Thanksgiving tends to get overlooked, as we rush from Halloween to the excitement of the winter holidays. But I see it as an important day, not just because we get to spend time with family and enjoy a delicious feast. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the blessings we have in our lives. It also serves as a perfect reminder of the benefits a regular gratitude practice can bring to your life.
Studies of gratitude have shown that it can improve the mood and relieve symptoms of stress. One study found it lessens symptoms of insomnia, another that it improves immunity. The idea is simple. We start to focus on what we have, rather than what we lack. Gratitude reduces envy and helps us be content with what we have. We become naturally less materialistic. Other studies have found that grateful people are kinder, more confident, and perceived as more likeable. How can you go wrong?
There are many ways to practice gratitude. Like Oprah, you can keep a gratitude journal by taking time each day to write down 5-10 things for which you are thankful. You may take it one step further by considering whether you have been taking these things for granted. If so, try brainstorming about how you can appreciate them more in the future. You can also express gratitude as part of your spiritual practice during prayer or meditation. However you choose to practice, try focusing on the abundance in your life, and see how your attitude changes over time. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! May your blessings be too numerous to count.
I took a yoga class yesterday that included a number of long holds of poses. Standing poses, mind you, not restoratives. My legs shook, my arms ached, and through it all our teacher asked us how we were responding to the challenge. She knew very well how our bodies were reacting. She was concerned with our thoughts, asking “Where does your mind tend to go when things get difficult?” One of the things I love about yoga is that the lessons I learn on my mat are clearly mirrored in real life. This class was just that kind of lesson.
I observed several different trains of thought during class: focus on the negative, worry about the future, and anger. Focus on the negative meant I only noticed aches and pains, fatigue and the seemingly endless amount of time we were holding the pose. Worry about the future added to my internal angst, as I thought about what pose might come next, and if it would be harder and if I would be able to keep up. This served to fuel angry thoughts about my teacher and why she was torturing us in this way. I think it’s safe to say these represent patterns we’d like to try to avoid when faced with challenges, because they only serve to bring us down.
Challenging situations create a lot of mental chatter, and if we don’t watch it, most of the time it’s counter-productive. When facing difficulty, I find it helpful to start with a deep breath. When I fully experience the sensations of air entering and leaving my body, there’s no room for thinking. I am not regretting the past or worrying about the future, I’m grounded right here in the present. Inner wisdom lives in this space, and I may find the perfect response to the challenge. I can also begin to see ways the experience may allow me to grow, and the positive things that may come from having faced it. None of this can happen if I’m busy fighting against reality by wishing it were different. When I reconnected with my breath in class, my experience changed. I recognized the strength I was building, I heard the great music that was playing, and I felt grateful for the simple fact that I could go to a yoga class on a Sunday morning with a teacher who cared enough to make me learn this lesson. Namaste!