Monday, August 06, 2007

Witnessing the Voices

Some interesting ideas have come up lately, both from my interviews for the “Ego and Teaching” article and in my readings on Pranayama. In the last couple of posts, I’ve been talking about other yoga practices besides asana, so I’m still thinking about that, too (so have some readers, check out the comments sections to see what Stella, Kristin and Gypsy Girl have offered about their non-asana practice).

The practice of journaling keeps coming up. I’m not a big one for writing about my feelings as a private exercise, but I can see the value of it. Michael Russell, a psychotherapist in Chicago, and Johh Schumacher, an Iyengar teaching in DC, suggest yoga teachers take some time to write about each class, once it is finished, and record the emotions and situations that arose. Richard Rosen, the Pranayama author, also recommends taking a bit of time after your breathing practice to reflect on what “came up.”

All three teachers stress the need to be non-judgmental in your journaling. You don’t want to call anything good or bad; you want to try and be as impartial and observant as possible. You aren’t trying to identify your faults (or praise yourself); you are trying to discover what is going on with your emotions and how they affect your teaching and practice.

Rosen refers to this as “the Witness” and wants you to think of this Observer as a guide and partner. Russell suggests you recognize each of these feelings with the thought “that’s interesting” and see what conclusions you draw from there. Were you agitated during the practice and your mind wandered—why? What is going on outside of yoga that makes your feel that way? Were you sleepy and had to force yourself to practice? Were you really happy and able to clear your mind with very little effort? That’s interesting.

Once you get used to watching yourself think without berating yourself, it becomes much easier to draw conclusions about why you are thinking that way. I find it a huge challenge not to judge or assign value to how I think. I’m very quick to scold myself, even for just not clearing my mind while breathing. I used to joke that my Witness was really my Inner Control Freak. So this is going to be an extremely useful skill to develop, and one that is going to take me a long time to refine.

I especially look forward to using the practice with my teaching. I think we teachers can be very hard on ourselves, because of the responsibility we feel towards our students and their development. I suspect watching yourself as a teacher and seeing what thoughts come up after class could be very useful in helping us mature and gain confidence in the importance of that role. I miss my students a lot, right now, and can’t wait to get back on the mat with them.

Do you journal, whether on paper or just in your thoughts? Do you have any secrets to keeping the practice going? How has it helping you in your work and daily life—or didn’t it? How did you get started? This kind of self-observation is very important to the process of self-acceptance (and non-attachment or vairagya) and is another yoga practice that is quite different than just sweating through a series of asana. Let me know what you’ve learned! ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.


Kristin said...

I’ve read through this particular posting a couple of times now while contemplating the questions. I feel journaling is a personal thing yet it has become such a trendy, mainstream thing to do. There are shelves devoted to special journals at Barnes and Nobles, many school classes require students to keep a journal (I have a summer intern who must write and submit his journal entries about his summer job experience every two weeks), and you can even find the journal in the work place. But for me, it hasn’t worked out.

#1) Do you journal on paper or in your thoughts?
I have had to journal and have attempted to journal, and I have come to the conclusion that I despise journaling. Yes, despise. For myself, I really don’t care to “put my thoughts and feelings” down on paper. I find it a waste of time. If I journal, it’s in my head and it’s more of a summary. For example, say, “Oh, I was tired in class tonight and wasn’t hitting my cues as smoothly as I could have. Hopefully that didn’t distract the students to much and I’ll have to focus better next week. And note to self, remember to touch upon modifications for X.”

#2) Do you have any secrets to keep the practice going?
When I had the assignment to journal (for teacher training) and when I attempted to try it on my own to overcome my dislike of journaling, I would write just before bed or during dinner.

#3) How did it help in work and daily life - or didn’t it?
It didn’t. I actually found I was more annoyed because I knew I would have to sit down at some point in the evening and “journal”. I know I was resentful because it was taking away from other things I enjoyed doing. I found that I really didn’t see a reason to write a review of my emotions/reactions/thoughts for the day. I know what my day was like, why spend 20 minutes reviewing it? I know how class went, and what I was feeling (tired, happy, sad, focused etc), or what I would like to review or touch on next week, why write it down? It is redundant for me.

#4) How did you get started?
When I attempted to overcome my dislike of journaling, my husband was about to be deployed for Iraq. I thought it would be neat to try and document this time, so I found a favorite pen (you have to have a favorite pen) and a notebook that “spoke” to me and started the weekend of his mobilization. I was able to keep this up for 5 months before I just accepted this wasn’t for me.

Gypsy Girl said...

Another awesome post. I love reading your blog. It inspires me.
I used to journal for years off and on and now I somehow have gotten away from it. Now that I have read this post I am going to dig out all my old journals and read them and see how i feel about things I wrote years ago.
Thanks so much for the great post and the idea to get me back to journaling (maybe!!) After I look at years of journals I will write about this post and my thoughts on taking it up again (or not)

weight loss said...

Thanks for the post, you always help me find new poses.