Unlocking personal development through embodied writing 

By Sarah Cannata

“Sensation without explanation.”

I have been following Dr Russell Kennedy’s work for a while and took the plunge and purchased his online course recently. Dr Kennedy is a physician, neuroscientist and has lived experience of crippling anxiety. I’m in the middle of a big life transition and have been feeling all the feels. 

Learning to sit and be okay with discomfort is a seriously underrated ability. Let’s face it: discomfort is essential for personal growth. I’ve been drawing on all of the modalities in my toolkit recently, including embodied writing, embodied processing and Dr Kennedy’s work. 

A quick Google search reveals the personal development market is expected to reach USD$45.92 billion in 2023. Many people are selling many things, and when we are down and out, it’s easy to go in search of a quick fix. 

Writing is available on a 24/7 basis and is highly accessible. Grab a pen, a piece of paper or something to type with, and you’re ready to go.

A holistic approach to personal development

Embodied writing is all about tuning into the felt sense of the body—the entire body—the mind, and from the neck down. Embodied writing recognises the interconnectedness of our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical experiences. When we tune into bodily sensations, we gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on inside us and beneath the surface. After all, it is said that the body is the subconscious mind.

We can explore our thoughts, feelings, emotions and physical sensations through writing. Writing, when embodied, becomes a dynamic form of self-reflection that allows us to access and process our inner world.

Using embodied writing for personal development

Mindful journaling

This simple twist on standard journaling invites people to consciously notice what is happening in their bodies as they write. Over time, this act is less forced and is more natural. Here are some initial prompts to ask yourself when you’re getting started:

  • What is happening with my breathing as I write?
  • Where is my awareness being drawn in terms of my body? (Don’t force this if nothing is surfacing; remain open and curious.)
  • If I’m feeling numb or nothing, can I at least feel my feet on the floor beneath me?

By being mindful of your body’s sensations during this process, you can gain a deeper insight into the connection between your mental and physical states. For example, over time, you will learn how emotions and states like anxiety, sadness and anger FEEL in your body.

Body scanning

If you struggle to notice anything naturally as you write, you may want to experiment with body scanning. Pay close attention to the physical sensations in different parts of your body, from head to toe. Focus your writing on what is surfacing in your body.

When we’re writing about whatever we’re experiencing, try adding details you’re picking up on. If you’re honing in on a particular sensation, does it have a colour, a density, or an aroma? Try to avoid second-guessing whatever arises and go with the flow.

I typically use this approach for people who tend to live on auto-pilot and can’t feel anything consciously (it’s worth noting that’s most of us).

Reflection and self-reflection

If you are writing regularly, make the time to revisit your past entries and see if you can notice any patterns. Are the same things energising you constantly? Perhaps you’ve picked up the same few things that consistently drain you. 

Reflecting on your past writing can be a source of motivation and inspiration. It can also reveal patterns, challenges, and milestones in your personal growth. The key here is not to get sucked into what ifs or think less of yourself because you did or didn’t do something. 

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