From my experience, millennials seem to thrive on multitasking and hustling from one day to the next, and while I applaud our generation's unyielding determination and drive, I think what a lot of us lack is balance. Blame it on social media or a cut-throat job market, but we're constantly on the go, and while that might be necessary for our career paths or just to keep up with society in general, we rarely, if ever, pause for a moment and give thanks for the here, now, and what we've already been given in this life. An easy way to express our appreciation to both the universe and our individual selves is to practice yoga for gratitude.
I began practicing yoga as a coping mechanism for my anxiety. At first, the cultural aspect felt a little awkward for me, as a person who used to only go to the gym to exercise. I was coming from a world of barbells, HIIT cardio, loud pump-up music, and even louder crowds, where training was mostly about pushing your body to lift heavier and sprint faster.
Yoga, on the other hand, is equal parts body, mind, and spirit. The second you step onto the mat -- be it on your living room floor or in a studio space -- you're not only engaging in graceful movements, but the practice itself becomes a lesson that focuses on how your energy is connected to the universe.
If I've learned anything from my yoga instructors and solo practices, it's that when you put out love and gratitude into the universe, it all comes back to you.
In fact, there are actually specific yoga poses dedicated to inspiring gratitude.
In her book Idiots Guides: Ayurveda, certified Ayurvedic, holistic, and sports nutritionist Sahara Rose explains how the mind and body are interconnected, and that when you implement heart- and hip-opening poses into your flow, “you're sending signals of gratitude to your mind.” She tells Elite Daily,
One of my favorites is wheel pose, called 'urdhva dhanurasana' in Sanskrit. The wheel-pose, a heart-opener, allows you to express yourself openly to new opportunities and love. Any heart-opener requires vulnerability, which is essential for a gratitude practice. Through practicing this pose, you are saying to the universe, 'Yes I am open to whatever you have in store for me and grateful for it all.'
Incorporate wheel pose into your own practice by lying on your back with bended knees, keeping your feet hip-width apart. From there, place your arms behind your head, palms pushing against the floor, fingertips facing your shoulders. Once you have the correct form, push up with your hands and feet, and move in a circular motion, like a wheel.
Yoga poses like this are designed to awaken the body, but they're also developed with the intention of sparking emotions, and these sporadic moments of passionate emotion are nothing short of deliciously satisfying.
Power poses, especially, spark feelings of self-assurance.
I truly believe positivity is contagious and that a favorable mindset can change your entire perspective on the world, a specific situation, a person, or even yourself.
CNN reports that, according to a 2010 study performed by Harvard researchers, "power poses" that require you to sustain an open-body posture for two minutes or more "decrease cortisol and increase testosterone, a confidence-boosting hormone, for less anxiety and more self-assuredness."
The first step to feeling grateful for your body, of course, involves self-love, but it's also important to push your body to new heights, which is exactly what a yoga practice can do for you.
These practices can also encourage gratitude for the physical body.
As someone with a history of body dysmorphia and disordered eating habits, doing yoga once or a few times throughout the week has helped me come to terms with my mental illness by rebuilding a healthy relationship with my body.
Because there are no weights or machines involved in the practice, you really have to rely on the strength of your own body and trust that your legs, arms, and core are capable of bringing you into the next pose with grace.
Jamison Monroe, Jr., a yoga instructor and founder and CEO of Newport Academy, tells Elite Daily that yoga is particularly constructive for those who suffer from body image issues because there's a sense of “coming home to your body” that cultivates feelings of gratitude, self-awareness, and above all, self-acceptance.
Positive affirmations, or mantras, are ways to express those feelings of gratitude and appreciation for both ourselves and the universe.
Oftentimes at the beginning, tail end, or even threaded into the content of a class, yoga instructors will have their students repeat either a word or phrase in Sanskrit (one of the ancient languages of India used during yoga practices) or their native tongue to spread positive thoughts and feelings of gratitude.
In any exercise, it's easy to lose yourself in the physical motions and aspire to perfect each movement or pose. So taking the time for these little moments of reflection can help remind you why you're practicing in the first place.
Monroe tells Elite Daily,
A simple mudra (hand gesture), such as Anjali mudra -- hands in prayer position at the heart center -- can increase our sense of connectedness with ourselves and with the world around us, which catalyzes gratitude.
There are also specific Sanskrit mantras designed to help cultivate an attitude of gratitude, such as 'Kritajna Hum' (I am gratitude) and 'Dhanya Vad' (I feel gratitude). Repeating these mantras helps us focus on the quality of gratitude.
The language and mantras woven into each practice are really what makes yoga less of a program and more of a lifestyle. You might not be able to drop into a down dog at any given moment of the day, but you can take a few minutes -- even seconds -- to acknowledge words of positivity and gratitude.
Above all else, the happier you are, the more grateful you're bound to feel.
Because I'm so hyper-focused during each practice, my resting b*tch face is all too real. But the truth is, unless I'm struggling to master a pose, I'm genuinely having a blast when I do yoga. And while I'm a firm believer that there is good in all aspects of life, that there's always light hidden among the darkness, there's no denying that when you feel happy, you're more grateful about what you have in this life.
There are so many awesome, complex movements in yoga that can make your practice feel more like training rather than a spiritual session. But if you drop the pressure, all that's left is free, therapeutic movement that can feel almost childlike.
Writer and happiness coach Silvia Mordini explained on Do You Yoga,
Often the biggest mistake we make as yoga students is taking the yoga too seriously. This makes yoga harder than it should be and is counterproductive. There are benefits to digging deeper and striving [for] our best, but the way we practice doesn't need to create more tension.
Happiness in, happiness out. There are so many ways that practicing yoga can inspire gratitude both on and off the mat. Find your way, get into something comfy, and stay thankful for the universe, for loved ones, and for your individual self.