Journaling Your Way to Truth
By Sabrina Moscola
I started writing in journals when I was 13, on the brink of those confusing, hormonal years. It made the world seem like a less puzzling place. My friends and I traded secrets and gossiped, but some of the thoughts swirling around my mind didn’t feel right discussing with others. I wanted to share them, just not out loud. Instead I turned to the safety of my pen to paper.
I’ve kept the journals in a, now tattered, blue Jansport backpack for all these years. The backpack started out light, containing a few bound books scrawled on from cover to cover in my sloppy cursive. Over the years, it’s taken on the weight of a bag meant for a trip across Europe. I guess I’ve got a lot of stuff on my mind. At one time it made me feel heavy, like I was carrying a lot of baggage both figuratively and literally. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that as the backpack got heavier, I got lighter.
Journaling, often called expressive writing, allows me to take the weight off of my shoulders and place it elsewhere. My journals serve as my truth. During shifting times, my journals have always come through to help me find a way to make sense of the beautiful, messy experience we call life. I never need to worry about them judging me or telling anyone I deem private. My journals have allowed me to be honest with myself with abandon. In a time when, even unconsciously, there’s always a thin veil of staged persona for the outside world, my journals allow me to take off the mask. On the page, I don’t have to be the cool kid, dress a certain way, speak with quick wit, or put on the slightest act. They allow me to be vulnerable and strip off the curated exterior, #nofilter.
While journaling, there’s a sense of unloading or letting go that comes with taking your thoughts out of your mind and putting them on the page. Sometimes the physical act - pen in hand, pen to paper, then pen moving along lines – is all it takes to find relief in a difficult situation. From boosting immunity, to lowering stress levels, to moving through traumatic events, the cathartic act of channeling feelings into prose can form a therapeutic routine. Truth, in any form, wants to be known. When it comes to the mind-body connection, suppressing emotions (truths) can result in negative physical manifestations. To quote Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
We all have a story to tell and the ability to use the personal narrative to tap into each of our individual truths. We spoke with four women who embody that concept through the practice of journaling. After discussing individual journaling routines, healing benefits, and what it does for a yoga and meditation practice, it is clear that truth through expressive writing continues to cast a wide net in the wellness community.
Writer and Yoga Teacher
The practice of journaling or free-writing is an exercise in presence and discipline, much like maintaining a yoga practice. By sitting with myself each morning and releasing thoughts to paper, I can take a bird's eye view of myself and assess where I've been stuck, noticing those repeating habits or patterns that block me from progress. It's like when we're asked to be the witness of our experience in our yoga and meditation practices—we're giving ourselves a clearer lens from which to view our lives through. Together, movement and writing can unblock stuck energy, helping us to get out of our own way. Through movement the intentions we set become animated; they're brought to life.
I used to journal a lot as a teenager, came back around to it in my mid-20s, but I really committed to journaling as a practice when I had foot surgery several years ago and was housebound. Journaling and free-writing have helped me get through some of the most difficult, challenging periods of my life. I find strength in honing and sharpening my authentic voice, and comfort in nurturing my inner self that can so often become lost in the swirls of confusion; the mind's tumultuous landscape. And the more that I write like me, the more I find that I teach like me—rather than trying to mimic anybody else.
I have a growing collection of spiral bound notebook that I keep filling up, and then filing away. As time goes by it's pretty interesting to pick one up and flip through it at random, giving myself a little snapshot of where my head was at the time. Sometimes it's enlightening; other times a bit horrifying. But regardless, it'll show me where and how I've grown, and remind me of the work I still need to do. It's just not as effective to try to do that with a laptop, though I do write little digital notes to myself all the time that I will often revisit later. There's really nothing like the feeling of putting a pen to paper, looking at your own handwriting, letting your own language flow through you, unedited and un-spellchecked. It's just pure stream of consciousness, flowing out of you like water.
Writer and Founder of Building Bold
We all have stories that live within us and want to escape, and dripping these secrets onto paper is a way to process and gain awareness. Journaling reveals my innermost secrets and scars; the ones I’ve kept bottled up. Journaling allows me to contemplate certain challenges or blocks in my life. When I bring this knowledge to a yoga mat or meditation cushion, a beautiful transformation occurs. Yoga, meditation and journaling are interconnected for me: yoga and breathing allow me to move through my emotions and journaling allows me to get to know the core of my emotions.
I have been journaling since I was a little girl with a wild and vivid imagination. I intend to write daily, but there are days I don’t, and there’s a simple explanation: I hide from my pen and paper for fear of what my words will reveal – the truth. Writing about traumatic events from a place of emotional nudity can help us find meaning and gain acceptance about past trauma. To be vulnerable comes with the possibility of emotional pain. It's a state we've learned or been taught to avoid. In reaction, we build carefully contrived external personas, avoid letting down our guard for fear of being hurt and judged, and hide those things about which we feel ashamed. We often have to journal on topics that evoke pain, hurt, shame and fear to find our way back to our truth.
I facilitate journaling workshops in which we make DIY journals. My absolute favorite journaling exercise requires you to take a pen in your nondominant hand and let your inner child speak! I was recently gifted a typewriter and I adore slamming my fingers on the keys and watching the ink stain the paper.
I usually journal first thing in the morning. It helps me set the tone for my day. Journaling helps me be clear about what I need to do to embody my intentions and what steps I need to take to bring my goals to fruition. When students journal before class they are so much more present and alive. Journaling helps us get out the things that are weighing on our minds and hearts, the things that distract us and pull our attention away from the present moment on the mat. Journaling before class also helps concretize and contain intentions and goals guiding and providing focus for the physical practice.
Journaling reminds me that I know the answers deep down, I have the strength and the wisdom to get through even the toughest of times. There are times when I have sat down to journal feeling hopelessly lost and confused, the simple act of writing out what is troubling me often provides a little relief. It is important to truly let ourselves sit with our emotions if we are to heal and grow. Journaling is a safe way to sit with, be with, and express my emotions instead of keeping them bottled up inside.
I have journals from when I was 6 years old. I started journaling daily 10 years ago while in graduate school and struggling to find my own voice and center amidst multiple life changes. There is something intimate and grounding for me about physically holding a pen and creating each letter. I also like to flip through old journals from time to time (reflecting on how I have changed and what things remain true in my life).
Publicist, Editor and Creator of, Narrative Medicine: A Cutting-Edge Approach to Healthcare
I feel the most grounded when I bookend my day with writing. Almost always, like magic, the pages reveal something new and unfolds into a gratitude list or even something like a love letter to the day ahead. One practice I particularly love is to describe three miracles that occurred throughout the day, it trains me to treat the day like a scavenger hunt for spectacular beauty. It’s a sure fire-way to clear my mind of anxious thoughts and make room for inspiration, and the capacity to listen to my true voice.
Like yoga, writing is a spiritual practice and exercise in self-discovery. We all carry stories in our bodies—our bodies are our stories. So many of these stories are old and lodged in parts of our body that we don’t easily have access to. We can’t be free and healthy until we release them and give them voice.
Journaling has been a daily practice since I was twelve years old. I literally believe that writing saved my life. In recent years, there have been many scientific studies offering data that proves the medicinal benefits of a regular writing practice, from improving concentration, lowering blood pressure to alleviating depression, anxiety, insomnia, addiction and more. Like a Ouija board, bringing pen to paper has a certain magic to it, the contact invites in contact from another realm. Something powerful happens when your body is connected to the shape you are creating rather than simply pressing a button. Writing by hand directly connects language and storytelling.