Thursday, October 31, 2013

Yoga and Gratitude

My pondering started during the last week of the government shutdown: “Just exactly what does practicing yoga have to do with the real world, anyway?”

I’ve come to a few conclusions I’d like to share. Yoga is a practice of ”opening”: opening the body, opening the mind, and opening the heart. An open body, an open mind, and an open heart translates from a physical practice of meeting myself on the mat to a life lived in gratitude. At least that’s been my own experience. And a practice of gratitude can and will make a difference in our world as I begin to meet others with an open mind and an open heart.

I grew up in a spirituality that taught “be thankful in all things”. I practice a spirituality that celebrates Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving”. I’ve been taught the importance of “an attitude of gratitude”. While knowing about gratitude is important, living inside of thanksgiving is another thing entirely. There have been moments throughout my life that I’ve accidentally tapped into that attitude for short periods of time.

Most of my spiritual life has been more cerebral than actively lived, and while I thought it was heartfelt, I have discerned that, for the most part, it was sentimentalized emotions, unconscious, superficial, and rooted in a need for connection. But for the past couple of years now, it seems I am living more from inside gratitude than accidentally stumbling onto it. What’s made the difference?

I have been “body ignorant” most of my life, unaware of what my body has been experiencing or feeling. I’ve yearned toward the spiritual values of truth, gratitude and compassion, but how do I get there? I believe with all my heart that practicing yoga has been a crucial key for me. If I can feel it in my body, I can “get it”.

I’ve heard that you can’t tell someone truth—they have to remember it. That makes no sense – unless you’ve experienced the feeling of remembering truth. Did you know that truth has a body sensation? When I recognize truth, I feel an opening in my body. It softens and relaxes. It nestles down. There’s a quieting sensation, a feeling of safety and being “home”. 

The same goes for gratitude. I feel gratitude in my bones: my body lifts, my head lifts, my heart opens, my arms open. It’s an actual felt sensation of lifting up, coupled with joy. B.K.S. Iyengar says depression can’t stay in the body if the arms are lifted. Holy Scripture exhorts to lift our hands in praise. Maybe gratitude is what the Psalmist found when he lifted his hands in prayer to God.
May you feel in your body the lifting of gratitude this Thanksgiving Season, and may your gratitude be coupled with joy.


"Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open."  ~ B.K.S. Iyengar