Yoga journalling: from habit to practice

In January 2020, I resolved to write about yoga every day. I’ve always enjoyed writing but struggled to make my January habit stick. Last year, mid-way through a yoga teacher training, I realized I needed a way to harness my curiosity, to document my learning — and so journalling became a way for me to mark the transformation I was witnessing in myself through the practice of yoga.

Yes, the asana practice was coming more easily: I was learning how to craft thoughtful sequences, to cue movement from breath, to offer physical adjustments to my peers. But the larger changes were energetic in nature: I could feel when anxiety was building in my chest and temper it by lengthening my exhales in forward folds. When my energy lagged, I could spark it with vigorous breath, planning my practice around expansive lateral movements. Faced with indecision, backbends to open the front of my body would give me clarity. I was starting to understand that the transformation I was sensing in myself was more internal than external.

I believe I’ve always been more prone to feeling than thinking my way through change (hi, fellow ENFJs!). As a child, unnamed thoughts, ideas, energies would course through me, often leaving me physically dizzy and emotionally unrooted. When I began a consistent yoga practice in my early 20s, I started to be able to regulate these disturbances. I found that unrolling my mat every day and working through a challenging hatha or vinyasa practice helped me direct energy rather than let it move through me, uncontrolled. A few years later, I sought a YTT to better understand why this was: how was it that a relatively simple series of movements could help me balance my turbulence, and how could I share this transformational practice with others?

Our teacher, Hana, always encouraged us to reflect before and after practice. How did we feel physically? How did our energy shift? What emotions surfaced? What was challenging and what was easy? What did we learn? What could we do with these learnings? At first, my yoga journalling was rote: I noted which postures I liked and didn’t like; I tracked the emotions that arose; I scribbled shapes in the margins to capture what came up in guided meditation.

Over time, though, I came to look forward to journaling almost as much as the physical practice. It helped me detach from my ego and observe my inner landscape from a safe distance. The turbulence that used to destabilize me became more manageable as I learned how to name it, to discern where it was coming from and how to move through it.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Back in March 2020, after my final morning studio class before the great shutdown, I wrote:

The afternoon yawns ahead and the freedom of it all brings up waves of anxiety. I know it’s irrational: I should look at unplanned time as a luxury, not a weight. Hours of freedom should dote me with excitement, not dread. But I can’t help it: with nothing to tether me (being somewhere, doing something), my mind is prone to chasing threads until they are hopelessly tangled, leaving a knot at the centre where there should be clear space. For now, all I can do is hold onto the shards of clarity from a slow-burning vinyasa practice (all the dolphin pushups! pulsing utkatasana! the longest Goddess hold!) and trust that I have the tools to move through inertia. It’s so much easier to assign success to days structured by to-dos; harder to carve meaning out of less-obligation-filled moments when, really, I could be doing anything. I need to keep writing regardless of what I’ve accomplished and remind myself that this documenting is valuable, that I don’t always need to come up with great insights, that simply noting where I began and ended my practice is worthwhile.

Little did I know that my first unplanned afternoon in weeks would be the new structure of the year ahead.

Nothing like the effort of dolphin pose to steady the mind’s fluctuations!

I have written in my yoga journal every day since that empty afternoon in March. The simple act of noting my thoughts became a place to land when my mind floated somewhere between body and treetops.

Now, nearly a year later, writing has become a tiny task to mark each day, when moments could stack into weeks of non-doing (oh the angst, for a high-energy and schedule-driven Gemini). Taking the soft evening hour between work and rest to sit with my thoughts always brings forth something — whether it is a stream of creativity, the contours of insight, or a germ of an idea to revisit when my mind is better laid out.

More than a habit, writing has become a practice — an integral part of my day. It reminds me to be curious when I’m struggling, to be open to glimpses of inspiration, to be patient when I’m stuck in the doldrums. It grounds me when waves start to feel like tsunamis. It is a chance to narrow in my thoughts to that space of potential when pen hovers over paper and the fluctuations start to settle. It is home to return to, an invitation to steadiness and ease.

Writing from beautiful Vancouver about muddling through via intuitive movement 🤸🏽‍♀️ place-based learning 🌳 strong coffee ☕️ creative connection✨