There are so many benefits to feeling and expressing gratitude. People who are encouraged to notice and reflect upon the things they are thankful for experience stronger physical, emotional, and mental health, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, are less aggressive and have healthier sense of self.
Yoga poses and activities can develop emotional happiness, physical calmness and mental alertness and promote the appreciation of the natural world around us through attention to the kinesthetic experience.
A brief note and brief meditation for you:
Every year, an entire day is dedicated to the celebration of gratitude. We are thankful for good food, good family and friends, and a good life. But we do not have to wait till this day to be thankful. Yoga teaches us to practice mindfulness, opening the door for gratitude to be practiced all year-long. Gratitude unlocks the abundance of life. It turns what we have into enough, and contributes to our satisfaction with our own personal riches. Being thankful for little things around us allows us to be present, alive and fully in the moment.
This brings to my mind the phrase “Stop and smell the roses”. If we do stop and smell the roses, we will start to notice the richness that surrounds and inundates all our life’s moments. By taking a step back and being aware of the things in your life that you are truly thankful for, you can bring balance to chaos and calmness to turmoil. Peace of mind can be yours by bringing yourself into the here and now! Notice the veritable cornucopia of things to be grateful for in your life: your family, friends, a roof over your head, working at something you take pride in, a smile or kind word from a stranger, a flower peeping out from the sidewalk, a fresh breeze, the warm touch of the sun, the smell of the earth after rain, the farmers who grow the food, the chef who cooks it…the list is never-ending!
So…stop and smell the roses! Take a moment to look at the trees. Notice their leaves, branches and bark, feel the wind on your cheeks and breathe deeply!
Remember that you need time to relax and rejuvenate too. Take care of yourself, so that you can be the most supportive and effective person that you can be.
A simple mindfulness meditation:
1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff. You can also lie down. Or lean against the wall.
2. Become aware of your breathing by focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel the air entering and exiting through your nostrils. Feel your belly rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. If needed, the first few breaths you can allow the exhale to express through gently pursed lips-imagine you are fanning the coals. This help to elongate the exhale and the sound is a great focuser. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different. Notice that the air is cool as it enters the body but it is gently warmed when it exits.
3. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hopeful. When thoughts come up in your mind, note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor. Watch your thoughts as if they are clouds drifting by in the sky.
4. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, simply return to your breathing. I sometimes like to say “Thinking” or “Thought” or I name it “that is the worrying me who thinks she cannot do things…etc. when I notice I have drifted and this helps me come back to the present moment and my breathing. There is not punishment for being lost in thought: allow it, notice it, move on.
As the time comes to a close bring (this can be 1-minute, 5 minutes 20 minutes or more!) bring some more energizing breaths into your body. You can wiggle your fingers and toes. Roll to one side (if lying down). Get up gradually.
Gratitude Attitude Yoga for Kids:
How should we bring gratitude to children’s attention? Playfully. They can learn how to be thankful by getting to know themselves, physically, emotionally, energetically and intellectually. Using the methodologies of yoga, qigong, and dance, they have the freedom to express this autonomously. The gratitude attitude can be bolstered by our commitment to communicating with them where they are now, by how we act and how we relate to them during our time together. Through various activities in action and in stillness , they can explore their own paths to gratitude.
Stillness activity #1: Ringing the chime. Turn taking. Sharing. Listening. Experiencing. Different vibration every time. Building confidence and self-esteem.
Stillness activity #2: Colored glass rocks: creating patterns, shapes, feeling their cool, soft edges…listening to a piece of quite music like “Variations On Twinkle Twinkle by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Joe Cool’s Blues by Wynton Marsalis and Ellis Marsalis.
Waking Up The Sense Activity #1: Gorilla Thumps Gently thumping body parts and meridian points. The chest and just below the collar bones using Aaaaaaaa-Eeeeeee-Iiiiiii-Oooooooo-Uuuuuuuu. Energy booster! Waking up the energy lines.
Waking Up The Sense Activity #2: Rag Doll Dance Shimmying, shaking, jiggling, flouncing. Feeling light. Waking up. Moving feet. Moving hands. Fingers, Toes. Head. Waking the senses.
Mountain pose. Thank you Mountains for being so strong and stable.
Sun (breathe in, arms come up the sides till fingers touch at the top. Try to match finger to finger) feeling awake; Moon (hands clasped at the top. Lean to one side then the other) feeling bright; Wind (starting swaying arms, let them gently tap your body as your spine twists side to side) feeling free; Rain (add finger wiggles) feeling fresh.
Waterfall Bend over and touch the floor. Feel the cool water running through your fingers. Feel calm. And Kind of sparkly.
Squat like a frog. Sit still, like a frog. Breathe quietly, like a frog. Then hopping ribbit, ribbit, ribbit (and then back to your lily pad)
Cow and Cat-Moo and Meow grounded to the floor. Stable like a table!
Breathe in, lift up, Snake. Hissssssssssssing down on the exhale. Repeat. Strong arm muscles pushing you. Notice your hands on the floor and push up.
Woof. Down dog. Lifting one foot for a tail. Switch. Barking. Feeling joyful
Tree Pose. Standing tall and balanced on one foot. Friend Tree: Do it with a friend. Family Tree: Do it with the whole yoga family.
Challenge Pose #1: Single sided bow pose. Switch sides. Then try traditional bow pose.
Challenge #2: Pointer Dog Pose.
Challenge #3: Dancer’s Pose. Hold hands with a partner and be each others support. Try it on your own to test your inner balance.
Floating On The Sea: On your back, the mat is a calm blue sea. Gentle waves rocking you as you let your body relax and float. You feel weightless. Hear the seagulls. Hear the waves lapping. Feel the warm breath of the sun. Smell the beach air full of ocean, sun and sand. Your belly is the ocean. On each inhale, allow the belly to fill up and on the exhale, let the belly soften. Take your next few breaths into your veer softening belly. Drift.
Crocodile: Belly time (EVERYBODY needs belly time!). Now the mat is a river. Crocodile is gliding slowly in the river. Feel the warm water all around. Head down. Can rest head to one side or the other. Or use hands as a pillow. Can bend one knee or the other (if knee is bent head should be looking to that same side or straight down.) Feel belly on the floor. Pressing in as you inhale. Feel your back softening on the exhale. On each inhale, allow the belly to fill up and on the exhale, let the belly soften. Take your next few breaths into your veer softening belly. Glide.
Sleeping On A Cloud: Belly or back time. Can you imagine clouds in the sky? Imagine you could rest gently on top of one. Feel the soft cotton cradling you gently. There is a little sway and bob as the cloud floats through the sky. In your imagination, look at the other clouds as they float by. See them drifting by. See their shapes. What shapes do you see? When you start to look at or think about other things, gently go back to looking at the clouds. It is o.k. if you do. When you do realize you are not thinking about the clouds, gently start noticing the clouds and their shapes. Float.
Games and Books:
Game #1: Let each child call out the name of a living thing and then create a pose to go with it. For example, T-Rex. Stand up. Make “little” arms like a T-Rex, and then do mat walk. Walk all around the outer edge of your mat-while acting like T-Rex-in one direction. Then reverse your direction to get the most brain balancing effect.
Game #2: Tape numbers (1-10, or less) around the walls and tape a yoga pose card next to each number. Easy version: everyone goes through poses in numerical order. Challenge option: Pair up the students. Give them each a pose order card (numbered 1- 10, but not in numerical order). Each group heads off a deux, and does their poses in the order specific to their card.
Game #3: Another version of the above game (my fall to game in every class) is putting one, two or more cards under each mat. Student pull the cards out and arrange them, either as they like or numerically. Students then have an allotted amount of time to do their pose(s). At the signal, everyone moves clockwise and arrives on a new mat, with a new set of cards presented to them. Continue until everyone is back on their original mat.
Book #1:For younger kids, check out My Amazing Day: A celebration of wonder and gratitude by Karin Fisher-Golton, Lori A. Cheung and Elizabeth Iwamiya (please check out my review of this book here). This book can be read and easily adapted to yoga poses to go along with the things the baby is grateful for.
Book #2: This is one of my favorite all time books that I read to my son almost every day. It is so beautiful and the kids just can’t get enough of the surprise and the anticipation and it is so sweet and lovely: The Lion and the Red Bird by Elisa Kleven. Here is a fabulous YouTube of Elisa Kleven reading her beloved book. Elisa came into this hospital to share her wonderful story with fantastic illustrations. The patient, Ashley, sure had a lot to say about the story! Enjoy this children’s book classic.