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.