The life-changing practice of gratitude

Many years ago, I left my career as a corporate executive in order to seek a meaningful life through Yoga. I knew this would be a big transition, but I was not prepared for the realities of losing the identity I had previously known. 

I was driving on the freeway one day during the height of this life change when I suddenly felt very dizzy. I quickly pulled the car over and sat on the side of the road. As I listened to the traffic buzzing by me, I felt completely empty and lost. I knew this was the direction I wanted to go, but my new life meant I was making one tenth of my previous salary and had none of the perks that come with a powerful job. I had spent most of my life working and going from one vacation to the next, always looking for the next big thing to occupy my thoughts. Wanting was my typical state of mind, but I finally realized that what I wanted was to no longer want. 

Shortly after that moment on the side of the road, I began to make a daily practice of gratitude. Each morning during meditation I spent a few moments reflecting on what I had, and each night I wrote out everything that I enjoyed about my life. I saw that I had good health, good friends, a place to live and a fulfilling spiritual path. As I shifted my focus to what I had instead of what I wanted, my life opened up and became smoother. 

Nearly 30 years later, I still include this practice of gratitude every day. And I continually find deeper appreciation for what I have and the life I am living. 

Simple practices of gratitude

Gratitude changes everything. It can move you from a state of lack to one in which you understand that you have everything you need to thrive in this moment. It helps you see that the experience of life is a gift, one you can cherish each day.

How often do you appreciate what you have? I recommend doing it at least daily, but the more you express thanks for what you have been given, the more you will find to be thankful for. Here are three of my favorite practices:

  1. Begin and end your day with a statement of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal near your bed that you add to each day. During those times when you need a reminder of what you have in life, take a look through the pages.

  2. Be grateful for your meals. Gratitude is good for digestion. Before each meal, spend a moment honoring all who brought you that food. The farmers, the cooks and mother nature have all done a lot to bring you this nourishment.

  3. Count out the simple things you have. A bed to sleep on, a meal, a friend to talk to -- you’ll be surprised to see how much is available to you. When you express appreciation for the small things, you welcome greater abundance in your life.

Remember to practice gratitude during the difficult times, as well as when life flows with ease. Being grateful doesn’t mean challenges go away, but having this perspective allows you to climb to a higher place and get a better view of what you’re going through. After all, challenges are gifts that help you let go of your lower ego and connect with your higher self. 

​Samtosha: You have enough

There are times when we all feel that we could use something more in our lives. The Yoga practice of samtosha, or contentment, asks us to be at peace with what is available to us in each moment. This is quite similar to the practice of gratitude, and you’ll find that one leads to the other. When you see that what you have is enough and stop striving for more of what you think will make you happy, you will find inner calm, clarity and the ability to step into the flow of life. When you are walking with this flow, you will experience joy and find that the universe will provide what you truly need at the perfect time. 

When you resist what is in front of you and live in an ideal future or past, you are working against the flow where it is harder to manifest what you need. This resistance can look like frustration, anxiety or impatience. Find a place in your life for inward reflection through pranayama, meditation or other spiritual practices and focus on being in the present moment. Step by step, you’ll build samtosha and find many things to be grateful for. 

Remember this: The universe never stops providing what you need to grow as spirit. Find appreciation for that alone and you’ll never run out of things to be thankful for.

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