Yoga is more than just an exercise – it’s also a practice of mind. It helps us gain more control of our bodies, as well as relieves stress and gives us the chance to face anxiety and let it go.

Beyond simply reacting to stress, though, yoga can also proactively calm and bring positivity to your life. Woven into the fabric of yoga is a deep sense of balance, acceptance and gratitude. The more you interact with this, by acknowledging and seeking it, the more you bring this positivity into your life.

What Do We Mean by Gratitude

Gratitude is that feeling of deep gratefulness or thankfulness for something. The feeling of appreciation. Some describe it as the feeling of light and love, even wonder.

Despite it’s vibrant nature, gratitude can sometimes feel difficult to achieve at times, especially as we age and experience trauma. Think back to when you were younger, first experiencing the awe of the world. You lacked expectation and worry. You may have understood that you didn’t understand everything, but you still felt connected and one with the world. Things felt simpler.

So what happened? Some might say you “grew up,” a polite way of describing the transformative experience of becoming more skeptical, or even cynical, with the world. A reasonable development with maturity, surely.

But while it’s important to be realistic, it’s equally important to maintain a sense of wonder. Wonder inspires appreciation, appreciation grows gratitude, and the feeling of gratitude can endlessly fuel your creativity, positivity, and love in life. When you’re grateful, everything is thrilling, alive, and a gift.

Bringing Gratitude Back

Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be difficult, but it will take effort. It’s the practice of seeing the quality of things alongside the quantity. It’s both the subconscious and conscious valuation you place on people, events, and challenges in your life. It truly boils down to this: Despite how these things affect you, you’re ultimately responsible for determining to what extent that affect takes place – does it remain superficial, or does it change the essence of your being?

Understanding this, employ these three techniques to find gratitude in things:

1. Reflect and Accept

At the core of gratitude is acceptance – understanding what has transpired, and regardless of the outcome, accepting that it is so.

When starting your yoga practice, think about what has happened since you’re last time on the mat. Think about the things you’re carrying with you into your practice. Identify how things have affected you, and be honest with yourself about your feelings. Allow your emotion to bear itself and recognize it. With this in mind, remind yourself that what will be, will be. Have faith in your ability to continue forward, and truth that things happen for a reason.

If it was positive, understand that those who have been given much, ought to give back. Remain humble. If it was negative, understand that in every awful thing is a lesson, like a beacon of light that can correct all future paths. Remain open-minded and positive.

Slowly let these thoughts drift, and begin your practice.

2. Use Mantras

Mantra yoga is also a very useful tool in remaining grateful. By repeating specific words and phrases with intent, you can help bring your mind back to the positive plane on which gratitude exists. Repeat these when you feel you need that extra thoughtfulness.

  • I appreciate the abundance in my life and I allow myself to expand in gratitude, success and joy everyday.
  • Gratitude brings me into a harmonious relationship with the good in everyone and everything that surrounds me.  
  • Thank You. (This one, while quite simple, is still very powerful. Can you bring yourself to thank reality in an authentic way?)

3. Truly Be Grateful, One with Experience

Finally, in order to truly reach a place of gratitude, you must truly seek it. We often find ourselves desiring things that we do not actually want or need, and this can affect us when seeking gratitude.

One common example is the sense of mission, obligation, or righteous calling people may feel. Often, we associate this with struggle. We must hurt, feel pain, and sacrifice to become something we think we need to be. It’s the dilemma of our supposed desires – we struggle because we want to. But desiring things, or assuming you’re able to get a ‘one up’ on things, puts you at conflict with the universe. Consider this short dialouge from Alan Watts:

The buddha said , “We suffer because we desire. If you can give up desire, you won’t suffer.” But he didn’t say that as the last word; he said that as the opening step of a dialogue. Because if you say that to someone, they’re going to come back after a while and say, “Yes, but now I’m desiring not to desire.'” And so the buddha will answer, “Well at last you’re beginning to understand the point.” Because you can’t give up desire. Why would you try to do that? It’s already desire. So in the same way, you say, “You ought to be unselfish, or give up your ego. Let go, relax.” Why do you want to do that? Just because it’s another way of beating the game, isn’t it? The moment you hypothesize that you are different from the universe, you want to get one up on it. But if you try to get one up on the universe, and you’re in competition with it, that means you don’t understand you ARE it. You think there’s a real difference between ‘self’ and ‘other.’ But ‘self,’ what you call yourself, and what you call ‘other’ are mutually necessary to each other like back and front. They’re really one. Just as a magnet polarizes itself at north and south, but it’s all one magnet. So experience polarizes itself as self and other, but it’s all one. If you try to make the south pole defeat the north pole, or get the mastery of it, you show you don’t know what’s going on.

While this can be a dense, mental gymnastic exercise for the early reflector on experience, understanding this lesson can be powerful for achieving gratitude. Once you understand that you and your experience are one, you realize that whatever has happened, good or bad, is simply part of what is. This brings us back to acceptance, and ultimately, gratitude.

A Grateful Practice

These are just some tools and lessons that can be used in practicing gratitude. There are many strategies, and some may work better than others for you. We’d like to know – how do you practice gratitude? What has worked especially well in your practice and why?

Tell us in the comments below!