The sun gives and sustains life and for this we are grateful. In yoga the sun salutations not only warm the body but represent the gratitude towards the sun. Gratitude – the feeling or quality of being grateful really can be developed over time and comes with numerous benefits.
In my last class before Christmas I could sense the gratitude in the room, not just when we were flowing through the sun salutations, but more the general feeling that I could sense in the studio. Those with children or in the teaching profession were grateful to have reached the end of a long half term, those who had been absent due to injury or illness were grateful to be back on the mat, I was grateful for a full class as December can often be a quiet month, and we were all grateful for the heaters in the studio to be pumping out heat as the outside temperature was still hovering around zero degrees celsius and there was still ice on the ground outside.
What really took me by surprise that day was the gratitude my group demonstrated towards me and the class. As I was thanking them for attending the class and supporting me on my yoga teaching journey, a few of them presented me with gifts of beautiful indoor plants and delicious healthy snacks & drinks. Handwritten cards shared messages I would only have dreamt of receiving a few years ago – expressing their gratitude to me for transforming their wellbeing and being such an inspiration to them each and every week.
Gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what one has. Some psychologists categorise three types of gratitude:
Gratitude as an “affective trait” – one’s overall tendency to have a grateful disposition
A mood – daily fluctuations in overall gratitude
An emotion – a more temporary feeling.
Gratitude brings you into the present moment and research suggests it can lead to increased happiness and also life satisfaction. It can have a positive impact on relationships and living your life with gratitude helps you notice and celebrate the small wins.
If you are starting out with a gratitude practice start by noticing – how often are you saying thank you, does it come easily to you? Notice how you feel when someone does something for you. Notice different things every day to be grateful for. Then start to look for things to be grateful for – grateful for the lift home from yoga when it was raining, grateful for the coffee and chat after the class. Don’t wait for the significant occasions or feelings, as often the most simple elements of our daily lives are worth the most gratitude. Then appreciate, really take a moment to appreciate what you have, even if things feel really tough right now, being grateful for how you feel or for those around you will make a difference.
A few simple gratitude exercises you could try:
Gratitude diary – on a daily basis make a note of 3 things you are grateful for. This can be a simple note on your phone or part of a regular journal entry. Notice how your gratitude evolves with the seasons – you might be grateful for the warmth of the sun on your skin in summer, or grateful for the shelter of your house during a winter storm.
Say Thank you – Simply saying Thank you to someone for something they have done for you can be part of a regular gratitude exercise. It can be for a small gesture or something bigger, it doesn’t have to be a handwritten note, but simply saying Thank you can make a huge difference to both you and the person you are thanking.
Mindfulness walk – As part of my yoga teacher training course we participated in a mindfulness walk. An hour one Saturday morning we set out individually with a brief of really being present and noticing our surroundings. On that walk I walked through a park which I had walked or cycled through numerous times before and yet this time noticed plants, sounds and birds which I hadn’t given much of my attention to previously. A mindfulness walk doesn’t have to be long or anywhere new, in fact I found it more amazing to re-discover familiar spaces.
Gratitude meditation Start by bringing yourself to a comfortable seat, connect with your breath and become aware of your breath flowing in and out of your body. Slowly bring into your mind what you are grateful for, try one thing at a time – friends, family, food, warmth. Spend a short amount of time on each and then happily let them move along and bring the next into your mind. Try not to overload, as you will be able to do this exercise frequently and it is likely there will be different things springing to mind.
I love this quote by AA Milne… “Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude”
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