Challenge Day 12- Yoga is Gratitude
Yoga is a process of training the mind, as much or more so, than it is training the body. Thoughts, emotions, and other states of being are practiced and cultivated just as strongly as the poses. Without this inner work, yoga is a two-dimensional fitness-based stretching routine far from its original intention. Sorry if that sounded a bit harsh. I have nothing against purely fitness routines. But yoga is something that offers a much deeper and transformational potential. By working with the conscious and subconscious mind, yoga works with the very foundational principles of the mind, influencing the fabric identity, embodiment and personhood. If practiced with deep intention, yoga can be a powerful revolution of consciousness, an awakening of interconnectivity and the flourishing potential of the spirit. But if relegated to only the realm of the bending and lifting, then yoga may end up being just that—a hollow shell of its promise. I encourage you as a fellow traveler on the spiritual path to continually use the gift of yoga to reprogram your mind and learn to actively think new thoughts. Do the inner work and your life, and perhaps even your whole world, will change, like magic before your very eyes.
A state of mind can be practiced. You do not have to be naturally peaceful, patient, grateful or any other virtuous state from the beginning. In fact, it could be argued that the more disturbed, impatient, selfish, ungrateful, proud and arrogant you are, the more you will benefit from the active practice of new thoughts. Thoughts have a vibration that you could call the atmosphere of the brain. Every thought is manifest in your neurobiology, communicated in vast networks of synapses and neurotransmitters (the molecules of thought and emotion). When you think divisive thoughts it’s like playing cacophonous music inside of your brain. When you think harmonious thoughts it’s like playing synchronous music inside of your brain. Most people spend their lives thinking incoherently. We are often confused, overwhelmed, and disconnected. Yoga as a spiritual path works because it helps you learn how to think more coherent thoughts and thereby change the atmosphere of your brain to a more peaceful place. When your brain operates in a high level of coherence, you are a happy, more effective being. This state of inner harmony is the true reason that keeps us coming back to mat. Poses come and go, but if the long term arc of your life gently bends towards more peace, more happiness and more love, you will keep practicing.
Gratitude is a secret weapon in the work of reprogramming the mind. Scientists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process: 1) “recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome” and 2) “recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.” It has also been shown that the active practice of gratitude makes substantial impacts in terms of brain wave functionalist and longterm health. Gratitude can both be practiced and its practice has statistically significant results for those who practice it. Research suggests that gratitude may be associated with better physical and psychological health, increased happiness, healthier lifestyles, less burn out, less fatigue, better cardiovascular function, lower levels of cellular inflammation, less depression, more resilience and more success in life. Other studies suggest that gratitude instill other virtues such as patience, humility and wisdom, thereby elevating gratitude to the “mother of all virtues”
To be grateful is the antidote of selfishness. Gratitude includes a subtle recognition that one did not achieve success in a vacuum. Thankfulness implies that there is something, a power outside of oneself, to be thankful towards. Appreciating the gifts that life has given requires an individual to admit that one benefited from the receipt of certain privileges. A weak ego might fear thanking others out of the false premise that it takes something away from one’s achievement. However, just the opposite is true. We are stronger because of our connections and because of the strong shoulders we stand upon. No one, not even the most ardent individualist, has done everything on their own. There is always, always something to be grateful for, something that one receives freely, perhaps without the feeling of worthiness or working for such a glorious gift.
Think now about this—you are breathing air with the perfect composition to sustain your life. Where did the air come from? Did you pay for it, earn it, work for it? No, the air is a gift made by the trees as they perform photosynthesis and transform our exhalation of carbon dioxide to oxygen. Thank you trees, for being the lungs of the world.
Sunlight or moonlight will be pouring into your home today. There was no fee paid to the stars to shine or the moon to light up the night sky. Thank you sun for shining. Thank you moon for shining. Without your light I’d be lost in both day and night.
Food that you will eat today came from plants (even the animal based food originated from plants). There was a procession of beings that transported the plants to you and delisted the new as food. Thank you Earth and plants for producing this food. Thank you other humans and animals for bringing this food to me. Without food, my body would starve. Thank you.
How do you feel now? I imagine that there is a small smile emanating from your heart. Such small things to be grateful for make an impact almost immediately. You can set gratitude as the basic operating system of the mind. Replace complaint with gratitude. Do it actively in each moment. Or, as a starting point, commit to finding three things each day to be thankful for. That’s a good place to start. If you have a hard time practicing gratitude, the best place to start is immediately after your yoga practice. The mind and heart are softer and more receptive then. Close your eyes while lying in the final resting pose and let your mind float through a gentle practice of gratitude. Thank the practice for being there for you, passed down by generations of yogis from India. Thank India for sharing its cultural history and gifts with us. Thank your teacher for teaching. And, thank yourself for putting in the work and making the time and space to practice. Oops, that was more than three. But when you get on a roll, gratitude begins to flow. When gratitude opens up, I suggest you let it roll.
And now, I thank you, dear student of yoga, fellow traveler on the spiritual path, I thank you for reading my words, for giving me a piece of your precious time, thank you for practicing with me, thank you for trusting me enough to let me be your guide into the practice of yoga. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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