Expressing gratitude is a wonderful way of encouraging positivity and letting go of a negative state of mind. In Sanskrit, gratefulness means Kritajna, which is formed from ‘Krita’, meaning cultivated or acquired and ‘jna’ which means a state of consciousness or awareness. In classical yoga, the practice of Niyamas helps one develop gratitude. Practicing Santosha (contentment), Tapas (perseverance) and Swadhyaya (self-study) are steps towards cultivating gratitude. And, most importantly, observing Ishvara Pranidhana (surrendering to God) is the most impactful step in developing gratitude.
In today’s modern world too, expressing gratitude is encouraged as it is known to promote happiness and joy, boost energy and one’s spirits, encourage creativity and develop deep connections with those around. It even elevates stress, anxiety and depression and helps you feel more fulfilled. There are many yoga related practices that help cultivate gratitude. Here are the top seven ways to cultivate gratitude.
How to cultivate gratitude with yoga
Set an intention
Setting an intention or ‘Sankalpa’. Creating an intention of gratitude before and after your practice makes your practice powerful and acts as a guiding force after your yoga session too. An effective Sankalpa is short, positive and captures your wish or goal for yourself and if benefiting others. Your Sankalpa or intention can change everyday or be the same for a few days - it’s really completely up to you. Here are a few examples of gratitude statements:
- I am thankful for the abundance in my life.
- I am thankful for the joy and happiness I feel with each breath.
- I am thankful for the wonderful people in my life.
Express gratitude with meditation
With the fast-paced lives we live today, we often don’t stop to observe our thoughts, focus on the positive and eliminate the negative. With regular meditation, you can develop mindfulness that allows you to focus on the positive. Take out 10-20 minutes a day to simply sit quietly, breathe deeply and focus on the positive things in your life. Or, join a live meditation class where a teacher will guide you through observing your thoughts and being in the present. There are many effective meditations such as Loving-kindness meditation, Breath meditation and Mindfulness meditation that are effective for this.
Mantras for gratitude
Mantra chanting is also a powerful way to cultivate gratitude. It activates thankfulness, fosters compassion, kindness, forgiveness and peace. One such mantra is Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, which is a universal mantra for happiness for all. It means ‘may all beings everywhere be happy and free’.
Breath is the vehicle of our lives. It carries us forward from one moment to the next, fuelling us with energy and ‘Prana’. Developing the habit of breathing consciously serves as a reminder to the thankful for this life and establishes a strong connection with your consciousness and the universal consciousness. Even while practicing yoga asanas, by breathing consciously, you can develop a strong connection between your true self and positivity you cultivate with your practice.
Anjali Mudra or Namaste Mudra
Bringing your hands together in the prayer position in front of the heart center symbolizes prayer or offering, thus making it a sign of expressing gratitude. This is also the first step in the practice of Surya Namaskar, where the hands are brought together in Namaste Mudra while standing in Tadasana as a sign of expressing gratitude to Surya or the sun. You can also end your yoga session with a mantra chant and Anjali Mudra to head back into your day with a sense of gratitude and thankfulness.
Practicing heart opening yoga asanas
Backbends or heart-opening asanas activate the heart chakra, known as the Anahata Chakra. By activating the heart center you can cultivate compassion, kindness, love and gratitude. With backbends such as the camel pose and cobra pose, blockages in the heart center are released, Prana flows freely and the system is energized. Try holding the postures for a little longer and focusing on your Sankalpa when in the posture.
Practice Karma yoga
Karma yoga is the yoga of action. It is the practice of doing something selfless for others in the community and society. Offering help to those in need, voluntarily picking up rubbish along your walking path, helping out at an orphanage or an old age home, among others. These are small and simple acts of kindness that promote positivity, bring joy to others and encourage inner peace.
Making it a habit to say thank you to others and even in your thoughts towards a positive occurrence is a simple way to make space for gratitude. Say thank you to your yoga teacher after a class, silently say thank you to your fellow-students for being on this journey with you, thank you to yourself for showing up and practicing yoga regularly, etc are small ways to start. You can even keep track of your gratitude practices initially until they become a daily habit for you, and then you continue to find many ways to incorporate it everyday throughout life.