Over the last year I have heard people talk about the benefits of journaling more than ever – there definitely appears to be a buzz about it.
A favourite guru of mine Oprah Winfrey has kept a journal all her life and often refers back to them, using them as a tool to learn things about herself in the process.
Having never been one for writing a diary or journal and instead preferring something shorter like writing intentions and affirmations I decided to see what it was all about.
However, with keeping a diary usually something done before bed and that not being my most productive time of day, I was keen to look for an alternative.
In order to take advice on the subject I referred to a book that I had been given but never used by a lady called Julia Cameron. An American creativity coach and guru formally married to the film producer Martin Scorsese she appeared to be very much at the forefront of the “journaling” movement having written her book “The Artists Way” in 1992 which has since been republished.
In it she introduced a practise she called Morning Pages (already I liked the sound of it).
The book has been a huge best seller and the practise has been adopted by thousands of people so there is clearly something in it.
What are these mystical morning pages?
The instructions are that you sit down and write three full A4 pages of words. Anything that comes to you. It is best to do it first thing in the morning when you are fresh and keep writing until all 3 pages are done. Those are the rules.
When it comes to what you write. Just write anything. Literally it can be as brilliant or pointless as you like. No one is ever going to read them so don’t worry. Cameron says herself:
“All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye — this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.”
What is great is that you are not meant to read your morning pages. The idea is to get things out and clear your mind and get it gone.
The connection between the hand and the paper I believe is an important one to recognise. We know it intuitively with other craft work done with our hands. Why don’t morning pages work typed up?
When we write by hand, we slow ourselves down. There is a time lag between the thought appearing in our minds and then on the page. It is hard to keep up with your thoughts, which is key so you can’t sensor what you write.
When we type it is the opposite as most of us can type pretty quicky and usually we cannot think of things fast enough to type.
It is important to stick to the 3 pages. Anymore you don’t have time for on a daily basis realistically and too little and you don’t get much from the exercise as you need to push yourself a little.
It is clearly a discipline if we are doing it every morning. It can be hard to stick to things unless there is a benefit. So, what are the benefits to our health and wellbeing?
The desire to record your daily life and keep a journal or diary has gone on for centuries although the benefits of it for our health and wellbeing were only starting to be realised in the 1960s.
Probably one of the most common reports from people who write journals is that the act of putting thought and feelings on paper helps give useful emotional and mental clarity. However, Dr. James Pennebaker, a researcher in Texas (Centre of Journal Therapy), has conducted studies that show that when people write about emotionally difficult events or feelings for just 20 minutes at a time over three or four days, their immune system functioning increases. Dr. Pennebaker’s studies indicate that the release offered by writing has a direct impact on the body’s capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.
This is pretty incredible. Writing down your thoughts and anxieties clearing your mind actually helps your body to function better. It makes sense doesn’t it? All those thoughts are baggage, weighing down your system, putting extra pressure on. Take the pressure off and everything can work better.
It is believed that by recording and describing the salient issues in one’s life, one can better understand these issues and eventually diagnose problems that stem from them. Journal therapy has been used effectively for grief and loss; coping with life-threatening or chronic illness; recovery from addictions, eating disorders and trauma; repairing troubled marriages and family relationships; increasing communication skills; developing healthier self-esteem; getting a better perspective on life; and clarifying life goals.
It is clear to say the benefits to our mental health with this technique are potentially great which is important to know when we consider as a nation, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
So now spring has sprung and our energy is raised it is a great time to implement new positive habits in our life.
I can confidently say since starting this exercise I feel better for it and definitely have more clarity.
Why not give morning pages a go?
It seems we don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain!
I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say that living a very happy long and happy life is something we all aspire too. Certainly, the long and the happy go hand in hand. Being able to enjoy your life to the full is very important so looking after your health is key.
So, what is the secret? Well, because it is February, the month of love l am starting with the L word. This is something that makes us feel good whether we are sending it out or receiving it.
So how important is love to our longevity and happiness?It all starts with a little self-love don’t you think? When we give enough attention in our life to self-love and self-care, our health is prioritised. We do things that are good for us like maintaining a balanced diet or doing regular exercise. This year, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who engage in moderate or vigorous exercise for 150 minutes per week had a lower rate of mortality for all causes. It makes sense. The more oxygen we can move around our cells the more renewal can take place and the more detoxification of waste materials can occur.
Rest and Sleep
Allowing time for relaxation and sleep is also key. In fact, sleep definitely shouldn’t be underrated. The Dalai Lama who recently celebrated his 85th birthday is an advocate of sleep for longevity. He has said in interviews that he wakes up at 3 a.m. and goes to bed at 7 p.m. in order to get a solid eight hours of sleep a night consistently.
But back to love. When we come from a place of love for ourselves our relationships automatically improve with more moments of happiness and connection. When it comes to sharing the love, this takes many forms. Fundamentally it is taking a care and interest in the wellbeing of your fellow humans. Looking out for people and offering them whatever support you are able to give.
This kind of connectedness is something that I believe as a society has been lacking for a long time. Lacking because our world has been sped up with technology making things more efficient but ironically leaving us with less time for one another, resulting in people staring into phones more often than another’s eyes. We forget that we are all in this world together and by helping one another we all progress.
A wonderful example of this support and connectedness is in the book I have been reading recently called Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. In it they discuss the secrets of Okinawa in Japan where there are the most centenarians.
Okinawans form close bonds within the local communities. They form what they call Moai’s. These are informal groups of people and their origins lie in hard times of past where farmers would support each other through meagre harvests. They make monthly contributions to the group so that should anyone be short of money they share it with them and in that way help them through difficult times.
And it is not just emotional health but physical health that is supported. Louis Cozolino, a professor of psychology who wrote the book “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships,” discussed that “people who have more social support tend to have better mental health, cardiovascular health, immunological functioning, and cognitive performance.” The article also states that “social relationships help calm our stress-response system” because they lower the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to “wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health.”
Whilst social connection is clearly a key part of longevity the Okinawans have other secrets to share and that word love returns. In Japan most interestingly they don’t have a word for retire, ultimately as they don’t believe in it. They carry on doing what they love until the end. They execute discipline in their daily lives.
Discipline is a form of self-love as through discipline you can improve mental and physical health and agility. They show this through the 80% rule that they have adopted when eating which means they eat to 80% fullness. Ancient wisdom advises against eating until we are full. Digestion uses a lot of energy so long digestive processes increase cellular oxidation. Intuitively we all know when we have got the that point. We know if we tuck into that extra portion, we are going to burst. They also have another eating hack which is that they choose to eat their food on lots of little plates rather than one large one. Whilst having lots of plates makes you feel like you are eating a lot, you end up actually eating less.
As we know stress is one of the largest killers in our society. The lifestyle elements that the Okinawans put in place cleverly reduce the usual physical and emotional pressures and provide support.
For me personally I believe the more time I spend in nature, the longer I will live. Walking barefoot in nature has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and dispels the effects of the electromagnetic stress that surrounds us on the day-to-day basis. My favourite way to pass time is working in a polytunnel or garden and the very act of sowing seeds connects you to the future. Dan Buettner author of the blue zone’s kitchen that looks at areas of the world where people live the longest talks about the positive effect gardening has “Gardening is the epitome of a Blue Zone activity because it’s sort of a nudge: You plant the seeds and you’re going to be nudged in the next three to four months to water it, weed it, harvest it,”
So, it’s not just living people who help us feel connected it is all the living things which we are able to nurture.
So, share the love this February. In a time of isolation our connectedness is needed more than ever.
With so much information at our finger tips via the web, podcasts and books that is often contradictory it can sometimes be overwhelming to know what are ultimately the best food choices for your health.
In order to lessen our reliance on these channels of information as well as moving away from our own often critical overthinking of our food choices we need to spend time developing our relationship with ourselves and our own body. This can also be called developing your intuition.
The definition of intuition is “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning”.
Our brain is usually the one in charge, calling the shots, instead we need to allow our body to guide us to the correct outcome, using it like a dowser uses a pendulum for an answer.
If this is something that comes naturally to you then great if it doesn’t don’t worry, what is wonderful about our intuition is that it can be developed by all of us with some awareness and intention over time. The most important element is learning to trust ourselves which can often be easier said than done.
Often with our busy lives we don’t have time to slow down and really listen and notice the subtleties of symptoms our body may develop from eating certain foods over others. Left unnoticed these symptoms can turn into intolerances.
One thing that this recent lockdown has enabled I believe is for a reconnection to nature. When we reconnect to nature we reconnect to ourselves and what makes us feel good and what doesn’t. This enables us to better gauge when we feel we are in balance and when we are not quite and instead of ignoring these subtle changes we can look for ways to rectify them.
So what is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is is a framework for helping us establish a better relationship to food, our body image and movement.
It involves eliminating the word diet from our repertoire and practising an unconditional self acceptance and compassion towards ourselves so when we are struggling with food we have the strength to overcome it.
Rather than wanting to be the perfect weight and determining your self worth on what you have eaten or managed not to eat it is about accepting the beautiful person that you are.
Key steps to an intuitive eating way of life are as follows:
In order to avoid overeating it is important to listen to your body when it is feeling full. Eat slowly and chew your food. Maintain hydration levels during the day so when you eat you are not dehydrated and compensating with food.
Listen to Hunger
Hunger is an important natural function of the body.
During your everyday don’t wait till you are starving to eat. Your body doesn’t know the difference between food scarcity and starvation so will compensate for you starving yourself by slowing down the metabolism to conserve energy which can lead to weight gain.
Watch your emotions
We all know it is a disaster to go to the supermarket when we are hungry as our emotions are strong and we end up making impulsive usually more unhealthy food choices but how often do we watch how our eating fluctuates with our other emotions? Become consciously aware of when this happens and consider other methods of soothing yourself that don’t involve food.
Move from emotive eating to mindful eating. Slow down, savour and enjoy the subtle flavours of the food and appreciate each mouthful.
Avoid reactive and habitual behaviour
Be conscious and be guided to what makes your body feel good rather than following habitual behaviour.
Walk down the aisle and feel your way towards the variety of different vegetables and fruit. What do you feel like? What does your body want?
Rather than doing the same shop every week for the same set of meals you do every week focus on variety.
Following the food that is in season is a great and simple starting point for this intuitive eating journey. Eating what is in season means eating what is grown in your local area, it has travelled the least distance and has the most nutrition. It is also most likely to be closest to what our ancestors were eating at that time and as it is grown in the same soil that we live on if often high in the minerals and nutrients we actually need as we are intrinsically connected to our environment whether we realise it or not.
Neutralise your attitude towards food and give yourself permission to eat any food that you want. By restricting certain things you will end up craving them more and put them in the “bad for me” box. An intuitive diet is about moderation. Sometimes the magnesium in chocolate is exactly what your body needs and you should listen to it!
Exercise in the moment
When you are exercising don’t be highly focussed on the outcome you want to achieve but focus on how you feel whilst you are doing it. Focus on what your body likes and what it doesn’t and adapt from there.
Don’t forget that eating should be a pleasurable and satisfying experience.
Allow it be that for you by not diminishing it to what is on your plate, become aware of the environment or company as part of your eating experience and make necessary changes so that it supports you best.
I leave you with a quote from Amanda Levitt (writer and activist)
“ It sometimes is as simple as reminding myself that my body is a good body, that all bodies are good bodies”