by Jenny Patton
After my mom passed away from cancer, I delved into a box set of yoga DVDs my husband purchased for me two months prior. My Crohn’s disease had flared up and I’d dropped to ninety pounds, unable to digest food normally. I made mistakes at my job, snapped at my children and avoided my friends. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and stay in bed.
Each winter morning, with the companionship of those yoga DVDs, I lit a candle, opened a daily meditation book, wrote in my journal, spread out my yoga mat and moved along with the instructors on seaside perches at a Jamaican resort. They taught me to breathe and urged me not to overdo it. “If you’re wobbling today, that’s okay,” one assured me with a smile. “Just do the best you can.”
Though I didn’t know it then, journal writing (also known as scriptotherapy) has been proven to benefit the immune system. Scientific research confirms that writing to make sense of chaos and challenging times is an effective way to combat stress. Columbus-based mental health therapist and social worker supervisor Anna Schott says, “Journaling and writing feelings down on paper allow you to process them and look at them more objectively.” It’s a practice she encourages through her work at the center she co-founded, Renew Wellness. In fact, scriptotherapy has been used in treatment for eating disorders, depression, addiction and prison rehabilitation as well.
Aside from the array of physical benefits, including increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone, improved respiration and vitality, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, and improved athletic performance, yoga also helps people manage stress, which is known to have a devastating effect on the body and mind, according to the American Osteopathic Association.
This blend of journal writing and yoga helped me release the hurt and anger stored in my mind and body. During this dark time in my life, it boosted my spirit and energy and enabled me to move forward.
It didn’t always go smoothly, however. I couldn’t hold “chair pose” as long as my instructors could, as my legs and back weren’t yet strong enough. Whenever I tried “crow,” a squat position in which knees balance on elbows, I fell. As much as I wanted to do what my new flexible friends in Jamaica could do, I learned to modify their poses. One encouraged me to find a balance between abhyasa (willful determination) and vairagya (non-concern for results). “Work hard but don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect,” he said. I realized this was something I wanted to bring to other areas of my life as well.
Soon I quit my job, renewed my friendships, enrolled in graduate school and embarked on a new career. Years later, my morning yoga and journal-writing practice still fuels my days. It’s something I now share as a co-leader of yoga-life writing classes in Columbus, where people who are grieving their own losses come and hear me say, “If you’re wobbling today, that’s okay. Just do the best you can.”
For more information on scriptotherapy, search for Suzette Henke’s Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-Writing at WorldCat.org.
Jenny Patton teaches writing at The Ohio State University and lives in Dublin with her husband and two sons. Connect at Patton.firstname.lastname@example.org.