One of the aspects of yoga that expresses itself off the mat is the urge to put pen to paper and journal our experiences through drawing or writing. Some of us have kept journals or sketchbooks since long before we began our yoga practices, then found those lifelong habits supporting our yoga experience.
Sharon describes her process:
I started living some of my life through my drawings when I was a very young child, preschool. The drawings became more and more elaborate as my fantasies and skills developed. In the second grade (in the 50s) I identified with Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and carried my versions (drawings of course) of her exploits as my “identification papers”.
Through the years my sketchbooks’ focus morphed from fantasy to thought, reflected in the things I saw before me. They became a smaller part of daily life as my attention and energies were more directed toward my paintings and larger drawings. The link to my little thoughtbooks became somewhat random especially when I was keeping a regular journal from about the age of 12 through my 30s, although these too were a bit over-run with sketches.
What drew me back to my books as a daily meditation was a sadhana we (those of us who make up Yogalila and a few others) did in 2004. Some of us, including me, were reading book 2 of the Sutras of Patanjali and I started accompanying the readings with morning line drawings of my hands and feet along with some random thoughts and the sutra for that day. I used a pilgrim’s notebook I bought on the Ruta de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The connection between hand, eye, mind and substance were almost mesmerizing to me. I didn’t want to break that chain.
And here I am, with a stack of little books. The sutra comments have become false haikus. I draw the things around me, I focus on injuries and draw and draw and draw the structure and the surface of the areas involved. I draw “waiting” too.
I often start my yoga practice with a drawing that I do, sitting cross-legged on my mat. Over the last few years the drawings have begun to take over more space in my life and my work and my yoga, as well as deriving from those areas. And funny thing, my paintings and drawings are getting smaller, like the book I sketch in.
I’d like to be more diligent with my yoga notebook. I can go for weeks without touching it. I want to be more organized about recording practice etc. but I can’t seem to get into the same mental place with writing as I can in my sketches. Drawing links the inside and the outside and seems to happen in the same organic way yoga does.
More of Sharon's sketches can be found at her sketchblog, Daybooks
I’ve kept some kind of a journal since I was twelve years old, and found that when I began yoga classes, the journaling habit naturally lent itself to record those experiences. My yoga journal began with poses we worked on in class, but expanded as my Kripalu teacher encouraged us to note emotional responses to poses and insights gained through practice. Workshops also lent themselves to journaling, and I would take notes along with sketches of pose variations, lines of energy, alignment and partner assists. I would include philosophy, tradition, and little bits of wisdom passed on by the teacher, along with overall impressions of the workshop and the teacher’s personality.
Like Sharon, my journaling habits were refreshed by participating in a sadhana with my on-line community. My sadhana journal became a very personal record not just of asanas practiced or classes attended, but books read, challenges encountered, and discussions held, sometimes accompanied by study of sutras, and subsequent reflections and insights.
These days, my practice journal often includes ways to work
through injury, with modifications for poses and other exercises, using both
words and pictures in a process of inquiry. They provide a compilation of ideas
from various sources and have helped me develop my own approach to
recovery. I’ve found the information
useful down the road if problems reappear or similar injury occurs.
While my written journals can be somewhat analytical, drawing and sketching opens a more intuitive dimension of journaling. Anatomical drawings provide a way of sensing inside oneself, cultivating an appreciation of our internal selves and all the parts that come together to make a pose. They can be part of coping while injured and a way to celebrate our bodies through all stages of the healing process.
The visual expressions of drawing can provide a counterpoint to analyzing poses in logical left brain way, and perhaps lead to better spatial understanding of the pose and the body. Being process oriented in both our yoga and our drawing supports our intuitive aspects. It can provide insight, becoming an expression of the individual's perception of reality. In the same way that Sharon and I will have a different expression of Paschimottanasana, we will also have different ways of verbally describing a pose, or different ways of drawing a femur.
Whether drawing or writing, journals give us more ways to practice our yoga, exploring our relationships with the pose and the mind/body state.