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+ Journaling for Mind, Body benefits – Guest post by Gemma Philips

How Journaling reduces stress
Recent scientific studies have backed what has long been known in Eastern philosophy since ancient times: holistic practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation lower stress hormone levels, lift our mood, and boost our academic and work performance. If you are already well versed with the many benefits that meditation can bring to your life, you might consider adopting a complementary activity, which will only enhance the relaxing effects of meditation. It’s called journaling, and it is currently a therapy that is encouraged in a variety of settings – including centers for rehabilitation for drug abuse, for eating disorder recovery and for the treatment of stress-related conditions such as depression and anxiety. Journaling is also used for patients which chronic health conditions, including cancer, asthma, chronic pain, insomnia, etc.

How does Journaling differ from diary writing?
Far from merely recording the events of the day, as is the case with diary writing, journaling goes a step beyond, in that it involves writing down our thoughts and feelings which are our reactions to the day’s events. In this way, we can get to know ourselves better – find out what triggers stress or anxiety, note down the way we tend to react to conflict or difficult issues, and jot down alternative, more positive reactions the next time we encounter a similar situation.

What benefits does journaling bring?
Some of the many benefits of journaling include:

  • Helping us deal with stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Helping us deal with challenging events and circumstances
  • Helping us ‘metabolize’ our experience – when we do not journal, we can simply block any unpleasant thoughts or emotions, which are transformed into a muddled memory we obtain little value from. Journaling helps us process the day’s events, so that we are not plagued by distressing thoughts and feelings. In this way, journaling very much resembles mindfulness.
  • Helping us track our progress – we can use our journal to create strategies to deal with difficult situations, and take note of how we are progressing in our goals.
  • Identifying triggers – journaling regularly enables us to identify the situations or people that tend to make us anxious or upset. We can analyse how they manage to have this effect on us, and either make a conscious decision to process their words and actions in a different manner, or take more drastic measures if necessary (such as limiting the amount of time we spend in these types of situations, especially if they are toxic or bring no good to our lives).

What Types of Journal are there?
Ultimately, each of us defines and creates our own type of journal. Some people find success from keeping a gratitude journal – in which they regularly list down the things, people and events they are thankful for. Others (such as those in recovery from substance abuse, for instance) keep a recovery journal, to help track their progress, triggers and setbacks. Still others keep a journal to note their progress towards a defined goal. Another popular journal is the evening reflection journal, which enables the writer to reflect on their reactions to a specific event.

How to Journal?
Journaling ultimately only works if we are truly committed to it. The aim should be to write daily, or every couple of days, for a set amount of time (between 20 minutes and around half an hour at least). If you are considering starting a journal, find a comfy, quiet spot in your home, where you won’t be bothered by noise. Make this area as personal as you can – fill it with lights, put on relaxing music or decorate it so that just the idea of journaling seems immensely appealing. Every few days, go back over previous entries to reflect on them. During the day, use your phone or keep a small notebook, jotting down any important thoughts or feelings you may otherwise forget. Remember that journaling is a reflective exercise; use your journal to become more self-aware and to make the necessary changes you need for a better quality of life.

Further Reading:
Journaling as an Aid to Recovery, Recovery.org
Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress, Health.Harvard.edu
Yoga, Umm.edu
Journaling for Mental Health, Urmc.Rochester.edu
The Benefits of Journaling, UWhealth.org

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* Breathing breaks in the class room

This is a report from Lynn Schuster, a dedicated and innovative class teacher for grades 2/3 in Robert C. Parker School, Wynantskill, New York State (1). On my request, she shared with me how she developed the basic  technique of ‘focusing on breathing’ (2) to suit the needs of her students and herself in the class room. It is a wonderful model that has brought out the immense potential of this simple technique!

“I was introduced to ‘Counting Breaths’ along with my 2nd-3rd grade students four years ago. I watched my students, and felt myself, relax tremendously within a matter of moments as C.S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) taught us the technique. The practice is now an essential part of the daily life in my classroom. We begin our ‘Morning Meeting’ each day, by “going into our silence.” Students are asked to “unplug” from their friends and to give themselves the opportunity to breathe quietly. We sustain this silence for at least three minutes. This year, I conclude this silence with what I’m now calling our five magical breaths. I count and students follow as we breathe deeply, a minimum of five times, together.

Even children who find quieting down extremely challenging can achieve silence through the peer influence that comes with group practice. I sometimes have to be patient and wait until we’ve all quieted down. In the afternoon when focus can be difficult, I usually have to add in soothing words of encouragement and very deliberately lead them through our counting out a minimum of five deep breaths. I will roam the room, praise individuals and the class. Everyone comes around.

This year, I’ve consciously incorporated breathing breaks throughout our day—at every transition and before starting anything new. This translates into a minimum of 5-6 breathing breaks a day. This year, I also committed to pausing what we are doing when I see even one student getting antsy or moody. In the past, I would have plowed through my agenda and put up with interruptions or a less-than-focused atmosphere. It has been proven to me through my commitment to taking breathing breaks that these breaks do only take a couple minutes. BUT their impact is profound and can carry through big chunks of time. Breathing together brings almost every child immediately into a relaxed mindset. I feel impatience and stress wash away too. We become a community again, working together.

I must thank YOU for teaching me to pause, breathe and help my students relax. I used to think the fun and laughs we had–and the connection/trust I strive to create with each student–would ensure focus when the time required it. But from your guidance and teaching, I saw that I needed to do something more. You’ve changed the way I live in the class and made me pay closer attention to what’s really happening in front of me.”


I am grateful to Lynn for developing this great class room model of the technique. She helped me realize the dream I have been nurturing since the year 2002, ever since I realized the great potential of this technique in helping children calm themselves and focus.  I am  also grateful to Meg Taylor, Head of the school who let me, an uncertified and unlicensed person, experiment with this technique, unknown in the educational field and for creating an environment that lets such innovations flourish. I am happy they both let me publish their names.

I dream of more teachers drawing inspiration from this model and developing their own versions. They will be helping their students develop self awareness, the ability to calm themselves whenever they become aware of their anxiety or stress and act with self control. I feel these skills are more fundamental than reading, writing and counting and will be of immense help to them throughout their life.  Parents can also use this model at home to reinforce the class room experience. I feel when these children grow up, they will become better moms and dads with this additional technique in their parenting tool kit.

When I was working in a paper mill in India, I used this technique when I conducted small group meetings.  We all breathed together for a couple of minutes in the counting mode. It helped us focus better and be good listeners.

(1) Robert C. Parker School
(2) How can I focus on breathing?

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Relevant pages
Endorsement by Meg Taylor – Head of sdchool

Parent page: Training children in ‘Focusing on breathing’