Enhancing your Yoga Practice with Journaling
The art and practice of yoga promise many benefits to the practitioner, and the fruits of time spent on the mat are varied and innumerable. We experience these benefits in different degrees based on our dedication and commitment. Each of us has a gateway reason that initially brings us to the mat; typically, it’s something very broad like becoming more flexible or relieving stress. Inevitably over time, those reasons change, and the “get” from the practice becomes subtler, like raising consciousness or living more compassionately. No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum, there are tools that help to enhance the experience of Yoga, so the nectar of the practice is sweeter and more potent. Some of these tools require a hefty investment of time or resource and are therefore inaccessible to everyone, but other tools like the one we are talking about here are accessible to all. Journaling is a beautiful way to supplement and enhance your yoga practice—all you need is a pen, paper, and a few minutes of your day.
Journaling is a simple sacred act that calls us to a place of exploration, curiosity, and revelation. You don’t have to be a professional writer to be a personal journalist. Writing helps to process and exfoliate the lives we lead and our thoughts about them. Journaling helps to strengthen the path for a deeper relationship with Self. This intimate art clears mental clutter and leaves a sense of spaciousness in its wake. It is detoxifying for the mind and cathartic for the heart. Journaling, unlike a lot of self-growth modalities, is relatively easy and doesn’t require a financial output. It necessitates no training, no physical capabilities, and there are no grades or performance criteria. It is one of the most open and forgiving therapeutic avenues available to us. The question should rather be: Why not journal? The benefits are limitless, and the outlay is small in comparison.
The Yoga/Journaling Connection
Yoga is so much more than movement; Yoga is the science of and relationship to the Self. The modern yogi doesn’t typically have time to devote all waking hours to the theory and practice of Yoga. We are blessed with such multifaceted lives that we tend to harbor boatloads of gunk that fog our ability to see and experience reality from a place of pure conscience. Because our human experience is so complex, having supplemental tools to support the yogic process is vital. Journaling is a beautiful and very personal way to expand upon our time on the mat. A yoga practice is full of “ah-ha” moments, and often, those precious nuggets of wisdom get lost because we roll up our mats and walk away without engaging with follow-up practices that give space to explore and provide roots for revelations.
If you are new to journaling, the best way to get acquainted with the practice is by embarking on a daily stream of consciousness writing journey. This means that you sit down for five to fifteen minutes (or more!) and just write down what is flowing through your mind at that very moment. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or making sense of anything; simply allow your thoughts to pour naturally through your hand to the paper. Don’t judge or choreograph the process; just write.
If you are finding that you sit down to journal, and nothing comes out simply be with the “nothingness.” Use it as an opportunity to meditate on the blockage. If you push past this place without recognizing it’s importance than you risk forfeiting some of the fertilizer that goes into the soil where you will eventually hope to grow. Everything exists for a reason, and we must honor what arises even if it feels unwelcome.
After making space for the block as mentioned above, you can give yourself some prompts to help lubricate the flow of energy to the blank page. Here are some examples:
- What did I learn from my practice today?
- How did the theme of the practice speak to my life or how can I apply the theme of the practice to my life?
- What in my life can I be grateful for?
- What habits (small or large) aren’t supporting my highest Self?
- What am I needing or wanting to cultivate more of in my life?
- Where is there pain in my body, mind, or heart that needs to be explored and expressed?
- Where is there misalignment in my ways in the world?
- What doesn’t fit with the current vision I have for my life?
- What has been left unsaid or untouched that yearns for my attention?
- Where do I need more boundaries in my life? Where do I need to say “no” more?
- Where do I need more freedom in my life? Where do I need to say “yes” more?
- Where and how do I feel stuck?
- What inspires me in the present moment?
Once you are comfortable with this form of expressive arts, then you can start to give the practice a firmer container, such as sitting down to write and process what unfolded for you while you were on the mat that day. You can explore anything that was challenging, anything that prevented you from being fully present on the mat, anything that you learned, etc. For example, you could’ve been strongly triggered by something the teacher said, which happens a lot! If you walk away from the class and allow the focus to be on the teacher, it was his/her fault for saying whatever it was that pushed your buttons; then, you hold no ownership of your reaction to it. It would be valuable to use your journaling practice as a place to hold space for reflections about why this something or someone bothered you, and therefore you give yourself the opportunity to get to the root of the cause. When you get to the root of the cause, true healing, and transformation take place. But if you aren’t careful or if you don’t have other practices to assist this process, you could miss the chance to evolve entirely. And if we aren’t growing and evolving we are withering and wilting. Yoga is the yoking of all things, including people. What we learn on our mats we take into our lives, so you can start to apply this beyond the yoga to other relationships or situations off the mat.
Commit to 30 Days
As with all practices, it is important to keep going. Sometimes, more often than not, we abandon new things if we don’t see instant gratification of their benefits. I always suggest giving something at least thirty days before surmising anything about its possible impact. Time is a crucial ingredient to change, and almost nothing happens overnight. The same is true with journaling. In my experience, journaling becomes more gratifying the longer I do it. Give yourself permission to commit past any resistance and if it doesn’t stick now to be willing to consider it at a different time in your life down the road.
Five Steps to Starting a Journaling Practice
- Get a journal! It could be something as simple as a spiral-bound notebook or something fancy like a leather-bound notebook.
- Set aside time to journal every day or each time you practice yoga. Try to be consistent; all practices are more powerful when they are ritualized.
- Write freely about anything that moves you or if you need some help to initiate the flow give yourself a prompt.
- Keep your journal with you when you practice so that even if you don’t have time to sit down and write immediately afterward, you can jot down some small notes as reminders for when you are able to return.
- Be free of expectations and have fun!
Journaling and yoga are a perfect marriage. Writing helps to extract more from your time on the mat. It’s valuable to pack in the potency because time is precious and nothing beyond this moment is guaranteed. Happy writing my dear friends, may this practice bring your closer to the heart of your yoga.
Benefits to Practicing Yoga Every Day
In a recent study aptly titled, Neuroprotective Effects of Yoga Practice, the brains of experienced yoga practitioners were compared to those of non-practitioners with similar health profiles. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers at The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health were able to identify regions of activity and growth. As a result, this study found that:
- A regular practice combining breath awareness, physical postures and meditation can increase the volume of gray matter (brain tissue) in different parts of the brain, effectively reducing the naturally occurring, age-related decline of brain cells. With most of the observed gray matter volume changes having occurred in the left-side of the brain, the implication is that yoga shifts the automatic response of the practitioner from fight-or-flight (right-brain, sympathetic nervous system activation resulting in acute physical stress) to rest-and-digest (left-brain, parasympathetic nervous system activation promoting calm and relaxation)
- The areas of the brain indicating the greatest change in gray matter were those directly related to sense of self, attention, spatial/sensory awareness as well as stress reduction. These findings provide a potential neural basis for the benefits of practicing yoga. The observed benefits were greater in those who practiced more often over a longer period of time supporting the notion that a consistent practice of yoga every day is more effective than an intermittent one