When you load up your yoga gear, you'll probably have a mat, props, DVD, sweat towel, and journal. Wait. A journal? Often overlooked, a yoga journal can be one of the most valuable tools for developing your practice and diving deep into studio classes and at-home sessions.
Choosing a Journal
Dedicate a journal exclusively to your journey from beginner to lifelong yogi. It can be as simple as a spiral notebook picked up on sale at the start of the school year or as special as a handmade diary with deckle-edge pages and an embossed cover. Choose one that excites you to use - one you will scribble in with abandon. The idea is to free-associate, as well as to keep track of any rough patches or progress. So, pick up a journal that meets your needs, inspires your creativity, and fits within your budget.
If you opt for a plain notebook, you can decorate it by scrapbooking the cover using beautiful patterned papers, original drawings, or a collage of yoga poses in photos ripped from magazines. Make it personal and make it yours so you're always tempted to write in it.
A Pose By Any Other Name
When you first tackle the rich tradition of yoga, the Sanskrit names and hundreds of positions can seem daunting. Your journal can help you keep track.
- List the poses you learn, with their Sanskrit and common names.
- Draw the pose shapes as stick figures.
- Jot down a note about proper alignment you found particularly helpful in class.
- Record your feeling about the pose -- or the feelings that came up as you breathed into the pose. Yoga often taps into buried emotions and experiences, and you can learn a lot about yourself by reflecting on those feelings and memories and remembering which poses triggered them.
- You might note where you took a class or set up your private mat for a session.
- Add anything relevant in your own life that can influence your practice, such as circumstances, the weather, your cold, or your cross-country move.
No one has to see this journal, so it can be a revealing stream of consciousness narrative or just the list of sun salutations and inversions you tackled on a Tuesday.
When to Write
Keep your journal any time. As long as you are writing in it, you are engaging with your practice on yet another level and adding to your own knowledge.
- You may want to establish a habit of making a few notes right after class or after your daily sequence at home.
- Set a written intention for your practice before settling down on the mat to begin.
- Reflections are valuable whenever the thoughts come to you. Pull your journal out if an experience in the studio suddenly makes sense to you three hours later while you're having lunch.
- Write in your journal before bedtime, sorting out how your yoga practice influenced your day.
Now and then, the muse plays hooky and you are all out of language. When you stare at the blank page and your mind stays blank, give yourself a handy prompt to get the juices, and the words, flowing. Try one of these:
- What was my favorite pose today, and why?
- Which body part do I need to work on now?
- How did I feel in class? At the beginning? By the end?
- What new thing did I learn?
- How does that new knowledge translate to a thought or action off the mat?
- What simple sequence could I try at home tomorrow?
- Where does my mind wander when I lose focus?
- Do I feel changed at all, different in any way, due to yoga?
Remember, the ghost of Emily Dickinson is not going to judge your deathless prose. These are just the words to capture your thoughts so you can review them and note your progress.
The old saw that the best way to learn something is to teach can be adapted to keeping a journal. You are training your brain to remember and analyze the activity. There's even greater value if you write your journal by hand. Handwriting engages different areas of the brain and results in deeper learning than typing notes into a digital device. Consider your handwritten journal another opportunity to be mindful, with full brain-body absorption, just like performing a yoga pose.
Set aside time to re-read several entries and reflect on what they tell you. You might schedule a weekly tea-date with yourself or an annual yoga journal review. At the least, you will be amazed at your progress. Almost certainly you will discover important insights that yoga brings up for you.
Pen and Paper Perseverance
Some days, you can't face the mat. Some days, that journal looks like a reproach. However, even if all you can manage is a quick scrawl, capture something of your experience in sirsasana or half-lord of the fishes pose. Keeping a yoga journal is good training for showing up, sticking to a plan, and taking responsibility for your own life. Plus, it pays you back. Years of a yoga journal is the chronicle of a life. Pages of notes about poses is an invaluable aid for you. Patterns of behavior, reactions, or experiencing joy start to be obvious in a journal over time. You have your own insight to use for redirecting your actions or celebrating your achievements.
Deepen the Yoga Experience
Undertaking yoga practice is a commitment to yourself that pays rich dividends in flexibility, stress-relief, physical and mental strength, and increased understanding of yourself and the world around you. Deepen the insights you gain, record your small triumphs and insignificant failures, and tell the story of your journey through yoga and back to yourself in your journal. Yoga gives you clarity and awareness. A yoga journal puts that hard-earned wisdom on steroids. So treat yourself to a life writ large -- stuff a notebook and a pen or pencil into your yoga bag.