In a time when so much of our life is documented in social media, a journal is a really honest way to keep a record. What gets published online isn't the real life stuff though is it? If it was there would be way more pictures of me eating my evening meal at 4pm standing over the kitchen sink, washing up bowl ready to receive my plate. I understand you don't want to see those images (they aren't pretty).
With a journal you get to write all the stuff you wouldn’t share, uncensored and really personal stuff. Like 'I feel lonely eating my dinner like this, I should arrange brunch dates with friends more often.'
I recently found a journal I started when I was a student on my first ever weekend yoga retreat. I was writing about how nervous I felt, ‘why have I signed up to this? I’m not ready to do yoga for a whole weekend! My back is really bad.’ I then wrote over the sentences with other sentences, because I was worried people would find my journal and read it.
It was interesting, and sad reading. I was in my 20s at the time, clearly very anxious and I had been suffering from a bad back for years and understandably very concerned it would flare up over the weekend. I also had an issue with trust as I was worried other people would read my rather negative ramblings.
I can remember the time well, but… I really can’t relate to those thoughts and fears. I respect them of course, but I don’t have those same concerns now. I can’t imagine ever feeling like that again.
On a more positive note, over the course of that weekend my entries became more reflective as I found my voice. It can be hard to articulate how you feel and share that with other people, journaling gives you a chance to speak freely, you don’t have to apologise for how you feel, give caveats (I was really tired, sorry diary) or explain yourself. It’s a safe space to just talk. As the weekend progressed there were lots of ‘OMGs’ and ‘I have got to do this more often.’ I was writing about how good the food tasted, not just because the retreat owners grow the vegetables that go into the meals, but because I was actually present at meal times and really tasting the food. I made a few little promises to myself on that retreat, it’s been about 10 years, and I’ve stuck to them.
Journaling is a great way to set goals, gives you a sense of achievement and holds you to account. I used to write what classes I’d go to each week, and felt more motivated to go. I like making plans to meet my friends and enjoy the experience of looking forward to meeting up. I’m very unlikely to cancel on my friends last minute, journaling yoga and meditation sessions are like that. I make that commitment, and always feel better after.
Its ok to set goals in yoga. Mastering the tripod headstand or an arm balance are not the be all and end all, but what they do teach us is that persistence pays off. We can work to achieve these things, and we delight when that happens. You get to write about that in your journal!
One of my early goals was to help ease pain in my lower back. I don’t get to journal about that anymore, because it’s gone, but I do get to set new goals!
Size Doesn’t Matter
My first yoga journal was tiny (pictured) and gives a good indication of how much writing and reflection I planned on doing! As my confidence has grown, I have so much more to say and regularly fill up notebooks, and they’ve got bigger! I have different journals now for different things. But it all came from this first little one.
I’ve tried lots of different writing exercises, automatic writing can be a good place to start, especially if you fear a blank page. Automatic writing is at it sounds, just sit and write for 5 minutes. Usually the first few minutes are taken up with ‘I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, what’s meant to happen, this is pointless’ -But keep going. Its like archelogy, got to do some digging before you find the good stuff!
If you’re not a writer; draw and make it visual! You can get journals which encourage you to do a sketch a day, or record spoken diary entries. If this is still feels a bit challenging, start by collecting inspiring articles (start with this one obviously), images or quotes from Instagram!
Do it for your future self
I am so pleased I started journaling! I get to look back on how far I’ve come, like leaving my career and training as a yoga teacher! I get to share the benefits I’ve personally experienced and written about now every day of the week in classes, workshops, these monthly blog posts, bi weekly podcasts and of course retreats!
I had no idea how significant that first retreat at Gayles in East Sussex would be for me, none of us know what those key moments in our life will be. As Steve Jobs said ‘you can only connect the dots looking backwards.’ I now teach Yoga and Meditation retreats at Gayles every year, and it’s my heartfelt intention to create a climate of discovery and exploration for students.