How Yoga Can Help You Practice Gratitude
If practicing gratitude seems impossible, yoga might just help.
“We take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” ― Cynthia Ozick
Gratitude isn’t always easy to practice. It's something that I know would benefit me, but it's very hard to start implementing. I've made a few different attempts to integrate gratitude into my life and my routine. I've had spurts where I'd keep a gratitude journal pretty consistently for a few weeks, but then I end up dropping off because something happens in life and my schedule gets disrupted.
When I took the time to think about things I was grateful for each morning, it did help me put my mindset in a good place. Writing a few things down did help me feel a little bit better about all the chaos of life and focus on the good parts. Even so, that little boost wasn't always enough to keep me consistent.
Though you can certainly practice gratitude without doing yoga too, I realized that combining the two can actually make quite a difference.
A yoga teacher challenged me to think about gratitude a little differently.
In a class I took, one of my instructors opened up the class talking about how it can be annoying when yoga teachers “go on and on” about gratitude. She took a joking tone to bring up the idea of gratitude; we’ve all heard it before.
"We should be more grateful. We should practice gratitude more." It just sounds like a bunch of noise most of the time.
While it sounds like a pointless platitude most of the time, my instructor this week reminded the class of something important; gratitude is a key part of yoga. You’re showing gratitude to your body by carving out time to practice. You’re showing yourself gratitude by giving yourself some exercise that can help your body.
If you’re still understandably on the fence, practicing gratitude really is good for your wellbeing.
Two psychologists, Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, have done in-depth research into how gratitude can have an influence on your mental health.
They’ve conducted numerous studies to prove that gratitude can improve your outlook on life. In one of their recent research endeavors, they asked all their participants to do a journaling activity. They’d write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.
One of the control groups wrote about the things that happened during the week which they were grateful for. The second group wrote about the things that annoyed them throughout the week. Last, the third group wrote about events that “affected” them, with no direction on whether those events should be positive or negative.
Each group did this for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, those who wrote about gratitude were significantly more optimistic and felt better about their lives.
This isn’t the only scientific study on how gratitude can impact our lives for the better. Harvard Health gives a run down on this study and others that have indicated that giving thanks can make you happier.
Here’s the good news for yogis; we don’t necessarily have to journal to practice gratitude. It can be ingrained into our yoga practice.
It’s hard to try and be more grateful if your heart isn’t really in it.
“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” ― Amy Collette
If you feel like nothing in your life is really going perfectly, it’s hard to think of things to be grateful for. Though science says we’ll be happier if we’re more grateful, where should you start? If you’re not sure that gratitude can make a huge difference in your individual life and circumstances, where to begin?
Yoga alone can do wonders for your health — you can increase your muscle strength, reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and countless other benefits. There are even a ton of scientifically proven benefits of yoga. A consistent yoga practice has so many countless benefits that it’s hard to list them all without sounding like a yogi on a commercial.
If you’re coming up short on what to be grateful for, try being grateful to yourself.
When you practice yoga, be grateful to yourself for making time to do it. Be grateful to yourself for taking action to improve your overall wellbeing with a yoga practice.
When you're going about your day, take the time to appreciate yourself and everything you're doing. Yoga teachers often ask students to thank their bodies for moving through a practice. I always struggle a bit with that idea of thanking my body since I tend to see my body as a pesky vessel that often gets sick and slows me down. But that's not a good mindset. It's just a sign that I'm not taking good enough care of myself when that happens.
Be grateful to yourself every time you practice yoga.
Every time you unfurl your mat, start with gratitude toward yourself. Once you’re able to think about that and really feel it, start brainstorming for other things you can be grateful for. Make it a part of your practice. When you’re getting ready to practice or when you’re on the way to class, ask yourself if there’s something that’s happened which is worthy of gratitude.
When you’re trying to settle your thoughts at the start of class or when you’re in a difficult pose, ask yourself what you have to be grateful for. It could be as simple as being grateful for the mat you’re standing or sitting on. It could be as large as being grateful for someone who as at home waiting for you — that could mean your darling kitty or doggy, too.
Start with the smallest things if you’re struggling for what to be grateful for.
“Gratitude helps you to grow and expand; gratitude brings joy and laughter into your life and into the lives of all those around you.” – Eileen Caddy
Sometimes, a very grassroots approach to gratitude can make it more approachable. Think about little things to be grateful for. Perhaps it's your pet, your partner, a dear friend. If you’re really stumped, remember a time in the past when you were grateful for something.
If I’ve had a particularly bad week and I can’t think of something new to be grateful for, that’s where memory can come in. One of the most mind-blowing moments in my life was the first time I put glasses on as a child. My vision was terrible from a young age, but I managed for a very long time by always sitting in the front row when I was at school. My family didn’t have steady health insurance when I was a child, so needing any kind of medical attention was always stressful in my family.
But eventually, when we did get insurance, I confessed to my worsening vision and got an eye exam done. The first time I put my glasses on, I looked across the highway that the eye doctor’s office was perched beside. I looked past the lanes of traffic and into the forest on the other side. I could see everything. I could see the trees, all the individual leaves — it was beautiful and incredible.
Consistency is important; practice gratitude every time you practice yoga.
At risk of sounding like a multivitamin ad telling you "for best results, take daily..." it really does make a difference to make a routine out of something. If you want to reap the health benefits of yoga and gratitude, you’ve got to practice both of them consistently. If you only do yoga once a month, you’re probably not going to feel fundamentally transformed anytime soon.
Think back to that study on gratefulness — the participants need to practice journaling every single day. Even if you don’t practice yoga daily, it’s good to do it at least a few times per week.
I started doing yoga simply because I wanted to lose weight. I wasn’t interested in the spiritual aspect of yoga at all, but once I started going to a lot of classes, that more thoughtful component of class became my favorite part. On top of that, it became a central reason why I practice yoga. Part of meditating, part of being mindful, and ultimately, part of practicing yoga is gratitude.
By doing yoga, you’re being grateful to your body. Open yourself to brainstorm all the other things you have in life to be grateful for. If you keep at it, it’ll be easier every time to find something you appreciate.
Beyond being grateful to yourself, only you can decide what else you’re most grateful for. Think about the next time you unfurl your mat to practice yoga. Keep thinking about it. With consistency, gratitude can become a regular part of your life. It won’t be fluff anymore. It won’t sound like a platitude anymore.