Cultivating Gratitude on the Mat – A Yogic Approach to Thankfulness

Cultivating gratitude has been shown to help regulate negative emotions, overcome adversity, boost happiness and promote connection. It’s no wonder why yoga practitioners love this practice!

Adding a focused intention of gratitude at the beginning or end of class can set a positive tone and inspire students to reflect on the blessings in their lives.

1. Breathe Deeply

While it is easy to get caught up in negative thoughts during a yoga class, breathing deeply and expressing gratitude can help you shift back into positivity. Whether you are waiting in line at a store, standing in the shower or even in Savasana (corpse pose) after class, taking a moment to count your blessings can improve your mood and remind you of all the things in life that you have to be thankful for.

A yogic approach to gratitude can help you find perspective and positivity on the mat, which will radiate outwardly in your relationships. Gratefulness can also help you see silver linings and lessons in difficult situations and develop a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. It is easy to focus on all the things that are wrong in your life, but a consistent gratitude practice can train you to focus on what’s right, which can help you build resilience and perseverance in challenging times.

When you walk into your yoga space, leave your ego at the door and focus on what feels good in the body. This will allow you to move more organically and be more present in the practice, avoiding holding yourself up to imaginary standards and expectations. It is easier to cultivate gratitude in this way, and it will transfer into the rest of your day.

If you’re able to do so, try spending a few minutes at the end of class focusing on gratitude for your teacher. You can even be specific, naming one thing that you loved about their class. Nothing helps teachers more than hearing their students express appreciation, and it’s a great way to show your gratitude.

Another way to cultivate gratitude on the mat is to tune into any sounds you can hear around you. Listening to the world around you is a powerful way to bring your attention back to the present moment and focus on what’s right, and it can be a beautiful reminder of all that you have to be thankful for. Try a wide Child’s Pose or a seated Gratitude Twist for a simple, but effective, way to practice this.

2. Move Your Body

Cultivating gratitude helps improve mood, reduce depression, increase happiness, help regulate negative emotions and strengthen relationships. It can also help you overcome adversity, cope with difficult situations and increase well-being. It may be challenging to feel grateful in times of high stress or unpredictable events, but a simple daily practice can make a significant difference.

There are many ways to cultivate gratitude, from jotting down your appreciation in a journal or writing a letter to someone you’d like to thank, to creating a gratitude jar to fill with notes of appreciation. Another way to express your gratitude is through movement. Taking a long walk, dancing or practicing yoga are all great ways to get your body moving. If you find yourself feeling stuck in a rut, try changing your routine to include some movement that makes you happy.

When you come to your mat, leave your ego at the door and focus on what your body needs in each moment. This will help you move organically and inspire a deeper level of gratitude for your body and all that it can do.

The heart-opening position camel pose is a beautiful example of this. As you spread your heart open towards the sky, you’ll feel a sense of gratitude for the courage that you’ve summoned to face all of the challenges in life, both big and small.

Another way to express gratitude is by stretching your hamstrings. Folding forward into this deep hamstring stretch provides the opportunity to appreciate how your body has supported you throughout life in all that it has been able to do.

At the end of your yoga session, take a moment to send gratitude outward to your yogi neighbors, your community and all the way out to the world, sending best wishes for their health, happiness and well-being. This act of reaching out to others can be a wonderful expression of gratitude and is sure to put a smile on their faces! You can also extend your practice outside of the studio by donating to a non-profit or charitable organization that’s close to your heart.

3. Focus on the Present

Gratitude can help you focus on the present, which in turn helps you feel more positive emotions. Practicing gratitude can also be a way to avoid ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

To shift your focus toward the present, try to notice little things in your daily life that give you pleasure. Taking the time to savor a bite of a fresh strawberry, the smell of your coffee as it brews, or the sound of gentle background music can all help you feel more grateful for what you have now.

Another way to cultivate gratitude is to focus on the efforts of others. The Benedictine monk Br. David Steindl-Rast suggests two qualities belong in our basic definition of gratitude: appreciation and recognition. When you appreciate something, it means you recognize that someone conceived of its need and many people worked on the details to make it available for you. This includes things that you use on a regular basis like your smartphone, a chair, or your car.

Once you’ve started to become more aware of the good things in your life, it’s important to keep this practice up. It’s easy to forget, so find a cue to remind you. For example, if you’re going to eat at the same time each day, take the opportunity to name one thing you’re grateful for with each meal. Similarly, you can also incorporate this practice into other regularly repeated routines such as brushing your teeth, drinking a glass of water, or waking up in the morning.

After you’ve expressed your gratitude inward, take the opportunity to express it outwards to your yogi community and beyond. You can show your appreciation in a variety of ways, from simply sending a thank you note to donating to a nonprofit organization. In any case, your act of generosity will help you feel even more thankful for the blessings in your life. And it may even inspire other people to take up a gratitude habit, too!

4. Express Your Gratitude

Practicing daily gratitude is proven to boost happiness, lower depression, improve relationships, reduce stress, and help you sleep better. Whether it’s writing in a journal, sending a thank you note, or filling up a jar with little notes of appreciation, there are many ways to express your gratitude. But incorporating it into your yoga practice can be an especially powerful and empowering way to shift your perspective.

Before you even get onto your mat, take a moment to reflect on the things you are thankful for. You may find that a list of three to five items is a helpful guide, allowing you to explore the depths of your gratitude. When you arrive on your mat, come into Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana). Place a bolster or folded blanket horizontally across your back and sit on it. This heart-opening pose can encourage a feeling of gratitude for those in your life who love and support you.

This pose can also help you to recognize how your own resilience and strength are a source of gratitude. You are able to withstand challenges, despite your own fears and limitations. You are able to show up for yourself, and that’s something to be very grateful for!

Another way to express your gratitude is to focus on the things you enjoy about your yoga practice. For example, you may be thankful for the teachers at your studio, your mat, or your body’s ability to move in a way that feels good to you. You might feel grateful for the sense of peace you receive through your practice, or the physical expansion that is provided by poses like Camel Pose.

When you are finished, remember to take your gratitude off the mat as well. Reach out to a friend or family member, write a thank you note, or donate to a non-profit or charitable organization. This is an important part of showing your gratitude, as it shows others that you care and want to make a difference.

Gratitude is a beautiful state of mind. Practicing it on the mat can encourage you to bring more positivity into your everyday life and give back to those around you. It’s easy to forget the good in life when you are focused on what’s not working or what is missing, so cultivating gratitude can be a reminder of all that is good.