Why Write? Part Four: To Cultivate Wellness
As I started to picture the trees in the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that try too hard to stand up strong and straight are the ones that break. – Julia Butterfly Hill
This morning I taught a class on letting go–letting go of regrets, of fears, emotional baggage, and useless ruminations–through the practice of writing. How timely it was! Earlier, while I was trying like hell to focus on my breath in yoga class, I was wrestling with my own personal baggage, dwelling on all of the things that bug me about me. Sometimes I just can’t give myself any slack.
To the observer, I looked like just another yoga student in Tree Pose. But if that observer could have gotten a glimpse into my mind, I would have looked like I was mud wrestling an alligator–thrashing and futile.
I couldn’t wait to get to the page, to release the run-around ruminations and emotional self-abuse. I have learned, over and over and over that writing acts like releasing a valve on a pressure-cooker. I can actually feel the energy move from my brain, through my hands, and onto the page.
While a writing practice does not make the problems and questions and challenges of life go away, it is a forum for dealing with them in a way that promotes wellness. I will never be able to change my wily ways, to be a mello person of a consistently even keel. My emotional variances off the mean have always been a rockin’ adventure, a fire-on-both-ends existence.
But my writing practice helps me tame the demons and move through life in an inspired kind of way. My belief in its power to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health is steadfast. Not only am I filled with conviction about the benefits of a writing practice based on my own life and research, here is a brief overview of some of the other research:
Psychologist James W. Pennebaker began the first formal study of what he termed “expressive writing” as a path toward healing from trauma. Following his initial study, “Confession, inhibition, and disease,” hundreds of studies on the power of journaling have been conducted with different populations, and consistently these studies suggest that journaling benefits our minds, bodies, and emotions. He says writing helps in two ways:
“It reduces the physical and mental stress involved in inhibiting thoughts. But more importantly, writing is a powerful tool to organize overwhelming events and make them manageable. The mind torments itself by thinking about unresolved issues. By translating the experience into language, people begin to organize and structure the surge of overwhelming thoughts. Once organized, they are easier to resolve.”
The practice of journaling benefits our physical health. Overwhelming evidence shows that psychological conflict, stress, and anxiety can exacerbate and even cause disease. Individuals who are not able to cope with traumatic events may be more susceptible to major and minor illnesses. When we begin to write, we arouse the toxins created from holding our emotions inside. As we continue to express our emotions through writing, we detoxify our minds and bodies, and even increase our immune function.
Journaling also cultivates mental health. Dr. Edward J. Murray, professor of psychology at the University of Miami said he initially didn’t fully believe that merely writing about emotional experiences could do as much as psychotherapy. But after he conducted his own study, he said, “writing seems to produce as much therapeutic benefit as sessions with a psychotherapist.” Writing about emotional topics significantly reduces stress. While writing about distressing events is painful initially, in the long term people who journal feel an elevation in mood and a greater sense of wellbeing.
Why Write? To Cultivate Wellness because no one else can do it for us.
As we live in an increasingly hyperbolic society where we run breathless through our days, we have got to find a way to stop and to release, so that we can move with greater ease and lightness of being.
Stay tuned for upcoming journaling classes in the Treehouse this spring: The Art of Life: Journaling as a Wellness Practice; A Different Kind of Baby Book: Journaling to Our Children from Conception On; and The Anti Anti-Aging Forum: Growing Older with Vitality, Wisdom, and Wrinkles.