The Gratitude Post

thanks-418358_1280So, by this time every year, everyone’s talking about,
re-posting, or writing their own virtually-obligatory article about gratitude.

I have mixed feelings about this topic.

My thoughts begin with this article that I’ve kept coming back to this month. It posits that our hearts have an electromagnetic field that extends up to 5 feet from our bodies, through which we are energetically sharing what we feel with others all the time. Thus, when we hold positive feelings in our hearts, we increase our own frequency and can share what we’re feeling with others. Once we become grounded in this awareness, we get to be in charge of what we project out into the world. The energetic realm is quite amazing, no?

Then there’s this other side of gratitude that’s so cliche. I lump it in with the mainstream messaging we are constantly fed around positivity and happiness, which I think Barbara Ehrenreich totally nailed in her 2009 book, Bright Sided. These are not feelings we relate with very authentically. In western culture, we overplay the need to be positive all the time, which I think often causes our positive expressions to lose power and meaning. (Hallmark holidays come to mind…) Barbara, through this book, you validated me at a time when I really needed it. Oh…

I teach yoga in a women’s prison. I was there last night, the night before Thanksgiving, and shared both of these ideas with them — that we can spread positive sentiment and actually affect other people simply by feeling it AND that gratitude is something we can all work toward, but sometimes, it just doesn’t come….and that’s okay. You’re actually not a bad person if you can’t “think positively” or conjure up something you’re thankful for. Sometimes it feels like it’s blasphemous to say I’m not happy right now or I’m not feeling positive or grateful or hopeful or whatever it is… it doesn’t mean that state will persist forever. It shouldn’t create a certain judgment about you as a person.

It’s ok to question. It’s ok to feel down or faithless. Feeling things fully is what allows us to move through those states. Why is it so difficult for human beings to hold  two opposites at once? Why can’t both of these things be true?








Live to Conserve

compassion_jackkornfieldThe autumnal equinox has come and gone. We’ve transitioned out of daylight-saving time, at least in the majority of the US, which means the end-of-year holidays are rapidly approaching. We’re given mixed messages at this time of year. We consent to this widespread social practice of setting our clocks back an hour, allowing shorter-feeling days and a little more darkness into our lives. But how many of us are willing to honor the winter months as a time to conserve energy? Further, if we do value this opportunity, how many of us actually behave like it through the holiday season? Hmm, I thought so…

Notice How You Feel

As we head into the next 6 weeks of rapid-fire celebration, now is a better time than ever to practice energy-saving measures that can help you feel more supported from within through all the output. You know…the giving. The hosting. The attending. The socializing. The baking. The shopping. The hurrying. The putting of others before ourselves. Don’t get me wrong — nurturing our relationships and cultivating community are beautiful and necessary parts of life. “It’s just too easy to get caught up in all there is to do,” we say, but when the “doing” gets out of control, it ends up negating the joy and sense of connection may be seeking in the first place.

As I grow older and more experienced in the art of being human, I find it easier to honor the necessity of rest and recovery. I had a light bulb moment recently, in which I realized something terribly obvious, yet indispensable: I need to take responsibility for my own energy output. Literally, no one else can do that for me! I think we worry others will perceive us as being selfish or neglectful of responsibilities by making this choice, but in the long run if you’re depleted, you simply won’t be able to give in the ways desire most.

The Sensations of Stress

So, how does “burned out” actually manifest in the body? It might present in the form of tension headaches, insomnia, or digestive issues. But have you ever experienced a feeling of deep fatigue in your center that manifests as an ache in the kidney area — an itch, almost? It’s a tell-tale sign that your sympathetic nervous system working overtime and it’s connected not only with your activity level and what you put in your body, but also what’s happening in your mind. Personally, I find its onset strongly correlates with my level of emotional output over a period of time. Energetically speaking, it’s interesting to note that this area of the body correlates with the 3rd chakra manipura (this name for the solar plexus chakra translates to “lustrous gem”), which governs matters of personal power, confidence and will. It’s no coincidence that this is home to many of our major organs, including the adrenals — a key player in the stress response.

The Practice

One of the reasons yoga is so transformative is that it can bring about measurable shifts in our neurobiology. Things like changing posture, shifting the quality of your thoughts and even wearing a different expression on your face can actually influence change in the brain and help to reinforce new habits. When total depletion strikes or I’m feeling “wired and tired” (simultaneously alert and deeply exhausted), I try to remember to change my shape. There’s no better go-to for me than viparita karani or legs-up-the-wall pose. This pose routinely brings about a measurable downshift in my mind, body and nervous system in the span of less than 10 minutes. Focusing on settling into my back body and allowing the floor to receive me, I try to let go of my need to give. To move forward. To make progress. To gain something. To make everything work. To ensure everyone else is content before I can rest.

This holiday season, I invite you to embrace a downshift of your own. Exercise the right to listen to your body’s needs. Leave white space on your calendar. Do a restorative yoga pose or two in the middle of the day or before bed. Wrap yourself in blankets and hide from the world for a time. Avoid saying yes when you mean no. The best part? This takes practice. It is a practice. One that will help you more skillfully and effortlessly choose what is right for you in each moment — and it’s a huge step toward leading the more sustainable life you crave.