What happens when you combine mindfulness with therapeutic yoga and writing? According to Lisa Weinert—editor, writing, coach, publicist, and founder of Narrative Healing—you can finally begin to heal, both personally and collectively.
“Some say the journey from the head to the heart is the longest and most arduous journey we ever face,” Weinert says. “If that’s true, then the journey from the heart to the page may be the most healing path we face.”
Narrative Healing, which began as a series of workshops in 2015, is a members-based program that combines Weinert’s professional pursuits with her restorative, therapeutic, and trauma-informed yoga training to create a full-bodied approach to healing through the written word.
The platform has a range of in-person and virtual offerings—including listening circles, Narrative Healing labs, rest and restore yoga classes, and breath-awareness classes, as well as an in-depth Mastermind group and accountability program—all of which center upon writing as an embodied practice, designed to bring mind and body into a deeper alignment.
Anyone is welcome to drop in for a single session, but members have access to a private online community where they can nurture their writing practice and seek out meaningful connections with other like-minded creatives.
How writing heals
Over the past 20 years, a growing body of research has demonstrated the physical and emotional benefits of writing about traumatic or stressful events. Narrative Healing is Weinert’s unique take on a larger movement in the healthcare space, called narrative medicine, which also focuses on the use of story in the healing process. Narrative medicine is geared toward healthcare providers’ interactions with their patients and rooted in radical listening—providing full attention and listening without judgment. It focuses on a patient’s narratives in clinical practice as a way to promote healing.
Many psychologists believe that illness constitutes a disruption—a sort of discontinuance of an ongoing life. When a person faces illness, they also often feel the need to reconstruct their life story and formulate a cohesive narrative that connects their past with the present circumstances. Storytelling, in other words, is a natural reaction to illness. As much as we are made of molecules and cells, we are also made of stories—particularly stories that offer a more expansive view of ourselves.
The catalyst for Narrative Healing happened when Weinert experienced a major health crisis, in the form of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. She quickly underwent surgery to remove the organ in question, but days later, lab reports determined that the cancer diagnosis was erroneous.
Though it turned out that she had been healthy all along, Weinert says she felt sicker than ever. She found that despite her years in publishing and a 20-year yoga practice, when faced with this major crisis, her body was thrown into fear and panic. She had no tools to truly communicate; to pause and speak her truth.
She returned to her mat and completed thousands of hours of yoga teacher training in trauma-informed, restorative, and therapeutic yoga and learned how stories exist within the body. She also studied with master writing teachers and worked alongside narrative medicine practitioners to study the healing power of writing. It was from these learnings that Narrative Healing was born.
Weinert’s work focuses on bringing the body into the conversation, whether it’s a life-threatening medical diagnosis or other major trauma, or day-to-day misunderstandings that cause smaller cumulative harm. She weaves the narrative from crisis to the mat to the page, providing a path that allows the full story to be realized, digested, processed, and expressed. Think of it as writing asana.
“I very much consider myself primarily a yoga teacher, but I mainly teach writing rather than asanas,” Weinert says. “I use writing in the same kind of context as yoga: As a path toward wholeness, healing, truth-seeking, connection, and service.”
See also: Build a Journaling Starter Kit
Writing as a restorative practice
Because one of the central themes of becoming a writer is finding one’s voice, Weinert was amazed to find that constant reading, literary circles, writing classes and retreats, and copious therapy did not actually help her find her own creative voice. She felt trapped in her head, walking in circles rather than moving forward. And she noticed she wasn’t the only one struggling with this.
“I will say pretty confidently that every single writing class I’ve ever taken or taught, especially if it’s [focused on] personal narrative and memoir, is full of people who have a trauma or a difficult personal story to share,” she says. “They are seeking healing, relief, connection, and perhaps also [the ability] to help the next person going through what they just went through.”
But, as a yoga teacher, Weinert noticed that the way writing classes and retreats are structured doesn’t allow space for healing. In fact, it can be quite the opposite.
“What usually happens in these settings is people are sitting around on very hard, uncomfortable chairs, slumped over, their shoulders bent, their stomachs hollow, and likely full of coffee,” she says. “Then they share something extremely vulnerable and receive critical feedback. From a restorative yoga perspective, they don’t stand a chance to listen or be heard. Their organs are scrunched, there’s no free breath happening, and so there’s not even a possibility of receptivity.”
The six limbs of narrative healing
In Weinert’s paradigm, writing can be tremendously healing—if the conditions foster a transportive and connective experience. She believes that priming the body for healthy storytelling wakes up the body, which wakes up the voice, which in turn wakes up the pen. Her goal is to unlock the stories frozen within each person. “My hope is that if we learn to listen to our body when it whispers, we won’t need to wait for it to scream,” says Weinert. “Our stories are in our bodies.”
She envisions her methodology as encompassing six stages of development. The first three are embodiment practices that support awareness, receptivity, and accessing one’s true voice: Awaken, Listen, and Express. The remaining three, which are targeted to professional writers, are Trust, Release, and Grow:
- Trust refers to the creation of a safe container in which you can share your story freely, knowing it will be listened to with respect and integrity. Weinert hosts monthly, two-hour listening circles where people share their work and receive feedback rooted in radical listening: Listen and note what you love and relate to, rather than engage in critique.
- Release refers to releasing your work to the world—but not all at once. Weinert recommends taking an intermediate step of sharing it with a community you trust who holds you in positive regard. That’s one reason Narrative Healing exists. “Before you bring it out into a general population, it’s important to share it with people you trust,” she says. “All too often, people opt to spill their guts out on Facebook, but rarely does this feel good.” The release stage helps you clarify your intention and refine your message, and ultimately, it lays bare a syncretic two-for-one: How the healing power of storytelling gets amplified when told in communities of belonging.
- The last step is to grow, as in “growing beyond your community, growing beyond even your story, to use your story as a teaching tool,” Weinert says. In this final phase, you turn any residual dross in your story into gold. Polished and fine-tuned, your story can become a healing agent to serve others. For many creatives, including yoga teachers, turning one’s narrative into a teaching tool is increasingly relevant. To showcase this kind of meta-share, Weinert hosts a monthly Narrative Healing Live featuring prominent writers and leading mindfulness practitioners to dive into discussions relating to the connection between stories in the body and on the page.
Try it: A Narrative Healing exercise
To learn your own story and to use it to heal yourself as well as others, is to come into a deep appreciation of your soul’s path. This is the yoga of expression, the mudra of pen to paper, the practice of heart guiding hand.
To begin, find a comfortable seat, and take a few breaths to settle in. On an inhale, feel the ground beneath you. Place your palms on your body, some place that actually moves when you breathe, like the belly and chest. Take five natural breaths and place your entire attention on the breath as it moves your palms.
As you settle in, using your imagination, place your palms on your ears, and begin listening to your breath. Imagine that the breath itself has a voice, and ask, “What do I need to know?”
Be here for three minutes.
Prompt (10 minutes): Move toward your writing technology and free-write from the perspective of your breath, give your breath a voice, and tell its story. Write in first person as the breath. Write from your heart with your body by your side.
See also: 8 Easy Ways to Be More Mindful
How to join Narrative Healing
Weinert offers four different membership tiers, and people can also opt for single classes if they prefer:
- Connect (free): Includes a weekly practice to support a writing life, private community network, and community gatherings
- Learn ($25): Includes everything in Connect, plus one Narrative Healing livestream per month
- Inspire ($45): Includes everything in Learn, plus a monthly Listening Circle (first come, first join)
- Grow ($99): Includes everything in Inspire, plus 10 percent off Mastermind and other programs