Model: Laura Mary Flynn // Photo Credit: Chelsea Abril
Yoga is a practice of yoking mind, body, and soul; so too is journaling. When you put pen to paper and begin to let the words roll off of your pen, you are allowing a union of mind (thoughts), body (hands), and soul (the unraveling of what is inside of you, your truest you). What you write may surprise you. When we allow ourselves to move on our yoga mat or even through our day unencumbered by fear, we find fluidity in movement, thoughts, and actions. Similarly, when we allow ourselves to write without a purpose such as a grade or a review, we are able to hear a different voice reflecting back at us from the paper. It is a very different experience writing to yourself under the pretense that no one other than you will read your words as opposed to writing for others to be reviewed or judged. We are able to connect—or yoke—with our true selves; with our soul.
Journaling for me, is yet one more tool through which I can connect. Growing up as the only girl in my family with four brothers, I ambitiously kept a journal. A diary if you will, as young girls refer to it. Though I am sure my brothers took peeks to read the details of my young life as it related to my best friends, boyfriends, and sports, it was well worth the embarrassment. In fact my best friend and I bought the same diary and would sporadically write in our respective journal, side by side.
When I reached middle school, I had less time to journal. By high school, my diary was covered in dust and served only as a lens through which I was able to look back upon my 10-year-old self. At some point in college, I thankfully began to journal again. I journaled on the trials and tribulations of being a two-sport collegiate athlete, faced with the internal and external pressure to succeed on and off the athletic field. I was very hard on myself when it came to both academics and athletics.
My journal became a beautiful outlet for me and my thoughts, and this time there were no intrusive siblings around to read it. My journal was for me, and me alone. I took a mindfulness course during my senior year of college, and as part of the course we were required to maintain a journal. I found the process to be extremely therapeutic; a mind-clearing activity, much like yoga. The practice has since stuck with me. I maintained a journal through my 200-hour yoga teacher training and now, over five years later, I still write in my journal nearly every day.
I have many types of journals. I have one journal filled with daily inspiration such as inspiring quotes and positive life thought—a “lift-me-up journal.” I have a gratitude journal, which is self-explanatory mostly, as it is filled with everything and anything I am grateful for in my life. I have dozens of yoga sequencing journals. And finally, I have “my journal.” “My journal” is where I let it all out and it never leaves home. In the past, I had combined all types of journals into one “everything journal.” I learned the hard way, a few times, that when I bring the “everything journal” out of my house, be it to yoga class or elsewhere and leave it behind, all post-yoga benefits dissipate with the worry that my deepest thoughts were going to escape the privacy of my journal. As such, I recommend separating your journals in a way that makes sense to you, so that you may pour your thoughts out without worrying that it will be in anyone else’s hands. Journaling is therapeutic; just as therapy is confidential, so too should be your journal.
There are many physical and psychological benefits to journaling. According to published reports for the American Psychological Association, journaling has been associated with long-term improvements in mood, stress, and depression. Studies also show that journaling decreases the likelihood of sickness and increases the body’s defense against diseases like asthma, AIDS, and cancer.
A New Zealand study showed that expressive writing and journaling of traumatic events helped wounds heal faster in patients who underwent biopsies. Psychologist Matthew Lieberman explains that writing about your feelings can help the brain overcome emotional upsets and leaves you feeling happier. More specifically, the brain scans revealed that by putting pen to paper, amygdala activity was reduced. The amygdala is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions. Moreover, those participants who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in their right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which lowered the neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings.
National Public Radio’s Cathy Lewis said, “A journal is like a flashlight on the path of your life.” As we move through life, events don’t just happen, they shift us in every sense of the word. Events leave an imprint on us forever, and the act of journaling helps us make sense of the events and chronicle them through the lens of our perception. This process allows us to find clarity and to really let yourself be heard. It allows you to write, see, and read about your emotions, versus simply allowing them to run rampant through your mind. Journaling invites us to organize our thoughts, emotions, and find focus for our future. There are also some unintended benefits. Over time, your writing style and penmanship will improve. But most importantly, you will be happier. As we reflect on the positive events of our lives, and make sense of our failures or shortcomings, we are left with possibility. The possibility represents that “flashlight,” which illuminates the path ahead.
Some of the most influential minds of humankind—Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Pablo Picasso, and Barack Obama—have all been known to maintain journals, recording impressive accounts of their lives. So where can you start? First and foremost, buy a nice journal. Spend money on a journal you are eager to write in and treat well. Handwrite, no computers—there are benefits to physically writing and seeing the words appear on the page versus on a screen.
I recommend starting a journal with loose rules. Begin by writing for 10 minutes—that is all you need to get started. Set a timer so that you can be consistent and hold yourself accountable, even if only a few lines make it to the page. If you are feeling at a loss for words, move through a few sun salutations or meditate, then try again. Write freely and see what happens.
Start small by journaling three times a week, for 30 minutes a week. Embark on a brand new practice that can impact the rest of your life. Write about anything, be it feelings, ideas, memories, events, goals, travel, whatever inspires you. Life is fleeting, so keep a record for yourself. Being able to revisit breakthroughs and major triumphs is a hugely positive experience. If you keep a record, you keep moments alive.
Be honest, remember that only you will be reading your words. Journal your way to a happier and healthier life!
Laura Mary Flynn
Laura Mary Flynn attended college in upstate New York and graduate school in Hawaii, where she received a Master of Public Health degree. She leads her own 200-Hour yoga teaching training at Power Yoga Hawaii and hosts yoga and goals retreats.