Thursday, November 28, 2013

Practice Gratitude

To me, belly dance is part of a bigger picture. It's part of a lifestyle that I've purposely chosen and designed. A lifestyle that honors my passions and nurtures my soul. And that lifestyle includes a lot of other components, or as I like to think of them practices, as well - holistic eating, giving back to my community, caring for my loved ones, expanding my world through travel, making time for regular exercise, and many more. Some of these I do well, some not so well.  But all these practices weave together to create a life that is balanced. And one of the practices that has been on my mind lately is the practice of gratitude.

Of course, with the Thanksgiving holiday, when not overshadowed by turkey and gravy, the idea of gratitude is probably discussed more at this time of year than any other.  And it's such a remarkably simple practice. At it's most basic, all it involves is taking a moment of reflection on all the blessings that we have in life.  And why is taking this step back into gratitude so important? Numerous studies and scientists have researched the effect of gratitude on the human psyche and they consistently report a host of benefits:
  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated
Despite it's simplicity and benefits, being grateful can be so easy to forget as well. When the pressures of daily life come crashing down, it's easy to focus on the ugly, the negative, and what we want to change. Our focus becomes targeted on the crack in the pottery, rather than appreciating the beauty of our lives as a whole. At least I know mine does if I don't remind myself to step back, see the bigger picture, and be present with what is.

But practicing gratitude goes beyond just being grateful for the shiny, sparkly portions of life. What about being grateful for the challenges? I think this is where the meat and potatoes of a gratitude practice lies. When challenges and trials come our way, it can be hard to not let them drag us down.  We become mired in the muck and stuck in a mode of suffering. But it's the hard, gritty parts of life that refine who we are. Our challenges shape us and define us. It's the Universe's way of honing and forging our authentic selves. Looking back at the most painful experiences I've had in my own life, they've turned out to be the most transformative. It was these experiences that pushed me to my breaking points, and that when I came out the other side, I was more than I was before. This is where our real opportunity lies to practice gratitude.

If you're feeling like me and want to step up your gratitude practice, here's a few ideas on ways to embrace gratitude in your own life:

1. Start a gratitude calendar. I simply love this idea, and starting January 1st I'm going to be setting one of these up. Just think, with less than a minute each day you can reset into the mindfulness of gratitude and after a few years, what a lovely record you'll have to reflect back on.

2. Watch Louie Schwartzberg's Ted Talk on gratitude.

3. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you in your past, maybe a teacher, spouse, mentor, or coach. Let them know what their help has meant to you.

4. Take a vow of gratitude for 1 day, 7 days, or a month. A vow of gratitude is like a vow of silence, only instead of saying nothing at all, you say only positive things. Don't complain, criticize, or gossip. And if you start thinking these things, gently remind yourself to return to a place of gratitude. See how this makes you feel. How much time and energy were you using on negativity?

5. Start a family practice of gratitude. It's fairly common on Thanksgiving to go around the table and have everyone say what they are thankful for. It's a beautiful moment. So why not do this everyday as your family sits down for dinner? Or even try it with your coworkers over lunch?

Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

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