Do you Journal?

Yoga Journal (c) 2013 Fredonia NY
Yoga Journal
(c) 2013 Fredonia NY

I have kept many journals over the years and I have found that there are at least two reasons for keeping a dedicated yoga-meditation practice journal.

Yoga journaling can be an important aid to your practice for two reasons. The first is that the act of remembering what and how you practiced  provides a running diary of asana in your life. As time passes, this record can become a tool for motivation, celebration, and insight.

A page from carolyn's  Yoga Journal (c) 2013 barefoot photos
A page from carolyn’s Yoga Journal
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

The second way that journaling assists your yoga practice is that as you reflect back on what you have done, how you felt, what changed or remained the same, the practice deepens. Yoga, at its heart is about  self-reflection and self-growth/ self-awareness.

When recording a yoga session, I include the poses I did as well as my thoughts and insights, what came easily, what my breath was like. See the photo of a random page from my little green book.

Your journal can become a great tool for a personal journey in SATYA, or the development of truthfulness in your life. Try to look at your practice dispassionately, using Witness Consciousness.

A very specific way to keep a mindfulness journal is to record your insights immediately after a practice session, whenever you can. Keep a pen and notebook handy, at the ready, so that it’s easy to remember to write for a few minutes after you have practiced. Dedicate the notebook to this effort.

When recording meditation sessions, include what specific practice you were engaged in. Walking? Sitting? Or did you practice Deep Relaxation? What was your posture?

For any session, it’s helpful to record what challenges were faced, how the poses worked together, and the cumulative effect of regularly practicing. Include a general description of your emotional and physical states at the beginning and ending of the practice.

There are many ways to keep a journal. Consider all of them a part of your mindfulness training. You can ask yourself questions and then free write responses. When you free write, resist the urge to edit yourself so that the unconscious thoughts can freely arise. The pen is not to leave the paper. Just keep the writing flow going, even if what you are writing is gibberish. In the midst of the junk, insights often appear unexpectedly. You may be surprised at what appears on the page!

Another is to record observations using the Witness Consciousness. and then reflect back upon what you’ve written.

You can try different methods on different days as the spirit prompts.

Many students like to draw in their journals and attach photographs.  There is no set length or format. If you can only pen a couple of lines, that’s AOK. Sometimes, however, you may feel an inclination to delve deeper as you reflect on your state. Go for it! It’s your record, so personalize it and make it work for you. Marble composition books work great for journals. They are cheap, and easily available. If you work with me through Yoga Coaching, I’ll ask you to send each week’s journal to me in an email.

Meditation Journal, breath

Snow Shadows (barefoot photos)

A rambling excerpt of a practice journal entry that I thought might be of some use . . .  .

December 15, 2010, Wednesday morning, 9:10 AM

Just meditated with soft ujjayi breath for an hour. Shocked when I opened my eyes and realized how much time had passed. That happens so often. The timeless place opens and I enter.

Mind wandered. Thinking about the blog and books. But kept coming back to Breath.

Disengaging from the heaviness of the body, even the entanglement of the mind.

Breath is so light and free. It is always here, always available, as much as I want it. A gift I need to be present to.

A tool for growth rest healing love.

Breath teaches me to love my essential self, my core, my self dis-embodied and de-minded, essential, free, perfect, and imperfect.

Breath is eternal and brings me into eternity.

Breath is who I want to Be.

Breath is who I am.


Continuing the discussion on the triad of yogic practice: FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, and STRENGTH, today’s post focuses upon BALANCE in our practice and in our lives.

bluebellsMany students, particularly elders, join a yoga class because they wish to improve their BALANCE. This is not surprising because during every decade of living we lose considerable ability to BALANCE. Unbalance is due to several reasons, the most prominent being loss of muscle mass. It’s easy to see then, that building STRENGTH is a critical component of developing BALANCE.

Having said that though, there is considerable difference among students and for a variety of reasons, younger students sometimes have worse balance than elders.

Maybe we need to question the essential existence of BALANCE in the world and in our lives. What is BALANCE exactly?

Is balance an achievable state or a momentary state?

Is BALANCE a construct of the mind?

Is physical balance different from mental or spiritual balance?

Can one be achieved without the other?

Is BALANCE synonymous with enlightenment?

Is BALANCE possible without flexibility or strength?

Before we twirl ourselves into a heady, non-yogic state of mental machinations, let’s pause to remember the deeper dimensions of our yogic practice. Phillip Moffitt of the LIFE BALANCE INSTITUTE, writes in his article,”The Perfect Pose”:

In the type of meditation I teach, vipassana, the heart of the practice is being present with mindfulness and equanimity. In vipassana we use sitting on a cushion and walking meditation as our two primary forms of practice, but we also emphasize that the practice happens in each moment of your life, not just during the times of formal meditation. The same is true for hatha yoga; the time you spend on the sticky mat is your formal practice, where you learn to strengthen and stretch your body and to concentrate your mind. However, the deeper intention of yoga is to create a state of fluidity and flexibility in body and mind such that you can handle the inevitable physical and mental stresses and strains that arise in your life. If you practice with this intention, it doesn’t matter what your poses look like.

Having thus returned to our SELVES (if you’re not there yet, please breathe, rub your ears, feet, hands, feel and acknowledge the grounding points of your BODY), we recognize that BALANCE can definitely improve with daily hatha yoga practice. Nearly all of the standing poses (The warriors, triangle, standing forward bend, standing wide-angled forward bend, right angle, half-moon, the standing “revolutions”) as well as what we typically call the BALANCE poses (tree, dancer, standing big toe pose) provide development of our physical balancing skills.

Does our mental or emotional outlook affect how we “perform” the poses on any given day? There is some truth here, but how much? Yogic Lore, and my first adult teacher, repeatedly said that yes, indeed, if we are feeling agitated, our tree pose will be wobbly, we’ll sway in triangle, etc.

My experience,however has been otherwise. Sometimes it’s the pose that brings me into balance on monkey-mind days! Sometimes, placing my body in a very precarious position, pushes my mind – and heart – to settle down and focus so my body can remain upright.

I’d always felt that BALANCE was one of my weaker skills, but I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve gained flexibility, coordination, and strength, especially in the hip and thighs, that my BALANCE has shown remarkable improvement.

Concurrently, as I’ve strengthened the connection with my core, my inner being, the balance I feel in my life -off the mat – has undergone remarkable transformation. For many years, I felt as if I was not leading “my” life. Now I know, and it’s with a deep, often unconscious, knowing that I am the compassionate creator of my own life.

Balance resides in the being. What happens outside is another question.

Meditation & Asana Practice: To take your balance further, practice the above-mentioned poses, and observe how your emotional and mental states effect the physical pose. Do you enjoy greater balance in the morning or in the evening,  on still versus windy days, in summer or in winter, in a class or when alone. How much do energies outside of your SELF affect you?

YOGA JOURNAL activity:  five-minute free write on balance in your life, recording some of your observations from practice. Feel free to share some of your reflections with other yogi-nis in the comment section on this page.

Anxiety and Cravings

Anxiety–that little squirrel itching away inside of us–eating up the bliss of contentment–where does it come from and why do we suffer so?

The world itself seems to be made for worrying over. Look at the mess we’ve created. Wars, hunger, FOX news, slave trafficking, plastics, kudzu, crack cocaine, potholes, tainted tomatoes, heck traffic circles give me a touch of anxiousness! How are we to deal with all of this in a way that creates peace and love around the globe and in ourselves? Because we haven’t even begun to list all of the “natural” stresses that come along in every single life. Stuff like job security, retirement, moving, the frailties of the homes we call our bodies and our minds, and the ultimate, at the root of it all stressor: death, the long goodbye.

I’d like to tell you that I NEVER suffer from that skittery internal rodent, named WORRY, but I do. Today I am sitting with my anxiety over some x-rays taken a couple of days ago. I have a VERY active imagination and I can easily spin out on the possible negative implications these pictures are going to speak about my back, hip and knee….I don’t give much thought to the positive things I may learn about my joints. The worry comes despite my best efforts at containment. It shows up even when my head says “No need to worry; the world spins along in its own manner with or without your pet, anxiety. Look at yourself in this present moment: everything is not perfect, but you are still breathing! Acknowledge the gifts you have right now. You can worry about blah-de-blah when and if there is something REAL to worry about. AND if there is indeed something REAL to worry about, HELLO–your worry is not going to help at all. So Get a Grip and enjoy life FULLY. Ditch the hungry animal, stress. Go do a backbend for goodness sakes!”

I’d like to say that I have not lost chunks of my life to that darned hungry critter, Anxiety. It’s the force behind the desire to go numb. And the human species has developed a rather impressive array of methods to go numb. Anxiety has a creepy cousin named Craving. Addictions, (and we all suffer myriad forms of cravings), are created because we want to stop the fear, often disguised simply as discomfort. It’s often an unconscious process learned early in life.

JOURNAL MEDITATION: List all of the cravings you presently experience or have experienced in the past. Leave some space between them. When you have captured as many as you can think of, go back and try to remember when you first experienced the desire. Again leave some space for further elaboration. Don’t worry about complete thoughts, just get them down on the paper. You can always go back later to clean it up.

After a day or two, re-read your entry and then add your thoughts about how any of the cravings affect your present life.

Choose one of the cravings and meditate upon it. Allow any feelings associated with the “hungry rodent” to surface. It’s important that you don’t judge the feelings, attach any importance to them, or create a storyline about them. Just sit with them. Watch them with full “allowingness” as a part of your Self. Love them as parts of yourself. Love them for what they teach you about emptiness. Would you still be reading if you didn’t have them? When they pass, breathe deeply and gratefully.

OK, so this little exercise sounds so easy–your experience may or may not be simple. Use it however you can. Smile if you can, and if you can’t, accept that too. My own experience is that sometimes I can let go of the craving and let it pass. Then there are other moments….. but I dedicate my life to these teachers. Why? Because I love my Self…and I want to love ALL of myself.

Time to go now and watch the rodents teach me about emptiness. I’ve got some nuts to feed them.