Vanshika Sharma

Vanshika Sharma

I write about self improvement, mindset and productivity! I also write poetry. You can follow me on Instagram @poetrybyvanshika

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