When we arrive at our yoga mats for our practice, we often hear the word “intention,” but rarely do we ever talk about how that applies to our physical well-being. We might think about intention as a way to honor our yoga practice, like an offering or a prayer. But intentions can go much deeper than that, especially when we choose gratitude as our focus when we practice yoga.
Paramahansa Yogananda said, “Thanksgiving and praise open in your consciousness, the way for spiritual growth and supply to come to you. Spirit pushes itself out into visible manifestation as soon as a channel is opened through which it can flow.”
What does this mean? We can interpret Yogananda’s words to mean that gratitude literally opens our minds and bodies to receive more gifts—such as growth, enlightenment, and happiness. When we cultivate gratitude with our yoga practice, we give it more meaning, but it also goes much further than that.
Yoga And Gratitude
In 2013, researchers studied the psychological association between yoga and gratitude and found that the deeper we get into our yoga practice, the more thankful we become. But how does that translate to better physical and mental health? We can find the answer in another academic study, first published in the Clinical Psychology Review, in which scientists discovered a direct correlation between gratitude and actual well-being.
When we apply gratitude as an intention to our yoga practice, we not only give each asana meaning and purpose, but we also open our minds and our bodies to receive real, physical benefits. Instead of merely stretching and breathing, we are feeding our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. Gratitude becomes nourishment that allows more gifts to come to us.
Lowered Blood Pressure
As a state of being, gratitude gives us a kind of buoyancy and resilience that helps us cope with the challenges of life. We look at the world (and our futures) a little more positively. We breathe a little deeper. It becomes easier for our minds to remain calm. Our blood pressure lowers, and we experience less inflammation, less discomfort, and less stress.
Now, this isn’t to say that there won’t be days when cultivating gratitude might feel like a chore. Much like tending a garden, there are times when we might feel overcome with difficulties, especially when we consider the challenges that we confront in our modern-day lives.
A good place to start is by choosing to feel gratitude for your body on Day One of your yoga practice, and when you return to the mat the next day, on Day Two, choose to express gratitude for your family, friends, loved ones, or support system. Then, on Day Three, give thanks for personal luxuries, your career, and so on. Finding true gratitude for what we already have in our lives keeps us grounded with a positive mindset, and helps us make choices that enhance our growth emotionally, spiritually, and materialistically.
So, how can we bring gratitude to our daily yoga practice?
Along with intention and mindfulness, we can tend to our gratitude garden by performing postures that stimulate our heart chakras. In my classes at MyYogaTeacher, I often help my students open up their chests and heart chakras with asanas such as the camel (ustrasana), wheel (urdhva dhanurasana), or cobra (bhujangasana) pose.
We can incorporate meditations into our practice that focus on giving thanks. You can simply focus your mind on those things which you are grateful for, or you can practice a loving, kindness meditation, in which you bring to mind compassion, joy, and gratitude for the people in your life.
Yoga mudras, or yogic hand gestures, are a simple and powerful tool for stimulating gratitude physically and mentally. While meditating, practice mudras like padma or anjali to encourage more gratitude in your life.
Mantras give us the words with which we can offer our thanksgiving. There are several Sanskrit mantras you can use in your yoga practice to verbally express your gratitude. Try repeating one of the following out loud or silently in your mind:
- Kritajna hum – I am gratitude.
- Karuna hum – I am compassion.
- Dhanya vad – I feel gratitude.
Just like the ritual of yoga itself, the more often you practice gratitude, the greater the benefits will be. Try incorporating gratitude into your yoga practice while journaling about your experiences. Over time, you might notice that this simple act will greatly enhance your yoga routine and bring more happiness, joy, and well-being into your day-to-day life, while improving your physical health in ways you never thought possible.