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by Anjali Mani

I have been keeping a journal since I was a child. As a child, I called it my diary, but as I grew into adulthood, the journal began to become my best friend, companion, my therapist, and the inner voice in me throughout these years. There is something about picking up a pen and letting the ink run without stopping, without judgment and letting the words run through. I like to use the analogy of journaling to that of breathing. We breathe like it is natural to us, but when we really focus on our breathing, like a deep inhale let all the air out, journaling is like that...we are letting out the stuff that inside us, out in a very healthy manner. The stuff that sits in our bodies without us being fully aware, the stuff that is in our head that can make us go crazy, and the stuff in our hearts that can make us numb at times to what is going on around us. Journaling really took its full form when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. During that time, my father was undergoing chemotherapy and coming to terms with his illness - on many levels - physical changes, the reality of his mortality, and more than anything learning to accept/understand himself and let go of the past. I am a firm believer that stress if uncontained can have multitude effects on the body. Holding all these issues in one's body while still struggling to fight the disease can have consequences on spirit/body. Coincidently I was also reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, and in that process, my sister and I asked him to begin keeping a journal of his journey. One of the rituals was doing our “morning pages, “which included writing three pages every day nonstop, even if it didn’t make sense. Twelve years later, I have no doubt in my mind that writing out his physical processes helped his body/mind/soul come to terms with the inevitable and his passing was more peaceful and less painful.....

So Journaling has a lot of benefits. It can be utilized in numerous ways – from a dream journal to a gratitude journal to a poetry journal, to a journal on healing. Journaling has tremendous benefits in working through your physical ailments. Much of our physical ailments have deep rooted emotional issues that need to be worked out. And when we begin to pay attention to our body, and write down how our body is feeling, we also begin to pay attention to our heart and our mind, thereby bringing on the process of healing. Studies have shown that people who write about their traumatic experiences feel better overall and visit doctors less frequently. Just like eating an apple has such wonderful health benefits, similarly, picking up a pen and paper or even typing on your computer for a couple of minutes a day could have tremendous health benefits. Below are some exercises that I have found particularly helpful to me and i would like to share with you:

1. Make a chronological history of your health - and be specific to the pain - make a note of incidences, illness, injury, or difficulty, and treatment options including alternative/natural and medications. It is important to gain a picture of the origins and understand your body in order to help it.

2. Move your direction of writing inward ---understand that your body is reacting to something internally and it is important to dialogue that with your body. Pick a part of your body - your head, your chest, ur back that is in discomfort and begin with the following sentence "MY Head Feels __________ ...u can keep it simple by having one word answers or you can let yourself go in sentence format ......then the next sentence will be - My Head wants to say...........and again you can give short one word answers or sentence format......lastly, Today I was aware of ........

2. Just like the process in progressive muscle relaxation one tenses and relaxes muscles in our body as part of stress management, similarly, one can do a journaling exercise similar to that.....Tense and relax your muscles starting with your toes feet, legs, stomach, shoulders, neck, face, eyes and as you relax, begin a five minute writing piece with the following heading "My feet are ........" You can start with your feet or your head...whatever it is and just let yourself write out what u are feeling......And at the end "Ask yourself - How Am i Feeling right now?

3. Just like people keep a food log, similarly keeping a pain log - jotting down the frequency of the pain, the intensity, after/before meals, if there are any triggers can also help. http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/guide/headache-diary

4 For those on the artistic side -close your eyes and try to visualize an image of your illness/pain....and now try to have a dialogue with that illness....this takes longer - at least 30 minutes --so you need to keep time aside for that.....

For those of you putting this off, i urge you to try one of these exercises on a daily basis....it's good for the soul:)

Happy Journaling!

Anjali Mani, LMSW, LSW, has a background in Interpersonal Violence, Trauma and Holistic living. She obtained her Masters in Social Work from Columbia University School of Social Work. She specializes in organizing Wellness & Burnout Prevention Workshops for Non-profit organizations and has a special passion for incorporating the Arts/Writing/Meditation in Social Work. She has a six Year old son who keeps her on her toes, and her goal is to share the benefits of Journal Writing with various populations.

She has facilitated Workshops on the Therapeutic Benefits of Journal Writing and is also interested in Journaling as a Mindfulness Practice.

For more information on her journaling, visit her blog at journalcircle.blogspot.com

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