Exercises to “Re-Write” Your Life: The Healing Power of Written Reflection

fountain-pen-on-paper

I am a yoga teacher trained in therapeutics. I’ve also been a journalist, editor and writer since I was 18 years old. Lets just say that’s a long time now! I find yoga, especially the ujjayi breath, essential to clear my head. It wipes the junk out, blows away the spider web of tangled thoughts or the distractions holding me back—looping thoughts I may cling to in order to NOT focus. Yoga, the sweat, work out and breath, helps me clear my mind, be more present, less fearful and therefore, better focused to write my books, or write blog posts or magazine articles. I’ve been working at a hospital in Los Angeles for three years now. Not everyone can experience the clearing power of a yoga work out. Some are stuck in chairs or attached to machines. I created a technique that marries deep yogic breathing with writing exercises geared to clear out unconscious stories and looping fears that can hold people back. When I work with cancer support groups, not only do we breathe deeply and do a little chair yoga and meditation—we write. The power of the writing exercises can not be over-stated. It is especially healing for post traumatic stress. I know. As someone who has experienced PTSD from violence and abandonment, I know how serious and debilitating it can be. Those who’ve experienced trauma can’t just ‘get over it.’ And my last article for TUT: “Five Ways You May be Addicted to Your Wounds” struck a chord within therapy circles. I received feedback such as you can’t just ignore trauma or PTSD. I agree. No you can’t. My previous article was written for those who lick their wounds for years after therapy and support group help, in order to garner sympathy, stay stuck, not have to work hard or to try to make others responsible for their own well-being. It wasn’t for the those who have just experienced trauma or who have just recovered memories of trauma. In my experience, finding a good therapist and a support group can be life saving. Yoga, meditation, even just walking weekly with a friend, are also incredibly healing. Take it slow.

The good news is that over time, you can start again. You can re-write your life. Your past doesn’t define you. The way we interpret our life stories is everything. And this lives in our subconscious. These writing exercises are designed for those who may be stuck, such as dating men who continue to cheat. Or for those who experienced trauma years ago, yet never healed, because the spin they put upon the life experience is limiting. If you think you are resilient—you are. If you think you learned a valuable lesson and have moved on—you have. The stories we tell ourselves about our past experiences have a tremendous impact on our future. But often, we aren’t even aware of what we tell ourselves, as it’s subtle. It’s mutted. Sometimes it isn’t even words, so much as knee jerk reactions and attitudes we adopt to skew our world view and lower our vibrations.

So even after years of therapy, and even after an acute awareness of what you have been through and why you do what you do—you may still subconsciously be telling yourself negative stories. Intellectually you may know that you are safe, or that all men don’t hit or cheat, or that you can get another job, or that you are competent, or that you can lose the weight…Yet, subconsciously, you may be telling yourself a stream of fearful thoughts that support a very limited and negative outlook, not allowing you to live your best life. Your anxious thoughts may also be flooding your body with cortisol, the stress hormone that can cause a host of dis-ease. Here are a few examples from my hospital work: someone lost a family member in a car accident 20 years ago and refuses to drive. Ever. She watches news every night. She needs to control everything and everyone in her life. She has such high anxiety that she develops debilitating fear over doing anything new or leaving her house. Her subconscious mind tells her the world can’t be trusted. The world isn’t a safe place. Her health declines. She gains weight. She isolates. She drinks too much coffee. She doesn’t sleep well. Her blood pressure rises. She began to have irregular heart beats. Spots on her skin developed. She developed another cyst. When she started chair yoga (her doctor recommended it and then arranged for transportation), she said her life was over. Our writing exercises reveal her unconscious thought patterns: “It’s scary out there. I’m not safe. People can’t be trusted. I always get sick. I wish I could die.” Once I had her negative thoughts, I created positive affirmations for her to say daily in the mirror and to write daily in her journal that would spin the stories: “I am healthy. I trust the Universe is unfolding exactly as it is meant to. All is well in my life. Joy flows through me with every breath. I love my life. I am safe wherever I go.”

A private yoga client is recovering from the trauma of infidelity. She begins to tell herself “all men cheat.” Every man who she goes out with she becomes extremely suspicious of and begins snooping, reading texts and emails—even when the man has done nothing to merit such snooping. She creates the vibration that attracts another cheating or lying event. Her last boyfriend begins to lie to her about being available for dates and starts seeing a woman at the office. Writing exercises reveal her internal dialogue: “Of course! All men cheat. See? This is what the Universe wants for me. Fucking Universe. Look fat women in my neighborhood are married 20 years, yet I can’t find a good man to date. Others have love, I see it all around me, I’m not lovable. I’m not deserving.” Her mirror & written affirmations: “I am deserving. I love you. I approve of myself and deserve faithful love. I love you, I really love you. I trust the Universe has my back.”

Re-writing your life stories, the spin we put on them, our unconscious beliefs we keep telling ourselves, can be transformational. First, you have to discover what your stories are. From there, you re-spin them. Here are some writing exercises that I give my yoga clients who are going through trauma such as abuse, abandonment, divorce, cancer…I know from my own experience, these are eye-opening and can help you move past the old stories you tell yourself—and into the future you want.

  1. Find a comfortable spot, a couch, bed, favorite chair. Close your eyes. Rest your hands loosely in your lap. Have a pad of paper and pen near by. Take a deep breath through you nose and fill your lungs completely. Try to count to five or six. Hold it at the top for as long as you feel comfortable, and then slowly let it go through your nose, making a slight vibrational sound in the base of your throat. This is ujjayi breath that calms your central nervous system. It make the sound of the ocean in your ears, or like you are trying to fog up a mirror with your mouth closed. Do this breath five times. Yes, five times. Open your eyes, pick up the pen or pencil with your opposite, non-dominant hand. Put it in position on the paper. Ask yourself, ‘What am I scared of?” (Another good one is: I Believe…) Allow yourself to write four to five things (first things that come up), with the hand you do not normally write with.The next day, do the same as above but ask yourself “What Do I need to Bring into my Life?” Then, allow yourself you write with your non-dominate hand four to five things. I do this every year. My last one I put up on my bulletin board. In scratchy big letters are the words: Strength. Determination. Hard Work. Every Day.
  2. Do your five ujjayi breaths. Set your phone alarm to two minutes. Pick up a pen and place it on the paper. Close your eyes. Write without lifting your pen. Just write anything that comes to mind. Let it flow continuously. This is a stream of consciousness exercise where you literally dump out all the “stuff” in your head. This is especially effective for those who can not exercise, or who may be suffering from an illness.I do it with them and it’s amazing what dumps out onto the page. Fears. Daily negative messages. Worries. Triggers. Distractions. Obsessive worries or compulsions. Targets of control. After this exercise, take a long walk if possible, breathing deeply. If walking is out of the questions, breath deeply and take a break, have someone push you in a wheel chair for instance. Upon return, turn the page in your journal and answer the following question: “If I died tomorrow, I would most regret not doing ________.
  3. After doing both of the above exercises, I want you to write mirror and journal affirmations that you WILL DO daily for a month, at a minimum. Forty days is optimal. Write an affirmation that confirms the opposite of your negative belief. If you are afraid you will get sick again, your affirmation is: “All is well. I am healthy. My life is unfolding exactly as it meant to.”
    If you need help identifying affirmations for you, I strongly suggest buying Louise Hay’s classic book: Heal Your Body. Louise Hay also has awesome apps for healing and free affirmations here
    With Love & Light ~ Laura xo
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