In this month’s yoga article we will be discussing the attitude of gratitude and how we can implement this into our yoga practice. One of the magical things about practicing yoga is that whatever attitude we cultivate on the mat we can carry it with us off the mat, which in turn can have a positive effect our life.
The meaning of real gratitude
Developing the attitude of gratitude can bring you lots of benefits in your yoga practice and off the mat, including contentment, delight and the experience of being more connected to life.
Gratitude can soften the heart and bring forgiveness, which in turn can shift our perspective and provide us with more clarity. Therefore, if you have a tendency towards depressive or self-defeating thoughts, you will find the different techniques especially useful to help you to get out of the grip of the negative thought patterns, lift the dark mood and to create a bit more balance.
Even when we are going through a rough patch in our life, there are always things to be thankful for. If you stop for a moment and have a look around, you can find many things we have that support and nurture us. Often we take for granted things in our lives, such as clean water, a roof over our head and food on our table.
However real gratitude doesn’t stop with noticing the things in our life that create comfort and contentment, neither does it mean that we ignore difficulties or run away from challenges. Instead we can cultivate a different attitude and change our brain patterns to think of these difficulties as maybe opportunities to learn and grow, which in turn can help us to better handle those challenges.
Real gratitude means appreciation for whatever comes into your life. If we can see that we can be grateful for everything – despite it being perceived good or bad – and our sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances then grace and a deeper sense of joy can emerge.
Why could it feel difficult to find gratitude?
It is easy to feel grateful for the good things, but gratitude might not come as naturally in times of crisis. At these times if we don’t really have full control over our emotions we can find it difficult to “make ourselves” feel grateful or cheerful. Our feelings stem from the way we look at the world, and the comparing and judging nature of our mind often tricks us into dwelling on the distance between the way we think things should be (expectations or fantasy) and the way things actually are (reality).
From a limited view point, sometimes it is difficult to see the outcome of an event and what seems unfortunate at first might, in time, turn out to be a blessing on some level.
Being a problem-solver is generally encouraged in society and everyday life. However, when our mind gets stuck in problem-solving mode it has the tendency to notice the things that need to be fixed. As we could always find something that could work better, this attitude can encourage feelings of resentment and things not being good enough.
The good news is that we do have a choice and with a bit of effort invested we can achieve a new, more balanced perspective. With practice gratitude eventually can free us from being lost or stuck with either the negative or the positive aspects of life. It can allow us to simply view life in its entirety and to meet life in each moment as it rises without being overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.
Tips on how to cultivate gratitude in your yoga practice
So how does this translate into your yoga practice? Below we share some tips on how to cultivate a feeling of thanks, gratitude into your yoga every time you practice.
- At the beginning of your yoga practice bring to mind three things that you are grateful for and recall them at the end of the practice once again. By bringing your focus on something that you are grateful for it can help you to shift your perspective, to be less overwhelmed and maybe see opportunity, find a different possibility or even hope that was previously not present.
- Use a mudra in your yoga practice. Mudra in Sanskrit means “seal” or “sign” and refers to sacred hand gestures as well as whole body positions that symbolize a certain meaning or bring about a specific inner state. You can bring more awareness into your practice by connecting the physical body with the mental/emotional body through a use of mudras.
Start your yoga practice with Anjali Mudra: place the heels of your hands together forming a small cup shape and then softly bring your fingers to touch leaving the middle space open. Visualize that in this space you are holding a precious gift, an offering to yourself. Then bring your hands to your heart and as you do so imagine that you are giving this precious gift to yourself. You can use the gesture of Anjali mudra to offer a gift of gratitude to yourself or to someone else. Use each time you bring your hands together throughout the practice as a touchstone to remind you of this offering, this gift of gratitude you made.
- Bring awareness and thanks into your whole yoga practice, including the asanas (postures), pranayama (breath) and meditation. Set your intention to appreciate every movement and every sensation, being mindful of the benefits that each pose brings. Stop in the moment and savour the strength in a warrior pose, the sense of balance that a tree pose can create, the change of perception with inversions or the safety and comfort that you feel in child´s pose. Appreciate the warmth and life in your sun salutations. When it is cloudy and the sun doesn´t shine outside, change the weather on the inside!
- Notice what you can do and also recognise what you can´t. There will always be positions that you find challenging or just simply feel completely out of reach, and this can vary day by day. Don´t let yourself get disheartened. Yoga is more than being flexible or being able to balance on one hand. When on the mat, be mindful of what you sense at each moment, tune in with your body, mind and emotions. Appreciate the joy in the positions that you can do and take the learning from the ones that challenge you. Sometimes, after many months (or years) of practice, those asanas that you initially found challenging (or impossible) become a place to find peace and gratitude.
- Be mindful of your breath throughout the entire yoga practice. Through the breath we invite prana shakti into the body. In yoga philosophy prana means life force energy and shakti represents the creative or female energy. Prana shakti is one of three forms of shakti that energizes the body and it governs all physical functions. You can visualize that on the inhale prana shakti rides flows into the body, bringing you the gift of vitality and energy and how it gracefully flows out on the exhale taking away anything that no longer serves you.
- Take a long savasana (corpse pose) and savour the relaxation at the end of your yoga practice. Savasana is one of the most important poses in yoga. Ten minutes of this nourishing pose can calm your nerves, relieve fatigue and can help with coping with and releasing stress. To make the most out of this pose, it is best if you enter it mindfully.
Make sure that you lie comfortably on your mat with a thin cushion or folded blanket supporting the back of the head and the natural arch in the neck. Allow the entire weight of your body to release into the floor beneath you and start scanning your body from head to toes, relaxing each muscle on the way. The human body is amazingly complex. Bring the practice of gratitude into your savasana by appreciating your body´s years´ of hard work through this simple practice: Thank each body part as you do your scan, being grateful for what each one does for you. Thank your eyes for allowing you to see the world, your ears to hear music and the voice of your loved ones, your arms for hugging and lifting things up, your legs for walking and dancing, your heart for restlessly beating and keeping you alive for all these years. Infuse each part as you move along until your whole body is filled up with the sense of gratitude.
One of the key benefits of a regular yoga practice is that from the mat you can carry this newly cultivated sense of gratitude into your day to day living. To read about tips and techniques on how to bring gratitude in your everyday life read our article, “ Health benefits of bringing gratitude into your daily life ”. You can also read more on mindfulness here. Come enjoy your yoga practice and cultivate an attitude of gratitude as part of our yoga retreat.