Yoga teachers often speak about gratitude. So, what does this word really mean?
I’ll tell you what it means to me.
When I was younger and someone talked about being grateful for something that I perceived as not going right in my life or something as simple as the grass or sky, I was baffled; I couldn’t wrap my mind around it or align with this grateful feeling. I lamented about what I felt was lacking in my life, unaware that this was in fact the opposite of gratitude.
Lately, I’ve been feeling some frustration around the outward manifestation of my goals versus my effort and hard work. I feel ready for a next step or chapter that has yet to appear. When I focus on this feeling of lack that is what expands in my life; it’s a downward spiral … kind of like Debbie Downer. But if I get up close and personal with this frustration (really feel it) and then, when I’m ready, thank it for, or at least acknowledge, the motivation it is stirring within me to be proactive, I begin to shift my energy into a more open-minded state.
It is not an easy practice, this business of thanking the challenges and struggles. It’s one thing to say it, to recognize that challenges enable us to grow (especially after the fact, when you are looking back at them), but when you’re going through them it’s a different story. The first step is to sit or lie down and imagine breathing into this obstacle. When I do, I can feel my body resisting, my breath constricted, until I finally being to soften around the tight places and allow more space into my body/mind. With each breath I become a little lighter. I might say at the close of my meditation, “Thank you (universe or spirit) for bringing me deeper into my heart; thank you for supporting me as I (create more abundance in my life, for example).” It may sound corny but it’s worth a try.
A gratitude practice enables you to release resistance and therefore accept life as it is in this moment and that brings a sense of peace and wellbeing.
I have also learned, during my many years of practicing yoga, to notice the so-called small things and to recognize the beauty, magic, wisdom, etc. in them. Yoga teaches us how to slow down, to be more present; this has allowed me to notice and find joy in things like: a child playing, an exquisite creature (we tend to overlook birds, for example), a tree, a person smiling, the sky, the light of the moon. When you become more present in you life you naturally become more grateful; awe-struck by the majesty and wonder of the life all around you. You wonder how you lived in such a closed-off state beforehand, how you could have slept walk through so many years of your life. Presence and gratitude are one in the same.
Writing a Gratitude list can help to re-shift your focus from a feeling of lack to fulfillment. I use this exercise with my young students.
Here is my list today:
1. My mini-tiger friends. They double as an alarm clock: little paws in the face every morning. They have taught me about unconditional love.
2. Bare feet. As a yoga teacher, I get to be sans shoes and socks a lot. I love and crave the feeling of the ground or earth under my tootsies.
3. Time outdoors and in nature. It is truly healing for me.
4. My students. People who are receptive to what I have to share. I have had the pleasure of connecting with beautiful souls on this teaching path.
5. My fears. Since young, I have had a deep seated fear of speaking in front of others, of being seen and heard. Joseph Campbell wrote: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
6. Messups. I am fearful of making mistakes. When I mess up, I want to run for the hills and go into hiding forever. I am gaining perspective in this area.
What are some of the things you’re grateful for? Your list can be made up of words, phrases, musings, images; you can make it creative or simple. By the way, gratitude isn’t about putting a phoney smile on your face and pretending your happy when you’re not; it’s about exploring emotions and then doing your best to accept and make friends with them because that is the most powerful place from which to create and manifest your goals and dreams.
Nicole Alexander is a graduate of the 500 HR Yogaworks Teacher Training in NYC, and an Ayurveda Wellness Counselor. Nicole teaches a mindful/breath-based class, sharing her love for yoga in all its forms (physical, mental, spiritual), and the many ways this practice heals us.