Gratitude is something some people only think about in November (particularly Americans because that is the month in which the holiday Thanksgiving falls). Certainly, a time focused on giving thanks is a great time to think about Gratitude, but it can fuel our lives each and every day. When gratitude permeates our lives, the difficulties of our lives become less visible, more of a teaching moment, and may even disappear. Actually, the one downside I see to living in a country where Thanksgiving is such a big deal is that it takes away from finding gratitude every day. We can just compartmentalize it to a particular month. Not all societies have such a holiday; in fact most do not.
Our minds are powerful. While yogis have known this for millennia, and the new age community has been saying it for decades, the modern, conventional world is finally catching on, and some people are making a big stink about it. But why? What is so important about gratitude? What is it about bringing gratitude into our lives that makes our lives so much better?
Stress hangs out in our bodies and can physiologically change them. I am not just talking about a sore back or a headache. I am talking about serious disease processes and serious physical pain. While I have known this and talked about this for years, even I was skeptical about just how powerful it is. We are so trained to believe that pain and disease have other physiological causes. And sometimes they do, but stress underlies many of those “real” causes as well.
As I mentioned in the last post, a great book about this is called Mind Over Medicine. It said nothing I did not know, but it used the scientific proof so many of us crave. The proof was in peer reviewed medical journals. It is no more proof, really, than intuition, but we have been trained as a society to only believe these proven facts. And when I say stress here, I mean more than just working too much. I mean the stress that eats away at our bodies and minds, the stress that enters us and never leaves. I mean the stress that turns us into pessimists and makes our brains and bodies think we are constantly under attack.
But back to gratitude. Gratitude is one of the antidotes to that stress. It helps create the optimism to overcome it. Stress puts us in the fight, flight, or freeze response, and chronic stress keeps us there. The antidote is, therefore, relaxation. But relaxation is more than vegging out in front of the television or even getting a massage every month. Relaxation has to permeate our lives to counteract the chronic stress many of us experience. A gratitude practice can be what helps us enter that relaxation phase.
Gratitude helps us start to see beauty in the world. It helps us recognize the good in our lives. And when we start to recognize the good in our lives, our brains can slowly begin to come out of that fight, flight, or freeze mode. We can reprogram the brain to recognize the fear that put it in fight, flight, or freeze is not life threatening. It is not a lion about to eat us. We can slowly begin to let go of our defenses and begin to find healing again.
This month on the Is Yoga Legal facebook page, I am going to post a daily gratitude. Join me there and share your gratitude as well. It is a beautiful time of year. We are in the end of summer, schools are going back in session, and here in Arizona the monsoon skies continue to show us unmatched beauty. I rarely have themes I follow each month, but this month it seems fitting to find a deep and true gratitude practice, one that is not just a passing phase but that infuses each and every moment of the day.
How do you bring gratitude into your life? Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? How has it changed your life?
© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.