When I looked up the definition of gratitude on Google, the following phrases popped up: “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Based on this, it seems that in order to be grateful, one must be willing and ready to show appreciation.
But how does one know if they are ready? One is ready when one is present, aware, immersed in the present moment.
Presence brings awareness, which enables us to see things clearly and to connect more deeply to our body and breath. It helps us feel the inhale, the prana, the life energy that comes with acknowledgment. That fullness consequently brings an exhale—a need to empty out and subsequently give back and share that great sense of peace.
Over time, I’ve discovered that if I allow myself to stop and acknowledge happiness, while I’m feeling it, the sensation tends to stay longer. I began a practice of stopping to acknowledge joy each time it came up. Eventually, I felt as though I was learning to manipulate time. After all, when we’re having a beautiful moment, we move more slowly because we don’t want it to end. Instead of lingering in the past or fearing the end, by practicing gratitude we learn to acknowledge the beauty in life and the gift in each and every given moment by simply practicing awareness.
We can learn to be so fully immersed in the moment that even as it ends, we counterintuitively find an innate sense of non-attachment, which of course lies at the center of our ability to embrace authentic gratitude. Like little droplets, gratitude sinks into the heartbeat, into the natural pace of breath, into the essence of being. This vibrant energy sustains us, irrespective of circumstance. At a certain point in the gratitude practice, the essence of gracious living becomes inherent and abundant, so much so, that the only way to proceed is by sharing and giving back.
This might all sound a little out there, perhaps a little too esoteric, but it is this very ability to stay present that invites magic into our life. In the face of life’s challenges, this practice offers us a technique that naturally supports us in working through an obstacle. Magically enough, gratitude creeps in and the brain recognizes even what might have once seemed like a negative, into an opportunity for growth, for change, for transformation.
We can help our thought process by opening and moving our body in a way that enables the body, breath and mind to work in unity towards the ultimate goal of gratitude. By strengthening our legs and opening the back of the heart we allow the support of the ground to create full expansion in the lungs and our breath capacity. Because our lungs represent our competence, our ability to hold life and to support our heart, the more we can work toward expanding them, the easier it can be for the mind to interpret this idea of abundance and fullness. The bowing down of the head toward the heart as a gesture of humility but also of connection and acknowledgment, which helps us to slow down, recognize, and listen. The ego and heart work together with the support of the legs, to stop, to feel, to acknowledge.
It is our job to shift our lens through the embodied practice, so that we might see the world through the prism of gratitude.
Stand tall with toes together and heels apart. Feel the power of the floor supporting you as you shine your heart open.
Stand with legs spread, toes pointed forward, and fold over to the right side. Surrender your ego under your heart, as your strong legs hold you up. Make sure the heel of your back foot is rooted into the ground in order to support the opening in the front hamstring. Repeat on opposite side.
Side Stretch with Bent Knee
Bend one knee and hold on to the ankle, bringing the opposite rib towards the thigh. Work with the dual pull of both legs, and the hips reaching up, in order to find your breath. Repeat on opposite side.
Interlace your fingers behind your back, and push equally into the back and front foot. The more willing you are to find your legs, the easier it’ll be for the chest to rise. Repeat on opposite side.
Rest your shoulder over your knee, interlace the fingers behind the back and dive forward with your chest. The strength in your foundation will enable you to surrender with no fear. Rise up and repeat on opposite side.
Crescent Lunge Variation
Let the back hand and foot connect, and point both hips forward. Squeeze your inner thighs together and open the right palm in a gesture of gratitude. Repeat on opposite side.
Bound Devotional Lunge Variation
Slide your back knee to the ground and walk your back foot in a bit to help with balance. Bring your front shoulder under your knee as if the thigh were a backpack. If it’s accessible, find a bind by reaching the other arm back behind you and grabbing the opposite wrist. To go deeper, tuck the head behind the ankle, and notice the opening in the release of the hips and the head. The more willing you are to work with taking and receiving, the easier the shape will be. Move to opposite side and repeat.
Extended Hand Big Toe Pose Variation
Hold the front big toe in a yogi toe lock and extend the leg any amount forward. If mobility is limited, keep the knee of extended leg bent. Reach the opposite arm up and lean back. Trust the hard work. Repeat on opposite side.
Standing Split with Flipped Fingers
Lift one leg up any amount, and fold the chest forward over the standing leg. Bring the hands to the ground, flipping the fingers. Surrender your head completely; it’s your legs that are holding you up. Bring the chest as close to the quad as possible without opening the hip. Switch legs and repeat on opposite side.
Hug your bent knee and bow your chest forward in a gesture of gratitude and humility. If necessary, bend the extended leg to help release the lower back. Switch legs and repeat on other side.
Forward Fold with Hip Opener
Extend both legs forward, bend one knee so it is stacked over the extended leg’s knee, and bring the foot back toward the seat. If you can hold onto the foot and reach the chest forward; eventually your head and your shin will connect, and you can rest the chin over the knee. Like everything it requires practice. Switch legs and repeat on opposite side.
Lay on the floor completely and reach your arms open. Receive.
Hero’s Pose with Open Hands
Bring your knees together, separating your feet. Either place a block between the feet to sit, or simply let the hips descent to the ground. Open your palms and breathe deeply. Equal inhales, equal exhales, receiving and giving the breath.
Slide one block underneath the shoulder blades, one block underneath the head, and recline back, making sure the neck and back are comfortable. Feel supported by the floor, and open in the heart as you practice gratitude for your breath, body, and soul.
Photos by Hailey Wist; Outfitted by Terrie Kane