We know we should have a gratitude practice, right? You've likely seen quotes float by your Instagram feed, and have maybe ventured into the world of books on personal development.
You may have even sat through a yoga class that included a finale meditation on gratitude. You're invited to practice gratitude for your health, your friends, your family, your dog and your dinner.
Sometimes a gratitude practice comes easy, like when you're sipping kombucha margaritas beach side in a tropical paradise, or your kids decide to keep themselves busy and let you sleep in until the midday hour of 8 a.m.
For most of us, though, a gratitude practice is anything but easy. When we're making dinner (no time to be grateful for the food you have in your fridge!), we're late for an appointment (no time to be grateful that we are in-demand and have things to do!), we're dealing with tax season (too many BPA-coated receipts to be grateful that you earned money), we're scraping ice off the car in arctic temperatures (it's too cold to be grateful that the planet hasn't fully melted yet!), or any other number of things that draw our attention away from all that we have in our lives.
Previously I have talked about gratitude being an essential nutrient for health (I call it Vitamin G), and how regular practice of love, hope and faith can change the way we perceive our lives and the greater world.
It's a bit like healthy eating. If we load our diet up with great food prepared from scratch, there becomes less risk (and less stomach space) for us to indulge in the bad stuff. If we fill our evenings with activities that make us feel inspired, creative and calm, we have less time to binge watch crime dramas on Netflix.
In this short and sweet video, I share how gratitude actually works to bring abundance into your life, and describe what my daily gratitude practice is and why it is so incredibly powerful for me.
Cultivating a regular practice of gratitude is great for our mental and physical well-being.
How Gratitude Improves Your Well-being
Gratitude gives you a better outlook on life.
In one research study, participants were asked to keep gratitude journals and write down five things they were grateful for each week, while another group wrote about five things that hassled them.
After 10 weeks, the group who practiced gratitude felt happier about their lives, reported fewer health complaints and spent more time exercising. It makes perfect sense, doesn't it? The better our outlook on life, the more we'll make the effort to stay healthy.
Gratitude improves our relationships.
What's the secret to a long-lasting, epic romance? Apparently, it's gratitude. A wide cross-section research shows that people who feel more appreciated by their partners are more likely to stay committed. So don't forget to say thank you to your sweetie for doing the dishes, or the laundry, or packing you a delicious lunch.
In fact, why don't we apply this to all of our relationships? Showing gratitude to our family, friends, coworkers and strangers can only benefit us all.
Gratitude lowers our stress levels.
After learning gratitude techniques, research participants had a 23 per cent reduction in cortisol, our major stress hormone, and a huge boost in DHEA, a precursor to many of our sex hormones.
Reduced stress means improved digestion, sleep, immunity and blood sugar levels. All of that sounds pretty good to me. (Need some help fighting stress? Check out these handy tips.)
Gratitude helps you sleep better.
In this small study, researchers found that grateful folks reported better quality and longer sleep. Try thinking about a few things you're grateful for before you go to bed tonight, and see what happens.
Gratitude makes teenagers more bearable! It's a miracle worker.
Is there anyone more self-involved and unappreciative than a teenager? Not necessarily. Students who were asked to count their blessings reported feeling more grateful, optimistic and satisfied at school. Perhaps this is another tool educators could use in the fight against bullying.
Create Your Gratitude Practice
- Write it down. Keep a gratitude journal of all of the blessings in your life. Nothing in this world is too small to be grateful for. Not a writer? Make a list in a notebook. Use a scrap of paper. Make an excel spreadsheet, if that's your thing. Just get it down so you can read it when you're feeling grumpy and depressed.
- Keep reminders. Post a few things from your gratitude list on your wall, or set an email or phone message that reminds you to be grateful. You could also use something tactile - I have a gratitude stone from the beach on my desk that I hold in my hand as I think about why I'm grateful.
- Recruit a gratitude partner. It's always easier to make a lifestyle change when you've got support by your side. Get a friend or loved one to regularly ask you what you're grateful for, or to remind you of your blessings when you're complaining about your life.
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Like a cat's first big morning stretch, moving through a few cat/cows can really wake the body up and help you tune in. That's why it serves as such a good warm-up in yoga classes, says DailyBurn yoga expert Briohny Smyth. It's a great move for first thing in the morning or for when you've been sitting too long. How to: Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, making sure your hands are aligned with your shoulders, your knees are in line with your hips and your head is in a neutral position. Then, slowly lift your gaze, chest and butt as you inhale (cow pose). On the exhale, round your back toward the ceiling while lowering your gaze (cat pose). "This is a great movement because it helps you get in touch with the body's capability of moving and getting rid of the kinks," says Smyth. And who wouldn't be thankful for that?
While it's one of the basics, warrior II is considered among the most powerful of all the yoga asanas. The reason: It can help you feel gratitude toward the strength of your own body, says Smyth. How to: Begin standing with your legs out wide and both feet parallel to the front of your mat. Next, pivot your front foot so it's facing the front of the room and bend that knee deeply while keeping your back leg long and strong. Raise your arms up to shoulder level on either side of you, palms facing down, and move your gaze toward the front of the room as you bend your knee even deeper while keeping your torso upright. "While you're trying really hard to keep your arms up and bend your knees deep, you realize that just sitting in the pose makes you feel present," says Smyth.
Another powerful (and advanced) pose is the handstand. Not only does this impressive inversion require a strong back and shoulders, the core, glutes and legs work equally as hard. "When you're standing on just your hands you're grateful for the strength of your body to know what a handstand feels like," Smyth says. How to: Start in downward facing dog with your fingertips a few inches away from a wall, hugging your upper arms toward one another and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Bend one knee and step the foot in closer to the wall, with the other leg remaining straight behind you (this will be your swing leg). Use the bent leg to hop up while your swing leg arcs toward the wall. At first, these hops may be enough, but eventually you’ll build the strength and finesse to kick both legs all the way to the wall. With even more practice, you won't need to rely on the wall and will instead be able to trust your own strength.
Stretches, especially hip stretches, allow you to connect with the tightness and tension in your body and mindfully, consciously let it go, Smyth says. "Any time you bring awareness to where you're tight and can release it, you feel grateful." Pigeon is a deep hip opener that has that effect. How to: To begin, start in downward facing dog, bend one knee and place it on your mat a little wider than your hip, with your shin parallel to the front of the mat. Fold forward over your shin with the other leg extended behind you, keeping the hips even as they press toward the floor.
Savasana, the final pose in a yoga class, is an opportunity to be still, calm and present while soaking in the benefits of your practice. "It's a great place to express gratitude and even connect with and feel gratitude for the people and things you have around you," says Smyth. How to: Settle into it by lying on your back with your legs slightly apart and your arms extended at your side, palms facing upward. Inhale and exhale through your nose, allowing your breath, muscles and mind to be completely relaxed.
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