6 Yoga & Mindfulness Rituals For Gratitude
Boost your mood and your mojo with these strategies for feeling grateful.
Life has taken a different direction in recent months, and for many, this has caused a change of pace. Extra hours at home means more time to pay attention to details you once overlooked and more energy to prioritize things that matter most. During this time of reflection, you may have found you’re experiencing an emerging sense of gratitude—an appreciation for the little things in life, as well as the big.
As it turns out, there’s a measurable benefit to those feelings of gratefulness. Scientific studies have found that focusing on gratitude can significantly improve peace of mind, happiness, health and even sleep quality. In short, there’s every reason to get more of these vibes into your life.
“When you’re coming from a place of gratitude, you’re coming from a place of abundance,” says Marcelyn Cole, a Chicago-based yoga teacher, explaining that gratefulness goes hand-in-hand with a feeling of having enough. “That mindset is helpful for imagining a better future. It’s not about pretending everything is OK and just being grateful regardless, it’s about finding perspective and gratitude where you can.”
Developing that perspective takes practice, though, and that’s where yoga can help. “Yoga practices shift us out of an unaware state, into the aware, using a combination of the breathing, poses, and meditation,” says Cole. “It calls in that wiser part of ourselves, reminding us we are part of something more.”
If you’re curious about using yoga to get your gratitude juices flowing, try this approach.
Set the Intention
Like warming up for a run, it’s important to ease into a yoga session by first setting your intention and checking in with yourself, says Emily Rezetko, a yoga instructor at Nature Yoga Sanctuary in Chicago. This grounding moment can help turn down the volume on the noises of the day and bring deeper awareness of what’s going on internally.
Cole suggests starting with a short meditation. Dress comfortably, and sit on your knees, palms up, eyes closed, and check in with how you’re feeling. Acknowledge the gratitude you’re hoping to find in your yoga session.
Explore New Poses
Whether you’re new to yoga or have been doing it for a while, certain poses are geared towards physically enhancing your experience of gratitude. “When you feel gratitude, you’ll notice where it shows up in the body. For a lot of people, it’s the heart space or chest,” shares Cole. “To cultivate that feeling, it helps to physically move your body in a way that focuses more energy there.” These five poses do just that:
Cactus Arms: Raise arms out to the sides. Bend your elbows 90 degrees so hands point upward. Squeeze shoulder blades together and lift your heart to the sky. This can be done standing or in a lunge position.
Camel Pose: To perform this kneeling back-bend, get onto your knees and raise your chest to the sky. Place your hands behind you on your heels as you arch your upper body.
Fish Pose: Sit with straight legs. Arch your chest skyward, lean back onto your elbows, and allow your head to drop back toward the floor.
Puppy Pose: Get onto your knees and reach forward with your arms—heart down, hips up.
Child’s Pose: To do this classic forward-fold pose, start by kneeling and sitting back onto your heels. Allow knees to spread, creating a space to place your chest on the ground. Reach arms forward and rest.
“Gratitude poses don’t need to be big and active,” adds Cole. “Some of the best are restorative ones, such as reaching your arms upwards or placing your hands on your heart and resting there. It has to feel good in order to get you connected with your self."
Remember to Breathe
Creating a smooth sequence of inhales and exhales is a common part of yoga, but to make it more intentional, imagine as you breathe in that you’re creating space for something you feel grateful for, Rezetko advises. With each inhale, imagine that gratitude spreading to your heart; with the exhale, radiate this feeling out into the world or to a loved one who might need it.
Another breath practice favored by Cole is called Skull Shining (Kapalabhati). This internal cleansing technique can be used at the start of your practice. Take a long, deep inhale, then as you start to exhale, contract your lower belly and force the air out in a succession of short, sharp bursts. (Try to make your shirt move with each forceful belly contraction/exhale.)
“At the beginning or the end of your physical practice, lie down and mindfully become aware of every single part of your body, scanning from head to toe,” says Rezetko. “As you focus on each body part, send it a little ‘thank you.’” Once you’ve mastered this mindfulness exercise, try adding deep breathing and a mantra of gratitude.
Savasana (a.k.a. Corpse Pose) offers a moment at the end of your practice to lock-in all that positive energy and just let your body and mind be. To try it, start by getting comfortable and lying on a mat. Slow your breathing and let your body and mind drift. You might want to do a full body scan, giving each muscle permission to release. “Let the gratitude and kindness you felt during your practice be with you and then carry it with you for the rest of your day,” says Rezetko.
Keep Working On It
Shifting your perspective to feel more gratitude isn’t an overnight thing and it doesn’t end with your yoga session. “It’s a practice for life,” says Rezetko. “Our intentions from our class should follow us into our everyday.”
One way to do this: After your yoga session, grab a journal and write down all the things you felt gratitude for during your practice. Once you’ve done that, write down three more things that you are grateful for at the moment. Recording these thoughts is a powerful affirmation of your gratitude, and makes it easier to tap into those feelings the next time.
Another thing to keep in mind: Gratitude is not a passive practice, “Gratitude is fertile ground for planting the seeds of our intentions,” reminds Cole. “It can lead us to take beneficial action. If you’re feeling grateful for something, what’s the next step? For example, if you’re grateful for a friend, what could you do to show up for them in a meaningful way? Or if you’re grateful for the food on your table, what can you do to support those who helped it reach your plate?”
Ultimately, gratitude is rooted in community. “Gratitude connects us through a shared experience, by seeking out others who care about the same things, be it a cause or initiative,” says Cole. “We’re at a turning point globally where we can tap into our connections with each other and the planet to imagine regenerative, healing possibilities. Gratitude helps us do this.” And that’s something we can all be grateful for.