How A Consistent Yoga Practice Can Deepen Your Self-Understanding

The legs and hands of a person rolling out a black yoga mat

When one thinks of their yoga practice, the mind’s eye sees a sticky mat, blocks, and a calming space.

When they think of their journaling practice, they may envision their favorite pen in hand. Perhaps a sleeping cat nearby and a candle or two lit within arm’s reach. 

But what about seeing your yoga and journaling practice as one and the same?

Yoga is uniquely suited to highlight the many biases we carry. Do you have a tendency to get insecure when others are more competent at something than you? Yoga will show you that. Do you unfairly hold yourself to account when less than perfect? Yoga will show you that. So what do we do with the information yoga serves up? Journal about it! 

Let’s dig a bit deeper. 

How do yoga and journaling compare? 

Whether a beginner, enthusiast, or a dedicated yogi, everyone steps onto their yoga mat with similar intentions. The 24 inch by 68 inch material rolled out on their floor is a body and mind oasis. A place to unwind, release, fire up, bring focus to the breath, and introduce calmness to the mind.

They say a yogi never steps on the same mat twice. This is because every practice ignites a different posture, set of muscles, a different mindset, and invites different parts of the practitioner to step forward. 

Journaling is no different. Whether an individual has never journaled before or they have a bookshelf packed with chronicles of their own handwriting, everyone reaches for a blank page and a nearby pen with similar intentions in mind. 

To journal is to look within; to discover what's coming up in the mind. Journaling allows one to digest their experiences, to release their pain, or unstick their sticking points. No two journal entries are ever the same. Even if they involve similar themes, the handwriting differs from one day to the next, the vocabulary used varies, and the outcome has a different feel, unique to each journaling session. However, both practices have compounding effects.

This is likely due to the fact that our momentary experience is always built on an ever growing bedrock of previous experience. The way we think, feel, or react to a given circumstance is informed by the past. So our previous time spent on the yoga mat influences our future yoga practices, and the same goes for our previous journaling sessions having an effect on today or tomorrow’s journaling session.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” Heraclitus — Bob Desautels

On their face, it appears that one of these practices leans more into the physical and the other leans more into the mental. But with further investigation, their similarities are undeniable. Their effects on a person are also deeply similar. Both rituals lean into the mental, both practices lean into the emotional, and both practices lean into the spiritual. 

Svadhyaya, the “Study of the Self” 

In ancient yogic texts, there are a series of yogic pursuits, also known as the eight-limbed path. Yogis travel this path in order to reach a state of samadhi, or pure bliss. In the second limb,

known as the niyamas (or personal observances,) there lies a term known as svadhyaya, the “study of the self.” 

In one's spiritual practice, they cultivate svadhyaya during moments of self-reflection; meditating on their behaviors, motivations, and plans. Looking into the mirror of non-distortion, svadhyaya is an honest look at where one has arrived in life. It’s an inquisitive assessment where yogis discover what changes can be made to lead a more fulfilling life and experience of self. 

If we could ask an ancient yogic sage if journaling was a form of svadhyaya, I believe they would say yes. What better describes journaling than it being an inquisitive, personal assessment of one’s current state? 

How better could journaling be described than a look into the mirror of non-distortion? A place where the writer puts all their thoughts, fears, and insights onto paper. The only difference between the writer and the yogi is that the writer puts these emotions onto paper. The yogi pours their emotions onto their mat. 

Four steps to intertwine your yoga and journaling practices 

While yoga and journaling practices are powerful on their own, combining them can magnify each’s impact. Here are some suggestions on how to accomplish just that: 

1. Set up your space

Have your yoga blanket folded at the back of your mat. Place your yoga blocks and strap beside the long edges of your mat. And have your journal and pen at the top of your mat. A paperweight may help keep your journal open and at the ready, depending on the flexibility of its binding.

2. Document feelings during your flow 

Once you’re set up, flow through your yoga sequence with a focus on the inhalation and exhalation. When your focus drifts from the present moment and into an unrelated thought, pause and jot the thought down. Yoga has a way of provoking odd emotions or strains of thought at unexpected times. 

It’s important to be honest and take note of your personal experience. If you find journaling during your yoga practice to be distracting and need to make adjustments or save your journaling for after the yoga session, it’s perfectly acceptable to do that. Make the yoga practice work for you. That being said, give it a fair shake!

3. Increase your awareness 

As you continue through the practice, investigate your mind with a childlike curiosity. Notice what comes up when you wiggle and wobble in a challenging standing pose. If you fall out of a pose, do you cast judgment on yourself? Do you get frustrated? 

Conversely, do you exercise compassion and get right back into the pose as if nothing happened? Did falling out of the pose not have a negative affect on your internal landscape? Or did it? Be honest about what comes up for you and when it does, pause your practice and jot it down. 

As you flow, allow the pages of your journal to fill with anything that surges through the mind. Is there anger or irritation present during any postures? Is there a lightness, a sense of calm, and a feeling of ease? Do you feel powerful, like a force in the world? Or do you feel you lack flexibility, stamina, or cannot concentrate?

4. Review your experience 

When your time on the mat has reached its end, return to your journal and see what was written during your practice. 

  • Are there any thoughts or emotions that deserve further investigation? 
  • Are these thoughts and emotions present even when you’re off the yoga mat? 
  • What shifts in mood did you experience from before the practice to after? 
  • What reactive feelings did you notice presenting themselves repeatedly? 

Oftentimes, slivers of insight present themselves during our yoga flow. This is because when our mind and body is given center stage, the right conditions are present to allow those insights to come through. 

Yoga is a physical journaling practice 

Seeing these two practices as kindred spirits bolsters an individual’s internal landscape towards the positive that much more. Infuse your yoga routine with your journaling practice. Vice versa, start to see your journaling practice as an opportunity to reflect on your physical being. 

When journaling, if something that needs to be expressed causes your body to constrict, your breath to shallow, or your chest to collapse, pause and take a moment to step into a yogi state of mind. Bring your attention to the breath and come into a posture that counteracts the physical expression of your emotions. Or you can simply work out the feeling through a deep, restorative stretch. 

“Yoga is a dance between control and surrender — between pushing and letting go — and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being.” — Joel Kramer


Today's post is a guest post from Katie Rutten.

Katie Rutten is a yoga teacher and a devoted meditation and breathwork practitioner. At the core of her work is the practice of what ancient yogis call svādhyāya, or the “study of the self.” Her blog, Soul Primacy, mostly orbits around topics like yoga, breathwork, meditation, and other spiritual subject matter. All in the name of svādhyāya. She lives in Georgetown, Colorado with her husband and two cats, Goop and Chester. 

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