In this month of November some of us celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving and we express our gratitude for all that we have. Thanksgiving does not have to be the only time for us to count our blessings. Gratitude can be practiced year round on and off the mat. The simple act of being grateful for what we have creates many health benefits.
There are many studies that show how gratitude rewires the brain. Most notably, the National Institute of Health did a study that showed that when you express gratitude, your hypothalamus floods your brain with dopamine, which stimulates a virtuous (not vicious) cycle of the brain. The brain wants to feel the joyous feeling of gratitude, so once you start the practice of being grateful for what you have, the brain will only want more of that dopamine/gratitude.
On the mat, the ways we can practice gratitude are by making yoga our offering, being thankful for our body and what it can do, and working with our breath. By setting an intention at the beginning of our yoga practice to offer our asana practice, each movement can be an offering of thanks. Especially our challenge poses. Instead of gritting our teeth when we reach our edge with poses, we can give thank our body for doing what it can do and focus on the positive. When we breathe, each breath we take we can count our blessings. Of course, we’re not going to do this with each breath in a sequence, but if you hold few key poses (the ones that are our Achilles heels) and with every breath imagine something that you are grateful for.
Any gratitude process in yoga class can be augmented by an off the mat practice. Keeping a gratitude journal and performing daily gratitude affirmations are ways we can express our thankfulness for everything around us in our daily lives. Every morning jot down three things that you are grateful for in your journal. Over time, there will be a definite change in your brain where it will expect to be thankful everyday. This will spill over into your connections in your life. All of a sudden you will be thanking people and giving them compliments. Every aspect of your daily life will be effected.
This Thanksgiving launch a habit of gratitude when you come to yoga class and in your daily life. Continue this practice all year long. Notice how your brain re-wires itself as it receives its dopamine/gratitude hit every day. The National Institute of Health has proven that gratitude is healthy for your brain and we know intuitively how good it feels, so let’s start during this season of Thanksgiving and continue to practice all year long.