Cultivate Practices of Gratitude
“Turning back the clocks this year may kill me,” I texted my friend the other afternoon. She quickly responded back, bearing witness to my dismay, then sharing that she was looking forward to walking early in the mornings again. Huh. In all my obsessing about losing light in the evening, I’d forgotten that soon we’d be rising with the sun again (or at least not hours ahead of it). All I could see was the darkness.
Of course, good things were on the horizon—and right in front of me. A sunset jog had, in fact, precipitated my spiral. So worked up over the imminent end of outdoor evening activities, my gratitude for a truly nourishing experience had morphed quickly into anticipatory anxiety.
It’s not easy to focus on what’s wonderful when we’re swirling—stressed about the world around us; worried about our kids and our parents, our health and our livelihoods; incensed over inequities and the structural biases keeping them in place. But stewing in negative headspaces doesn’t create positive change. (Action does.) And trying to will our way into thinking thankful thoughts usually isn’t all that effective.
Working with our energies through creative exercises, asana practice, and pranayama is often a more direct path to shifting perspective. When we are clear, we can move with purpose, we can show up for others, and we see and celebrate all the beauty in our lives. In that way, yoga practices are practices of gratitude. Here are a few of my favorite:
Process your day with a pen. Or an iPad. Gratitude journals can help us hone in on things for which we are thankful. The more specific you can be about what you’re grateful for, the better. Don’t love to write? Draw.
Savor a sensation. Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes. Turn your attention inward. Let it wander and then settle on something pleasant—perhaps the feeling of the earth holding you up, or a spot in your body that feels light, buoyant, warm, or free.
Go with your flow. Do a short on-the-mat yoga practice, focusing on what feels good. Try infusing your movements with a quality or feeling you want to feel. Make tiny adjustments that open up space or create feelings of calm. Notice where you feel strong. Enjoy the breath. Give thanks for your body and all it’s able to do in this very moment.