When you write down your thoughts in a journal, you are practicing self-inquiry. Like yoga and meditation, a regular journaling practice can help you become your truest, fullest, most purposeful self. Writing does this by helping you to understand the inner workings of your mind, which can help you release old conditioning, uncover unknown layers of self, and bring clarity to your experience in this very moment.
What is a Self-Inquiry Practice?
To inquire is to ask questions; when practicing self-inquiry, you are asking questions to your deepest self and exploring what arises. Self-inquiry is much like the practice of awareness and observation that aligns with yoga or meditation. When asking the self questions, you are watching your internal dialogue unfold, unveiling patterns, habits, beliefs, and behaviors. Much like how the physical practice of yoga allows you to see and feel the body with more clarity, self-inquiry allows you to explore the deeper layers of who you truly are.
“Yoga is the journey of the Self, through the Self, to the Self.” —The Bhagavad GitaTweet
The second limb of the eightfold yogic path describes the Niyamas or personal observations. Svādhyāya is the fourth Niyama according to Pantanjali, the Hindu author of the Yoga Sutras and the father of “modern yoga”.
“‘Sva’ means self, and ‘adhyaya’ means study or education. Education is the drawing out of the best that is within a person. Svadhyaya, therefore, is the education of the self. The person practicing svadhyaya reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it. There is a change in his outlook on life. He starts to realize… that there is divinity within himself, and that the energy which moves him is the same that moves the entire universe.” – B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga Teacher & Author of “Light on Yoga”
In the practice of yoga, svādhyāya is getting to know who you are beyond your ego and your human body. This exploration of true self-inquiry is a deep dive into the messiness of being human; it involves asking uncomfortable questions and going inward to truly connect to your most intuitive and powerful version of self. It is an uncovering of the subconscious mind, or as modern psychology calls it, metacognition. Metacognition means “thinking about thinking,” aka becoming aware of your thought process and how you perceive your internal and external worlds.
Journaling as Self-Inquiry
Keeping a journal is a remedy to the experience of living with all of its inevitable ups and downs. Keeping a journal can allow your mind to unwind, your inner self to reflect, and can boost your other mindfulness practices. Believe it or not, studies have also shown that journaling can lead to a stronger immune system and better sleep.
5 Ways to Journal
When free-writing, set a timer and let the words flow onto the paper, whatever they may be, without pausing, editing, or thinking too much about what you are writing. This technique allows you to let the mind roll, unpacking emotions and thoughts in a very uncensored way.
2) Morning Pages
Morning pages are three pages of free writing done first thing in the morning to allow your stream of consciousness to flow. This practice of morning pages was made popular by Julie Cameron in her 1992 book “The Artist’s Way.” Cameron doesn’t even consider morning pages to be “writing” but more so a practice of setting the mind free by releasing blocks, allowing whatever crosses the mind to make it to the paper to allow a sense of clarity.
3) Evening Reflection
If you’re more of an evening person, journaling at night to reflect on what happened throughout your day can be a beautiful practice. You can reflect on events that occurred throughout the day, bringing a deeper level of awareness to how you met the day, perceived the world around you, and interacted with strangers and loved ones alike.
4) Gratitude Journal
Having a gratitude practice is an effective way to bring more happiness into your life. Having a gratitude practice allows you to step into the present moment and acknowledge what you feel grateful for. It can be as simple as writing down one to three (or more!) things that you are grateful for each day.
5) Self-Inquiry Journal Prompts
Another way to journal is to use prompts as a way to ignite your writing and svādhyāya, or self-study. Answering questions can help you see more clearly how you perceive certain things, the world around you, and your inner, true Self. Try these prompts:
- How do you perceive yourself?
- What do you value about yourself, others, and/or in general?
- What do you need in intimate relationships?
- How do you feel you are showing up for yourself?
- How are you showing up for others?
- What makes you happy?
- When do you feel most inspired?
- Has something traumatic happened recently that you are still in the process with?
- What is your magic, personal gift, or offering?
- What drains your energy? What replenishes it?
- Do you feel grounded? Why or why not?
- Are you living authentically? What might help you move closer to your authenticity?