Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Our to-do lists are full, as are our shopping lists. We will spend a significant amount of time this week cleaning and cooking, and preparing to welcome friends and family into our homes. We may even travel to join our friends and families in near or distant locations. This is the time of year when we as a culture sanction taking a few precious moments out of our busy schedules to open our hearts to gratitude. And we do it in community. Perhaps we all become yogis on Thanksgiving.
I believe that gratitude is the foundation of yoga. We start our practice with intention setting and we finish it with gratitude for the practice and our teachers. We strive to cultivate the niyama of santosa (contentment) on the mat by letting go into each of our asanas; accepting and rejoicing in each asana for the strength and energy it brings to us. We seek to be present and content for each moment and for each breath during our practice. And finally, we bring our hands together in Namaste in recognition and gratitude for the divine spirit which lives and breaths in all of us.
But once we leave the studio, and move beyond the mat, shouldn’t we also seek to build a mindfulness practice of gratitude? Medical studies from such esteemed institutions as the Harvard Medical Center note the health benefits of engaging in a practice of mindulness meditation. Indeed, such practices have been shown to reduce the effects of stress related to chronic health concerns, and loss of loved ones.
The question then, is where and how to begin. Why not this week with Thanksgiving?
As you prepare for the holiday, take time to note the beauty around you. Notice the red and yellow leaves as they fall to the ground. Take a moment to be consciously grateful for friends and family. Remember those moments of joy shared with different family members. Appreciate the bounty in the stores, the truckers who delivered it there and the farmers who brought it forth from the earth. Open your heart with gratitude for the artists who bring beauty to our eyes and ears; for the activists and foundations who provide shelter and services to those in need; and the for physicians who bring healing. The list can go on and on. Be thankful for each moment of life, the beauty that surrounds you and the kindnesses you experience.
Lest someone should accuse me of polyannaism, let me state that there is no denying that these are difficult times we’re living. Challenges of hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, exploitation and yes death are a part of our daily existence. The goal though, is not to descend into to pain of these experiences. The understanding gained from practicing mindful gratitude keeps us from getting lost in the loss of freedoms and life. So even when you are stuck in traffic, late for a meeting, low on blood sugar, or suffering from illness or the loss of a loved one, you can still allow gratitude to soften the moment.
Breath in, look around and remember many wonderful moments in your life and community. Practice santosa and gratitude, both on the mat and beyond.
Shalom & Namaste,