Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude always makes one feel better but the following list is some of the ways it’s been proven to help.

  1. Gratitude opens doors to more relationships in one’s life. A 2004 study in Emotion found thanking new acquaintances make them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. Be sure to send that thank you note and acknowledge someone holding the elevator door or letting you step ahead of them in line!
  2. Gratitude enhances physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other folks, a 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences. They also have better self care practices, exercise more often and follow through on regular check-ups.
  3. Gratitude improves psychological health and reduces toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, frustration and regret. Robert Emmons, a researcher who conducts gratitude studies, says it increases well-being and happiness and decreases depression.
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and decreases aggressions. A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky found that people with a conscious sense of gratitude were more likely to behave in a prosocial manner and less likely to retaliate to negative interactions or feedback. They also had increased sensitivity, empathy and a decreased desire for revenge.
  5. Gratitude helps you sleep better. Keeping a gratitude journal 15 min. before bed has shown to promote better quality sleep found a 2011 study in Applied Psychology and Well-Being.
  6. Gratitude increases self-esteem. A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology found that athletes with gratitude practices had higher self-esteem which tended to translate into higher performance. It also reduces social comparisons, a mine field for shaky self-worth, and helps one to appreciate other’s accomplishments.
  7. Gratitude increases mental strength, decreases stress and helps overcome trauma. A 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found gratitude to be the major contributor to resilience after the terrorist attacks on September 11. Noticing what one does have to be grateful for, even during the worst times, fosters resilience.

*Adapted from Psychology Today

Happiness and the Role Gratitude Plays

So it turns out our brains aren’t wired to see the “glass half full.” Instead there is the negativity bias. Thousands of years back it gave humans the advantage by training the brain to see the danger signs and avoid harm or death. Now it means we are hardwired to notice and store negative experiences more than positive ones. Negative and positive comments are actually processed in different hemispheres of the brain and the negative ones typically require more processing and attention setting the stage for even further rumination. There are some strategies to overcome this bias. Taking the time daily to look for something that makes you smile, laugh or cultivates feelings of love or gratitude and taking a photo. Look at the photo at the end of the day, and again at the end of the week all together. This process trans the brain to watch for moments to capture, refocusing one’s attention on the positive, meaningful parts of the day and away from stress and negativity.

Another technique is a centering exercise designed to shift thinking from “I’ll be happy once all the great things I want to happen, happen,” which pushes happiness into the future rather than noticing what is currently pleasant and positive in one’s life. Mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to increase activity in the left part of the frontal region or the brain the area responsible for positive emotions like optimism. Ralph De La Rosa, meditation teacher, therapist and author of The Monkey is the Messenger, suggests the the “5-3-1-1” practice first thing in the morning. While in bed, take five slow, steady, conscious breaths. Think of three things you’re grateful for. Smile one real smile. Set one intention for your day. Developing simple but positive habits like this not only set a clear tone for the day, help you be more present and optimistic it may also help boost energy levels and work performance. When you focus on the present good, you’re actually more likely to excel!

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I find myself thinking more and more about gratitude and the role it plays in our lives. Most of us can easily identify big moments of gratitude whether in the form of protection; a near miss of a collision while driving, a clean and clear outcome on a health screening, the birth of a healthy baby, as well as things going our way with promotions/salary increases, getting accepted to our top college pick, approval on the financing for the purchase of our dream house. But what about the quieter, more subtle moments? How many of us truly begin and end our days with consistent thoughts of gratitude? What about the spaces in between. How often do we notice all the objects in our midst that help accommodate our lives? I love what Mr. Iyengar says about attachment (raga), the fusion and over identification between the ego and an object in it’s possession. It is so easy to become attached to objects due to status, beauty or even deep personal meaning. Iyengar advises that the correct attitude to our possessions is gratitude, not ownership. For example toward our car we are grateful that it transports us safely and allows us to see places we would not otherwise have seen, rather than being an extension of self, displaying status, style or privilege. This computer I’m typing on is an instrument of communication and a means of expression instead of the slickest new technology I’m cool enough to posses. Whether it is “my” car or computer is irrelevant.

In India there is a annual ceremony in which participants garland their household objects and thank them for the service they render. This ritual conveys a belief that they “borrow” the object’s services for a certain time and are grateful. It’s a lovely practice and may prove helpful in reminding us that we are not the sum of our stuff, yet we remain consciously and consistently grateful for the service they provide and the ease they bring.

Thought for the week

In thinking about the presence of stress in our lives, B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that a certain amount of tension and stress is required for moving and living and that we must differentiate unhealthy levels and negative stress from requisite stress. He explains that the main causes of negative stress are anger, fear, speed, greed, unhealthy ambition and competition, which produce a deleterious effect on the body and mind. “When one does good work with out selfish motives, though there is the stress of work, it is positive, and does not cause the far greater stress that comes from grasping and greed. The practice of asana, (the yoga poses) and pranayama, (the breathing exercises), not only de-stress you, but energize and invigorate the nerves and the mind in order to handle the stress that comes from the caprices of life.” He offers this analogy, “When it rains heavily, the water does not necessarily penetrate the earth. If the surface is dry and hard, the rain water floods the surface and runs off. But if it rains gradually, for many days continuously and the ground is moist, then the water seeps deep into the earth which is good for cultivation and for life. Similarly in ourselves, we must moisten our muscles and nerves through the expansion and extension of the various asana. In this way, the stress that saturates the brain is diffused throughout the rest of the body, so the brain is rested and released from strain and body releases its stress and strain through movement.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

Balance

” In every posture, the body, the mind, action and motion, as well as each breath of the physical, physiological, mental, and intellectual sheaths, have to be evenly balanced.”

                                                                                         -B.K.S. Iyengar from Yoga Wisdom and Practice

 

It’s Good to be Back

 Greetings everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I apologize for my absence. I have been focussing my attention on continuing education and study. I recently completed a course intensive on Prime Time Health and am so excited to share what I’ve learned with you! This is all science based information compiled to maximize good health, well being and enjoyment during the prime of your life, which is now!! Check in here regularly, for more healthy topics and tips to improve the quality of of your life. You are worth it!!!

On Retreat

I’m headed off to New Hampshire on a four day yoga retreat! I found out about this phenomenal event on social media, which has been buzzing about it for months, spurred on by a promotion conducted by The Marketing Heaven. The focus is “Cultivating a Yogic Mind,” exploring how one can find peace and equanimity during troubled times as well as empowering oneself to become a positive force in the world.

I am so grateful to have the time and opportunity to work with the world class teacher Patricia Walden and fully immerse myself in the study of asana, pranayama and yoga philosophy. I won’t be posting during this time but am looking forward to sharing my experiences when I return!  Namaste.

Are You Ready?

While attending my 10 year old twin boy’s Music Institute this summer we had a class with one Master Class instructor that required each student to begin their lesson by saying “I am ready to learn” and conclude with, “Thank you for teaching me.”  The interesting thing was the majority of the work with the students centered on getting them to break bad habits or make structural and/or foundational adjustments rather than learning exciting, new techniques or pieces. This required the student to tolerate close scrutiny followed by a range of often times minuscule adjustments, upending their long established and deeply ingrained playing process. Now most of us grown-ups don’t really embrace close scrutiny, especially in front of newly met peers, but probably are even more uncomfortable with having all our bad habits revealed then having to relearn basic skills followed by endless and often tedious repetition and practice, yet these children did just that with grace, humor, unbroken concentration and authentic gratitude! That even includes one of my twins, an avowed and committed curmudgeon.

It got me wondering about attitude and outlook and how it affects our willingness to look at ourselves and  our tendencies as well as life’s challenges, complications and crises. Imagine creating an approach to life events that typically are categorized as bad,  such as conflict with a friendship, a partnership break up or even job loss, with a true sense of curiosity and exploration. Shifting attention away from labels and judgments, self recrimination, blame and maintaining that shift by continually cultivating curiosity, as a way to achieve detachment, one of the key elements for emotional equanimity and stability. Our minds can only think about one thing at a time so when we are consumed with curiosity and in the flow state of discovery around a situation, we can’t simultaneously be perseverating on the injustices and difficulties of the same situation. We are much less likely to become overwhelmed with unproductive emotions or be at their mercy.

In the example of the violin students, at no point was any blame assigned by teacher or student, no emotional response provoked, simply thorough and penetrating questioning of what was occurring and why, then applied knowledge, experimentation for problem solving, followed by ongoing support and reinforcement. At no juncture was there a drop in interest, change in affect or resistance. One of my sons has a skeletal abnormality with his left (violin arm) arm and his week was spent making hand rotation and thumb height adjustments involving close examination by multiple instructors and a ton of experimentation with positioning to arrive at a functional alternative and compensation for this physical limitation. There was never a sense of being picked on or at, he never felt sorry for himself or even disadvantaged. There was simply acceptance for the reality of “what is” and a willingness to learn how to adapt and improve. Obviously the learning environment was conducive to the process by the exceptionally experienced, highly trained and deeply devoted faculty, but the population of children was pretty typical and normal; no extraordinarily enlightened kiddos here. Yet what resulted was a range  of adjustments from big to relatively subtle, reduction in strain, effort and physical discomfort but never an “easy” fix. The improvements were, without exception, substantial but all would require a long, mindful, tenacious journey of various exercises, drills and endless repetitions of early pieces to fully integrate the changes. With a different outlook the response to this process could easily have been negative, instead, it was embraced and acknowledged simply with “Thank you for teaching me.”

Present, Patient Practice

I came across an article in this morning’s sports section of the newspaper that highlighted the Tampa Bay Buc’s quarterback Jameis Winston. He is likely the hardest working player in Tampa Bay, up at 5:30 every morning in order to arrive early for practice, with a daily routine that schedules and accounts for almost every minute until day’s end at 9 p.m.. While certainly an admirable work ethic, that’s not exactly what caught my attention.

Winston believes that “progress is made in the little things, the tiny details.” He tracks all aspects of his practice carefully so at the end of each day he can trace whether it was successful, measured by his improvement in processing necessary information. He scrutinizes daily films evaluating areas of progress. He reminds himself that there are 31 other quarterbacks with similar goals and work ethics and asks himself daily what he is doing to make himself better than those other 31.

The main way he ensures that he is, is by resisting the urge to look ahead to the future imagining big games, playoffs or Super Bowl rings. Instead he stays focused on “what’s now.” The current drill, film session, healthy meal, current weight workout etc.. His coach helps reinforce this by instilling the mantra “patience.” As a companion mantra, he also emphasizes “understanding the situation that we’re working with in any moment, what the practice is that particular day and how he has to subtly adjust his game accordingly.” Sounds like yoga to me!

The practice of yoga, most readily accessible in the asanas or poses, is one of being present and accepting of “what is” in the moment. Our body/mind shifts constantly, always subtly and sometimes more dramatically and we must develop the maturity to tolerate the changes. As we become more dedicated and advanced practitioners, our powers of observation and awareness must keep pace. It’s not enough to simply progress to more challenging or impressive poses much like it’s not as helpful for the football players to simply practice play after play, they have to know where they are in the game. We as yogis need to know where we are in our “game”; the game of inhabiting ourselves, fully supported, truly aligned, moving with intelligence and integrity. We have to be honest that perhaps the lumbar flexibility of our present may or may not allow for all the backbending poses of our yesterday but if we are discerning, creative and adaptive in attitude and practice we can always discover alternatives. When we develop the awareness to notice the placement of our right big toe relative to the left, the effects of our habit of engagement for one shoulder blade compared to the other or how by moving the  skin of the hand from the outside edges inward creates a more evenly balanced  dog pose, we are on our way to subtle yet deeply profound change. Our ability and tenacity to integrate the necessary adjustments is what leads to transformation. That requires patience and long, uninterrupted, unceasing practice.

Winston’s coach allows that the player seems to be getting better at this business of patience, characterizing it as “slow and steady progress.” Winston himself says things are slowing down for him, in a good way. “Patience is a way of controlling everything. To be an effective game manager I always need to be calm, cool and collected. Everything can be going fast for others but it has to be slowed down for me. I have to be the person that brings everybody together and puts us on ‘chill mode.'”

This wisdom isn’t the byproduct of age, he’s 23. It comes with putting in the work, the intelligence of that work and the unceasing practice and patience sustained over long periods of time.

B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that there is a great difference between just practicing and sadhana. He says, “Sadhana is the way of accomplishing something. That something is by correct execution, the achievement of the real. What is real must be true and so lead us toward purity and emancipation. This is yoga sadhana and not the mechanical repetition merely of yoga practice. The end of yoga sadhana is wisdom. Here he is translating yoga sadhana as ‘the yoga pilgrimage’ as it is a journey that leads somewhere, not the mere treadmill of thoughtless practice. ” Hmm… words to practice by.  Namaste