November's Gift - Gratitude
At the end of October as the November page of my calendar came closer to turning, I decided I could not write a blog about the planned November gift of gratitude. Try as I might, no part of me (mind, heart, energy, body, whatever) could seem to make that happen. No matter how many articles I read about the joys and benefits of gratitude practice, I simply couldn’t make it happen. Even if I could pull off a little gratitude practice for myself, I certainly couldn’t think of anything that might help anyone else find gratitude. Like so many of us at this point in 2020, I was doing my best to stay positive, do my yoga practice, keep up with my zoom classes and socializing, do my walking, and listen to the news while staying as sane as possible. I was doing my positive best to do all the things those of us in retirement have been doing to sustain ourselves since April. While doing these things, many of us have also been feeling grateful that we are retired as we watch family and friends struggle through the daily balance of work, parenting, and household maintenance while trying to stay physically safe and mentally functional. I may not feel grateful for as much as I might, but I do feel grateful that I don’t have to do some things others are having to do these days. I had given myself until November 4, when we would be on the other side of the election as a later-than-usual deadline for this month’s blog. And then November 4th began to last forever. Today on November 8 as we begin to settle into this new round of the latest version of not so normal, I’m finally sitting down to write about gratitude.
I have been using gratitude as a theme in my yoga classes for several years now, and in each gratitude class, I remind myself and my students of the benefits of gratitude. An article in positive psychology.com provides information about research on gratitude and suggestions for making gratitude a more visible part of your life.
According to this article, individuals who regularly practice gratitude experience such benefits as increased happiness and positive mood and more satisfaction with life. They demonstrate better physical health, including lower levels of cellular inflammation. They report less fatigue and better sleep. They also report their gratitude practice helped develop patience, humility, wisdom and a decreased emphasis on materialism. Every time I teach this class I resolve to work to develop my gratitude practice in yoga and in daily life.
Finding Gratitude in Your Yoga Practice on the Mat or the Chair
Yoga is my go-to place for practicing gratitude. Whether you are in a yoga class or doing your own at home practice, there are many opportunities to find moments of gratitude. In an article in Yoga Journal, Erica Rodefer offers suggestions about where to find gratitude in yoga. If you want to check out her suggestions, the source for this article is: https://www.yogajournal.com/uncategorized/5-ways-express-gratitude-yoga
Reading this article, I realized that I could implement some of these ideas in my own practice. As I thought about this, I remembered a conversation with my favorite yoga teacher. I recall saying to her that I wanted to be able to teach a class exactly like her class. She wisely noted that “well, then it wouldn’t really be YOUR class, right?” So, while I loved the suggestions in Yoga Journal for finding gratitude, I decided I wanted to create my own list for finding gratitude in yoga. Maybe reading the article or my list will prompt you to find your own list of ways to find gratitude in your yoga practice.
Here is my version of finding gratitude in my own yoga practice.
- The minute I really land on my mat or on the chair, I feel a whoosh of gratitude. This doesn’t happen when I first sit down, but it happens when I get myself truly present. Breath helps me get there. A favorite quote from Ram Dass helps as well: “Now is now. Are you going to be here or not?” Getting really grounded and settled and present brings gratitude right to my heart and I sink on in. Gratitude itself can be grounding, so if you have trouble getting grounded, try thinking of something or someone for which you are grateful.
- Taking pauses and deep healing breaths in yoga always makes my gratitude level rise. Finding an even inhale and exhale and breathing into all three dimensions of my body brings me to a place of remembering to be grateful for a respiratory system that works as it is intended, bringing in exactly what I need and letting go of all that I don’t need in just the right way.
- Moving into my favorite yoga poses, and holding them with stability and lightness, I find so much gratitude for this body that has served me so well in so many different ways. Appreciating the strength of the pose and the settling in brings gratitude into focus. I focus on a favorite quote from my yoga teacher training. “The only perfect pose is the pose that is perfect in your body in the present moment.” Gratitude for an opportunity to just be, just as I am without judgment, is the loveliest of feelings.
- The final relaxation of shavasana is a fairly certain place to find time for gratitude. Letting go and dropping onto the floor or chair with eyes closed, I always find myself deeply appreciating my body, my mind, and my breath as I take this time to let go. My heart feels grateful.
- Finally, I always close my practice with the following: Shanti Shanti Shanti. Peace Peace Peace. Peace to my heart, Peace to your heart, Peace to all hearts everywhere. These words remind me to find my center and my heart and to deeply feel gratitude.
Seven Activities for Practicing Gratitude Off the Mat or Chair
In addition to information about the benefits of gratitude, the article from positive psychology described above provides some very concrete suggestions adapted from Sansone and Sansone (2010) and Emmons (2010) for practicing gratitude in your life outside of yoga. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-gratitude
1. Journal about things, people, or situations for which you are grateful.
2. Write a gratitude letter to someone for whom you are thankful. Consider sending it or giving it to them in person.
3. Practice saying “thank you” in a real and meaningful way. Be specific.
4. Write thank you notes. Some might say this is a lost art. Challenge yourself to write one hand-written note every week for one month.
5. Create visual reminders to practice gratitude. Sticky notes, notifications, and people are great for this.
Two additional gratitude activities are described below:
6. Make a gratitude list. Consider doing the gratitude exercise from The Living Clearly Method: 5 Principles for a Fit Body, Healthy Mind and Joyful Life by Hilaria Baldwin (p.142). According to Baldwin, “It’s said it takes 40 days for something to be a habit. Gratitude is a habit that is good for you and for your life.” Baldwin suggests making a list of ten things you are thankful for every day for forty days. These can be small things or big things. (Note: It seems to me that this process works not only on the day you write the list but could result in a good list to reflect on whenever you need a dose of gratitude for yourself.)
7. Tell people you love what you love about them. This idea comes from the book Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying by Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush (page 87). Consider following the suggestion made by Mirabai Bush in this quote: “I think I’m going to start telling people more often what it is I love about them so they can hear it while they are living. I’m changing my to-do list from the tasks I faithfully work through every week to “tell friends what I love about them; die without regrets.”
Doing activities like those described above can increase your awareness of gratitude and help you receive its many benefits.
This Month's Yoga Pose: Sun Breath
Sun breath, often done as part of a sun salutation, is available anytime in or out of yoga class. A sun breath can help you get quiet and centered and find gratitude. To do a sun breath, sit or stand in mountain pose. Resting your hands by your sides, take several complete breaths in and out. Try to make the length of each inhale match the length of each exhale. Then bring your hands together at your heart, palms touching. Separating your hands, lift your arms out and up, tracing a beautiful sun right in front of yourself. When your arms reach the top, bring your palms together again. Take a deep exhale and as you do, draw your hands together down your midline until your thumbs rest at the center of your chest, bowing your head toward your heart. You can repeat this sun breath several times focusing on filling and emptying your lungs completely. Then relax your body and take several normal breaths as you sit quietly filling your heart with gratitude.
A Short Poem about Gratitude for this Challenging November 2020.
Some are thankful for turkey.
Some are thankful for the earth.
We should all be grateful for each other.
— Vv Welsh, age 8