At the turn of the year we often find ourselves evaluating and examining the previous year’s progress. We focus on what we don’t have and what we didn’t achieve rather than congratulating ourselves on our successes. At the very least you’ve made it through another 365 days! So even if 2016 wasn’t your best year, there’s always something to be thankful for.
Unfortunately the well worn January jingle, “new year, new me” really plays into ‘poverty’ thinking. We live in world of never enough: not thin enough, not rich enough, not smart enough. But I’m not just talking about these big, broad brushstroke statements. On a daily basis this poverty thinking pervades so many aspects of our lives: “I’ve not slept enough”, “I’ve not been healthy enough”, “there are never enough hours in the day.” So this year, instead of wishing for what you don’t have, why not embrace what you do. Replace the poverty lens with one of gratitude and start to notice all the wonderful details in your life, big and small. It’s not about pretending to love your body, or faking a positive attitude towards your bank statement. It’s about being grateful for what you do have. Right now. Family, friends, a regular income, a healthy body. This gratitude list will vary greatly for each person but one we should all have in common is gratefulness for the gift of life. Thankfulness for a body that breathes life, refreshing and revitalising itself moment-to moment.
This shift in focus might sound incredibly simple but it is not to be dismissed as a ‘self-improvement’ skill. Recent studies have shown that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even our relationships. As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.” Even if you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, just asking yourself the question changes the chemistry in your brain. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (an area of the brain that produces the sensation of pleasure). Yet, this sophisticated science is also common sense: focusing on good things makes you feel better; focusing on bad things makes you feel worse.
Bringing this focus to your yoga asana practice can really help you to overcome the inner critic that resides in us all. Use your time on the mat to train your mind to think in compliments rather than criticisms. It’s not about trying to get your leg as high as the person next to you; it’s about being thankful for the legs you’ve got- even if they aren’t quite as long as Kate Moss’! When I volunteered in the Philippines a few years ago, I was amazed by the community’s spirit of gratitude. They hadn’t long ago been hit by a strong typhoon and many families were living in simple shelters, without running water or indoor toilets. Yet in spite of their homelessness, they were- and still are- happy. Happier than a lot of the people I see on the Letchworth to London commute. From a financial perspective these people are poor, but their lives our very rich- simply because they are happy to be alive. I will never forget what the community leader told me “you may have a higher GDP, but we have a higher rate of happiness!” And he was right. If that Filipino community can find so much joy in spite of disaster, we surely have SO much to be thankful for.
This is why I always try to end each and every yoga practice with a moment of gratitude. Simply think of three people in your life that you’re grateful for and dedicate your practice to them. Stop setting intentions for what you want and start giving thanks for what you have. Sew an attitude of gratitude into the fabric of your everyday life and you’ll quickly start to see how “your cup runneth over!”
Katie is currently teaching at The Yoga Shed in Hitchin. They’re located right next Hitchin station so it’s convenient for Londoners and locals alike! Whilst there are many different styles of yoga on offer, the Shed’s vision is very much based around the concept of strength and grace: where postures link seamlessly to the breath to create energy and strength, whilst maintaining softness and fluidity.