Journaling - the practice of spending a few minutes writing about whatever we're feeling, thinking and the stuff happening in our lives - can be an incredibly powerful tool to add to your arsenal of techniques to look after your mental wellbeing.
The practice is commonly acknowledged as being beneficial for our wellbeing and mental health, especially in individuals with anxiety or depression.
I first discovered Journaling during my yoga teacher training. Our trainer, Kathy, was insistent that we all kept a journal each and every day and it's one of the best gifts I recieved from my training.
I've personally found it incredibly transformative and the impact it has on my day to day life, especially with my anxiety is amazing (I'm in recovery and have been for a number of months) and I notice I'm more anxious when I don't take the time to do it.
Sounds great Jade... but what does that have to do with Yoga?
Journaling is primarily a tool for exploration. A safe space to explore who you are, what you feel, and your thoughts by jotting whatever comes to mind down on paper. This gives you time and space to reflect, and revisit whatever you’ve written over days, weeks, months and years. It essentially allows us to get everything out of our heads (literally) and make everything a little quieter.
That exploration is the link between yoga and journaling. Our yoga mat is a safe space to explore our body and everything in our mind with movement and breath. Sometimes, in a challenging class we find our mind battling our body or we’re drawn to different styles of class when we’re feeling different things.
That common thread is a complementary toolkit of self discovery.
Pick your tools
Anyone who knows me knows I have a penchant for notebooks and stationary in general; so this is my favourite bit - picking yourself a lovely notebook as your journal.
It’s nice to pick yourself something you enjoy writing in and looking at; putting the care in like you would choosing a loved one a special gift. Ultimately, this is a regular habit so we want to set ourselves up and find enjoyment in the process. Having a nice notebook to jot in and have with you really makes all the difference.
Not a handwriting fan? It really doesn’t matter - it’s all about having a private place to reflect. If you love Google Docs… then awesome!
For your eyes only
Like your yoga mat; your journal is your safe space. It is for you to explore your world without judgment or anxiety around what others will think. It’s quite nice to pop a little note in the front along the lines of “This is my Journal. If you’ve picked this up, please respect this as my safe space”, use a lockable journal or password protect your digital version.
Make it a habit
Journaling is a great daily habit to have - a little ritual like a hot cup of tea, burning a candle or reading the paper.
Set a time in the day and spend a few minutes writing.
It can take a couple of months to set a habit in stone; so by making a conscious effort to take the time it will help journaling become something you just do.
The nitty gritty - the writing
Your main questions at this point might be "what do I actually write?" and "how much do I need to write"?
These two points are really closely interlinked. The first point is; there's not really any rules here! It's about you and what works for you! Here's some general guidance from my own experiences.
The amount you write will naturally vary - it doesn’t have to be war and peace, it can be as little as a few words or as much as you want. It will vary day to day in amount and intensity.
Some days you might right for 2 minutes, other days it might feel a bit more sticky or you’ve got more to say and spend a lot longer.
Don’t set yourself a time frame, taking as much or as little time as you need. It’s also cool to write a bit; stop and start again later in the day. Or write more than one entry a day.
Don’t stress about spelling, grammar, punctuation. It doesn’t matter. It’s just for you...not for A level English.
Let your mind wander - write down everything that comes to mind. The idea is to hone in on how you’re feeling and let all of that out on paper. The order might be all jumbled, you might hop around different things. That is all okay.
You want to get to the heart of what you’re actually feeling and thinking. Our minds aren’t an ordered essay… and your journal won’t be either.
Any and every topic is on the table. Your thoughts, feelings, practical things like paint colours for your lounge, where to take the dog. Anything goes!
Further to that; you might naturally want to shy away from writing about any trauma in your life. Actually, journaling about difficult things can be really cathartic, so if you feel you want to explore things on a deeper level - then go for it!
Ideas for writing if you’re stuck
Gratitude list: List three things every day you are grateful for. These can be anything! It’s a great way to see the little joys in your life every day.
I'm a huge fan of gratitude lists - this is something I've added to my practice recently and it really helps you see the positive. Even when you've had a horrendous day; there's sure to be something positive that has happened at some point and it's a real mood shifter.
Paperblanks Journal Prompts app: This is a fantastic app that you tap and it gives you a randomly selected topic to write about. You can choose categories you’d prefer to focus on; or you can leave it wide open.
I personally do a gratitude list every day, and if I'm feeling a bit stuck I just write about my day and write that I'm feeling a bit stuck and explore that. Once I start that tends to release the block!
When you struggle to write anything
Some days we just have a bit of a block and taking some time to journal just doesn’t flow as easily.
Here’s a list of general prompts for those blocked days:
How am I feeling today?
What has happened in my day and how does that make me feel?
Am I looking after myself as much as possible?
Ways to tackle a recent problem
What can I learn from my current situation?
Where are my recent thoughts coming from and why?
Write about your most recent dream
What do I feel I want to change and/or improve about myself? Why?
Am I seeing this situation from the other side?
How am I going to achieve my goals?
There’s loads of different things you can ask yourself. You might even prefer to create your own and have a list in the back of your journal for these blocked days.
Once you’ve written your entry, you might choose to crack on with your day and feel a bit lighter because you've got rid of the stuff flying around your brain. You might fancy a cup of tea; or to sit quietly. It's whatever you fancy - there's no right or wrong here.
For example, if your journal entry reveals you’re feeling drained and tired, you might choose to do something nurturing like having a bath, going to yoga or a walk.
You might feel you want to practice and then journal about what happened in your practice too!
As I mentioned earlier; there aren’t any rules! There’s so many different ways to approach this practice and it’s about finding the right one for you.
Journaling shouldn’t be a chore, it’s about exploring and playing with the format until you find that bit of enjoyment.
Let me know how you get on!