Journaling, Self-study & How They Helped Me Break The Chains of Addiction

  My children, dog and husband don’t often listen to my suggestions, so I am delighted to hear that some of the yogis that joined yesterday’s chakra realignment class have started journaling! Not just because it’s quite a novel and pleasant feeling to have someone pay attention but because it indicates a willingness on your part to take this journey of self discovery to a deeper level. 

As I mentioned, you will get wonderful benefits from simply attending the classes or starting a home practice of chakra balancing, as my beautiful friend and co-teacher Victoria suggests over on her blog. However by journaling, you are consciously investing yourself more in the process of svadhyaya, or self study: the fourth niyama in the 8 limbs of yoga

In Sanskrit, sva means “self’ and adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies. I should know about this one: as someone in long term recovery from substance abuse, I am wired to sniff out dangerous territory. More about that later. 

The better we know ourselves, the better we are able to choose circumstances that are most harmonious and productive for us, including lifestyle, social interactions, ways of learning and growing. Ultimately, this allows us to not only experience more joy but also to find ways of contributing to the world that fit our disposition and therefore are more powerful and beneficial to all.

In addition, greater self-knowledge also helps us be more aware of our “less-than-ideal” patterns, whether part of our inherent nature or from past conditioning. The more aware we are of our challenges and issues, the more mindful we can be when they arise, allowing us to guide them in healthful directions rather than falling into unconscious patterns, such as fear and anger, which tend to prevent us from thinking clearly. 

Here’s a personal story: svadhyaya (and professional help, ultimately) helped me to recognise a very dangerous pattern of self-medicating with alcohol when I found that I was feeling unsafe emotionally. It was a coping mechanism that had gone haywire – serving me (to a point) when I was a teenager, struggling to come to terms with being raped, refusing to go to therapy and unable to make sense of anything in my world. 

What started as a desperate clutching at anything to numb the pain ended up as a full-blown addiction. That’s a story for another day, but the practice of yoga and svadhyaya shone a light on all these patterns and is one of the main reasons I am where I am today, free from the terrifying chains of addiction.

Understood this way, what might at first seem a “self-centered” practice, ultimately becomes a bridge, not only to ourselves but also to others – that is, through greater awareness of our own issues, we can reduce the likelihood of falling into them during our interactions while also increasing our compassion, realizing even those who have very different issues are at heart wrestling with the same basic challenging process of self-awareness. 

At this point, you are probably noticing many parallels between self-study and therapy, and there are many. However, there are a few significant aspects which set them apart. 

I will be exploring these in my next post, so for now would love to hear any comments on how you are finding this process of self-study, any comments or thoughts. 


Muladhara Chakra: Questions For Journaling

It was an absolute joy to teach the first class in a 5 class series on chakras this morning at our tranquil Stellenbosch yoga studio.

We focused on the root or base chakra, Muladhara, and the crucial role it plays in supplying us with the energy of survival. It was all about being grounded, inviting stability and balance into our bodies, lives and our practices, on and off the mat.

As often happens in teaching, I started with a clear and practiced class plan to move through, and ended up having to cut out an entire section because the cues that I was getting from the class were that it felt right to go a lot slower than I had planned. The collective balance and stability in Vrksasana was a thing of beauty. We finished with one of my favourite guided meditations for grounding, and the breathing and sense of calm by the end of the class was beautifully meditative.

I mentioned at the end of class that working with chakras can elicit some quite powerful emotions – some comfortable and others less so – and that it is sometimes suggested that one keeps a journal as you move your way through the process, to safely contain things that may arise. Some people choose to, others don’t so it’s entirely up to you but as promised, here are some questions relating to Muladhara that you may find interesting.

Root chakra concerns: survival, stability, physical needs, security, connection with the earth

Muladhara journaling – suggested questions:

Why am I here at this point in my life right now? You may want to begin by writing down your earliest memories. Are they happy ones?

What belief patterns have I inherited from my family?

Do I perceive the world as a dangerous place?

Do I nurture myself properly – both with food and with healthy ideas and impressions?

Do I often feel as if I don’t belong?

What keeps me grounded?

How do I connect with my physical body?

How do I connect with nature?

What makes me feel secure?

Where am I safe?

What gives me sustenance?

How can I share my stability and strength with others?

Being grounded simply means embodying the present moment. Balancing the first chakra means going to the places that scare you, sitting there, breathing, feeling your body, feeling your feelings completely, not wriggling away, not plotting your escape. A healthy root chakra is connected to both the earth and the sky, the grounded, solid quality of reality as well as the expansive spaciousness of acute awareness.

This is my meditation “toolkit” for Muladhara: an exquisite red silk scarf brought to me from India by my precious teacher and friend, Susie Roy, and a fragment of fossilized rock – millions of years old – that I picked up in the Cederberg last year. Both help me feel grounded and I gravitate towards them when I am feeling flighty or unsettled. You may find value in creating your own special place or objects for meditation as we move through the chakras together, and beyond.

Be well.

Please note – if at any point you feel unsafe or as if you need support in this process, please go easy, look after yourself and reach out. And I am always available for questions and would love to help in any way I can.

I’d love to hear your comments, as always.