A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).



Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.



You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….


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Modern research shows journal writing is an effective, simple, inexpensive and convenient form of self-care. The goal is the interior heartfelt experience that results from mindfully paying attention to your emotions. You may wish to save your writing, but you can also destroy what you’ve written. The goal is connecting to your unique, internal wisdom, intuition and self-knowledge – identifying your emotions and writing them down, not necessarily keeping a written product.

Medical, Emotional and Spiritual Benefits of Mindful Journaling

Emotionally expressive journal writing can help improve sleep, blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, pain, wound healing and immune function. Mindful journaling can relieve the distress of anxiety, depression, grief, cancer survivorship, anger, loneliness, traumatic events, eating disorders and addiction.

Mindful journaling can increase your sense of mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, promote resilience and enhance emotional intelligence. It can nurture creativity, improve communication and relationships and help you live in tune with your deepest meaning, purpose and values. Mindful journaling can ignite a personal passion for your unique life path by cultivating acceptance, gratitude, happiness, forgiveness and compassion. 

Limitations of Mindful Journaling

Most people describe journal writing as a positive experience. Therapeutic journal writing can provide insight into life’s problems and relieve mental, emotional and spiritual suffering. However, journal writing should not be considered a substitute for professional help when your level of distress is severe. Physical pain and emotional suffering may require professional help from medical or mental health providers or from pastoral counselors. Like medication, journal writing can have side effects. Writing only about the details of traumatic events could make you feel worse. If there is a question about your response to journaling, speak with a trusted medical, mental health or spiritual counselor.

Growing Gratitude

Research in positive psychology suggests gratitude is strongly predictive of emotional well- being. I have found growing gratitude is simple and powerful. My personal journaling practice is What Went Well and Why, developed by psychologist Martin Seligman, PhD. Seligman recommends reviewing your day at bedtime and writing down three things that went well and what you did to create the conditions for these things to happen. Over time, gratitude can be felt

at surprisingly unexpected moments during daily life. The seeds of gratitude were always there. They take root, sprout, grow and blossom when they are watered, fertilized and cultivated by regular journaling.

Mindful Journaling Techniques

Psychologist James W. Pennebaker, PhD., suggests you should not begin a journaling practice by writing about illness, pain and suffering. He recommends you start by writing about a teacher or book that positively influenced your life. He also suggests writing a letter to yourself as a child to help mobilize self-nurturing feelings. How would you advise and speak to yourself as a child? Pennebaker suggests this simple exercise for anyone bothered by a stressful event or past turmoil:

  1. Write for 20 minutes per day for four days.
  2. Write about a major conflict or stressor in your life, something personal and important.
  3. Write without stopping until you feel a good stopping point; don’t worry about spelling and grammar.
  4. Write for your eyes only. Nobody else has to know what you have written.
  5. If writing makes you feel worse – stop.

Alternatively, you can simply write as emotions arise on the spot. Grief is a particularly unpredictable emotion, its waves coming and going without warning. Writing down and capturing these waves in the moment, as they occur, can be extremely helpful in grief recovery.

The Three-Question Journal

This short, self-nurturing practice is suggested by Rachel Remen, MD, for bedtime each night. Reflecting back on your day, ask yourself three questions: What surprised me today? What touched my heart today? What inspired me today? Write down your answers, or simply let them relax your body, quiet your mind and open your heart as you fall asleep.

When I regularly practice mindful journaling, my days become more alive with surprises, inspirations and moments that touch my heart. I wish the same for you.



Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations