Appreciate Origami


Caroline Li, Staff Writer

You’re waiting in the lunch line. There’s nothing to do but count the pieces of dandruff on the hair of the person you’re behind, and 10 people just cut in front of you in the time it took to bend down and tie your shoe. Faced with little choice, you sigh dramatically, pull out your phone, and open up a few apps. Maybe check your email. There’s no real reason, but your hands feel empty, and you want to look like you’re doing something, even if it’s just swiping boredly back and forth between the pages of your homescreen. 

The problem? As our Screentime notifications love to inform us, phones are great at eating up large chunks of our time. And as cool as it is to have the entire Internet squeezed into a little metal box that fits in the palm of your hand, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to spend five hours liking realistic food drawings on Instagram and another five sharing them with his friends. Instead of racking up Screentime minutes, I believe that more people should take up the art of origami because it can be done anywhere and anytime, fulfills and stimulates different parts of the brain, and can have stress-relieving effects.

The word “origami” comes from the Japanese words 折る (“oru”), meaning “to fold,” and 紙 (“kami”), meaning “paper.” Unlike our phones, paper as we know it was invented by the Chinese in the Han Dynasty—approximately 2,000 years ago. Origami followed soon after, expanding gradually to the West as paper became more and more accessible to the masses. 

Aside from being used in religious rituals, origami used to be a major source of entertainment for Japanese children and adults alike and has been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, attention span, concentration, and imagination. It also doubles as a therapeutic exercise for individuals recovering from a stroke or injury, as was the case for Sadako Sasaki, a young girl afflicted with leukemia due to radiation exposure from the Hiroshima bomb. Sasaki attempted to fold 1,000 paper cranes (which symbolize good fortune) in hopes of being cured, and later on, for world peace. In honor of her death and those of the countless other children killed by the atomic bomb, a statue of a girl lifting a paper crane into the flight, known as the Children’s Peace Monument, was erected in Hiroshima.

Unlike our phones and other electronic devices, origami doesn’t produce any overstimulating blue light, which has a shorter wavelength than normal light. Although blue light can come from natural sources, the blue light our phones produce creates more visual noise in our eyes, which can disrupt our circadian rhythms, damage the retinas, and cause eye strain. It also doesn’t have predatory algorithms trying to get you to buy weight loss tea, resulting in hour-long doom-scrolling sessions, or give you a headache when you realize just how much homework you’ve procrastinated on.

But enough about why origami is better than phone addiction—why should you do origami?

Due to the ubiquity of paper and online tutorials, origami is an extremely accessible and affordable hobby that attracts people of all ages and backgrounds. Moreover, origami is known to stimulate the brain by building hand-eye coordination, developing fine-motor skills, improving memory, and encouraging concentration in children. While its creative aspects exercise the imagination, it also has practical applications that can be extrapolated to the realms of engineering, molecular physics, and invention through concepts such as optimization algorithms (used in mathematical/technical origami, or “origami seeker”), Gaussian Potentials, and the Miura Map Fold (a type of fold used for solar panel arrays on satellites).

Furthermore, the repetitive action of folding a particular origami over and over again can establish neural pathways that transfer clumsy, conscious movements from the motor cortex into the cerebellum, where movements become fluid and unconscious. Due to this process, origami can help individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by serving as a low-effort, inexpensive fidget toy. Additionally, the more complex, interconnected neural pathways created from committing these movements to the cerebellum serve as comprehensive highway systems that expedite the learning process for future skills.

If these physical and mental benefits aren’t enough for you, then origami is just plain fun.

“It turns out that when your hands are engaged in the process of folding the paper, impulses are being sent to your brain [that], in turn, releases serotonin,” wrote Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy. “Serotonin influences mood and helps us feel happy and calm…it helps kids increase their overall levels of attention.”

Lastly, origami breaks are immensely helpful for getting past mental blocks. Not only do they provide a tangible token of your time, care, and effort, but they also serve as cognitively and physically engaging respites from long periods of work. Similar to how our brains use dreams to interpret and sort the overwhelming amount of stimuli we receive during the daytime, folding origami occupies your hands with a series of low-effort, repetitive movements, allowing your mind the space and time it needs to work its troubles out. For example, while writing this article, there was a period where I couldn’t for the life of me get the first paragraph to sound right. I was so caught up in the cycle of deleting and writing and reading and deleting again that it started to impact my emotional state because fun little intros like that usually come very naturally to me. Eventually, I just couldn’t summon the motivation to continue, so I took a minute to step back from the screen and folded myself a yellow paper crane with some repurposed scratch paper (who I have since named Curious George). 

While folding George, I was also unconsciously sifting through my emotions and expectations, thinking of ways to improve upon my writing, and allowing my thoughts to pass in and out of my mind without resistance—all of which helped me re-approach my intro with a less turbulent and more objective mindset. In other words, George helped me realize that nothing is perfect and that sometimes, that realization in itself is immensely valuable to the creative process. Thanks, George.

“It’s not uncommon for people to have breakthrough ideas while mindlessly working on something with their hands,” claimed Dr. Susan Biali Haas. “When we engage in a repetitive task, completely taking our minds off whatever problem or issue we have been struggling with, the solution will often magically appear.”

As for Arcadia High students, junior Justina Liu mentioned that “origami challenges the human mindset to think from another perspective.” She also expressed that it was conducive to learning.

All in all, origami is a fun, productive, and engaging way to relax and recenter. If you’re new to all this but want to know where to start, here are some beginner-friendly origami tutorials, some of the basic types of folds used in many origami diagrams, and a beautiful short story called The Paper Menagerie that portrays a Chinese-American boy’s relationship with his mother and culture through origami animals.

Origami is a more enriching, entertaining, and productive alternative to phone fidgeting. Aside from relieving stress and emotional turmoil, it helps the brain commit future skills to muscle memory faster, improves attention and cognitive function in children, and stimulates the brain. As teenagers with way too much screen time under their belts, origami is a great way to remember that sometimes it helps to take a page out of the past, even if it’s to make paper cranes.


Photo courtesy of UNSPLASH.COM