by Krista Sarraf
You’ve heard of the health benefits of yoga: improved flexibility, lower blood pressure, better posture (the list goes on). Yet, something holds you back from buying those stretchy pants and heading to your nearby yoga studio. I can relate. Luckily, I found a way to integrate my passion for writing into my exercise regimen, and I’ve found a renewed desire to hit the mat.
When I imagine a yoga class, I picture a group of ultra-fit young professionals holding their arms high as they strike a ninja like pose – and hold it for 90 seconds. It can be intimidating to say the least. Often, we restrict ourselves from trying something new – like yoga – because we don’t think we’ll fit in. We criticize ourselves: “I’m too old. I’m not flexible enough. I’m not athletic.” What if we could try a yoga experience that challenged the stereotypes?
Imagine a yoga class with people of all ages. Unusual scents and sights fill the room. Your head rests on a pillow and none of the poses hurt. Notebooks rest at each mat’s edge. You hold a pose and break to write whatever comes to mind. This is the kind of yoga experience that restores your body and mind.
A scholar named Barbara Stoler Miller once said, “The aim of yoga is to eliminate the control that material nature exerts over the human spirit, to rediscover through introspective practice what the poet T.S. Eliot called the still point of the turning world.” Yoga, then, intends to deepen your self-awareness.
Journal writing also deepens self-awareness. “Journal writing is a voyage to the interior,” wrote Seattle resident Christina Baldwin, author of Journal Writing as Spiritual Quest. Maybe journaling and yoga have more in common than expected. In fact, you may benefit from bringing your journal to yoga class. Here are eight reasons to get out the notebook and the mat and get started today.
1.Re-discover your inner child.
Summer is upon us. Soon, we’ll be spending days at Idlewild, spitting watermelon seeds, and enjoying lazy evenings on our porches. Children will block off streets for hockey games, families will enjoy fresh farmer’s market produce, and we’ll be nursing our baseball game sunburns. As long days encourage us to relax, we rediscover our inner-child.
You can also discover your inner child on the yoga mat. A student in Write Local’s Reflective Yoga & Writ-ing workshop captured this thought during the session: “Yoga–my first experience with it, and you know where it took me? It took me here: that sweet memory of what it felt like as a little child leaning everything I had into my mother. Pressing towards her heart” (Marcia Speicher). There is something profoundly sacred about contorting our bodies into comfortable poses. We are restored to our former, innocent state.
2. Ignite your senses.
My yoga mat neighbor, Jaynee, wrote during one journaling break, “Relaxing … I purely feel the gentleness of this area. The soft sounds, the smells of freshly-brewed coffee and a complete feeling of “being.” Indeed, yoga can waken your senses and deeply bond you to your environment. We had our workshop at Latrobe Art Center, and I remember looking up at the paintings at one point and noticing a beautiful canvas with purple and pink paint dripping down it. I connected with the image in that moment; all this while we stretched our backs and let the stress melt away.
3. Deal with your past.
When we journal, we label our emotions. This allows us to heal past wounds. According to Dr. James Pennebaker, a researcher from the University of Texas, “Writing forces people to stop and reevaluate their life circumstance. The mere act of writing also demands a certain degree of structure as well as the basic labeling or acknowledging of their emotions” (Pennebaker 23).
4. Keep your writing private.
Occasionally, I speak with potential writing students who hesitate to attend events because they don’t want to share their work. If this sounds like you, journaling is the perfect outlet to explore your thoughts but keep them private. That’s a good thing, since research suggests that writing about difficult subjects can benefit our health. Writing “about emotional upheavals can result in healthy improvements in social, psychological, behavioral, and biological functioning” (Pennebaker 3).
5. Suspend judgement of yourself and others.
Fifteen years ago, I wrote without considering the quality of my work. Now, I find it difficult to retreat to a non-judgmental place as a writer. What a way to live! Yoga, particularly its focus on breathing, offers me a way out of this. According to one practitioner, “Attending to the energy of the breath attunes us to the flow of our emotional states because it requires us to be in the present moment and to judge ourselves less harshly as a result” (Wenger 38).
6. Get past writer’s block.
As I closed my eyes and brought my attention to the flow of air through my body, I found myself slipping into a restful, safe place. When we gently woke ourselves to journal, I found words flowing. Jaynee captured this idea of non-judgmental peace: “I often wondered about the deep affect such inspiration, peace and relaxation would have on my writing … now the words will not stop. They flow out, in no particular structure, freely moving through my heart, as the nourishing blood and oxygen it requires. I am mindfully aware that my thoughts and words occupy a space alongside, and flowing with, the life supply of my mere being.”
7. Increase your concentration.
A key component of yoga is to center your mind through breathing. When we breathe deeply, we learn to “concentrate on the present moment and to be attentive to our embodied needs in it” (34). It’s natural, then, that yoga can help us to focus on writing for longer periods of time. In our session, we easily wrote for 15 to 20 minutes without losing focus.
8. Be deeply inspired.
Bringing our journals to yoga class left us motivated to write more. I’d like to share one last excerpt from my mat neighbor, Jaynee: “No rush, no pressure –just passion for what I feel and the freedom to employ a simple medium to share these gentle thoughts with myself. We are all led in directions, that we unknowingly require, for our own depth of life and soul. This quiet morning with acquaintances, who now strangely seem like friends … together … I feel gratitude for the gift of inspiration of this day. I am blessed.”
These are some of the many benefits I enjoyed through our yoga and writing workshop. What value will you find? If you are interested in experiencing the health benefits of journal writing, Graceful Aging Wellness Center in Ligonier is offering a Journal for Wellness class through Write Local on May 19 from 5:00-6:30 PM. You’ll learn how exactly journaling helps keep you healthy, and you’ll try some expressive writing of your own.
After working and studying in Virginia for 10 years, Krista Speicher Sarraf, originally from Donegal, PA, now lives in Latrobe where she teaches composition and critical thinking at Seton Hill University and Westmoreland County Community College. Additionally, she writes poems and stories and is currently working on her first novel. Krista is a founder of Write Local, a literacy initiative that inspires young writers to think creatively and innovate locally. Write Local’s featured May events include the Academy for Writers and Entrepreneurs Open House (with a free class) at Ligonier Valley YMCA on May 16 from 1:00-2:30 PM and Journal for Wellness on May 19 from 5:00-6:30 PM at Graceful Aging Wellness Center.Visit writelocal.org/events or call 724-691-4864 to enroll.