Ahhh… a month of Gratitude to practice, behold and share.  Gratitude certainly doesn’t end after the turkey is eaten, the pumpkin pie is gobbled up and 3/4 of your guests are comatose on the couch.  Begin your practice today with a few of my favorite meditations on gratitude and keep your journal handy as you may want to jot down bits and pieces of thankfulness along the way.  And after your big Thanksgiving meal, turn your gaze inward as your digestive system says “Thanks”.  Expressing gratitude can benefit your own health as well.  Benefits include better sleep, fewer physical ailments, and a better ability to cope with stressful situations.

The Breath
Three Part Breath (Durga Pranayama) with Hands to Belly and Heart

This is one of my favorite breaths because I can actually feel the movement of the breath through my body, like a “hands on”.  This brings greater breath awareness and it is considered a “complete” breath where the entire lungs are filled up.  I use it to calm me down, center, become more in tune with my physical body.

Can be done either laying down, seated or standing.  Try all three positions.
Begin the first part of the breath by placing one hand on your belly, the other hand on your heart. Inhale long and deep to the belly. Feel the abdomen press against your palm and fingers with inhale. Keep breathing in to chest so that it rises.  Exhale from heart to belly feeling the chest fall and the belly deflate with the exhale.  Stay for as many breaths as you feel comfortable.  Inhaling from belly to heart and   exhaling from heart to belly.  Feel the connection between the two. The breath may be so deep and full that the complete breath may even be felt to the base of the skull.

The Poses

Supported Forward Fold with Legs Extended (Paschimottasana)

Benefits: calming, gently stretches lower back, nice transition from the days activities.  A good pose to do if you need a few minutes break from your daily work, easy to do and easily accessible.  Good for headaches.  Breathing is easier since muscles of the respiratory system are relaxed. Massage for the digestive system.

Props: bolster, 1-2 blankets, block
Sit on a folded blanket and extend legs out in front of you. Place bolster lengthwise along the legs adding a blanket or block to top as headrest. Lay your upper body on bolster and rest your forehead on blanket or block. Arms can drape on bolster, along side or any other comfortable position. 

Revolved Twist

Props: bolster, 3 blankets, 1 extra blanket for warmth and or laying on lower back to ground

Benefits: Gentle twist for the spine (quadratus lumborom) Releases stress on the back muscles and a stretch to the intercostal muscles. As muscles relax, breathing is enhanced.

Set one bolster lengthwise on your mat.  Depending upon your comfort, height can be elevated with blocks under bolster. Lay one blanket on top double-fold and one double-fold at end of bolster where your right hip will go. Sit next to bolster with your right hip touching it, bend knees, left or top ankle can lay in arch of right foot or other comfortable position for feet. For added comfort, place blanket between legs. Lengthen body over bolster, laying bent legs in one directions and upper body facing down on bolster. Arms drape down sides of the bolster.

Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddhakonasana)

Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. 
Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow

Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. We used the wall in this week’s class placing the bolster at a higher elevation. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees)  Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment.  Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.

The Inspiration

Gratitude and Contentment – What Do They Have in Common?

I’ll begin this little dissertation with a poem that I read in class.

When you don’t know what you want,
it’s probably time to begin enjoying what you have.

Voila! Being grateful for what you have is one path towards contentment.   Gratitude is an offering that when practiced regularly with breath, postures, meditation, mindfulness can pave the way to contentment.  Contentment is not about complacency, disregard for others,  not being in touch with reality. Swami Shraddhananda put it so eloquently on his essay onSantosha, the sanksrit word for contentment, 

Contentment is a mental decision, a moral choice, a practiced observance, a step into the reality of the cosmos. Contentment/santosha is the natural state of our humanness and our divinity and allows for our creativity and love to emerge. It is knowing our place in the universe at every moment. It is unity with the largest, most abiding, reality.

The practices listed above are not mutually exclusive either.  While in a Warrior Two, breath deep and send some thanks to your strong legs as the hold you up.  Meditation combined with a deep diaphragmatic breath and a mantra of thanks can also be an effective way to cultivate contentment.  Try a 40 Day Gratitude Journal listing the major things in your life that you are grateful for.  As you proceed with the journal entries, you may start to notice and be thankful for the little things as well.  Your heart may begin to open up more and let ease, peace and santosha in.  Recently, I’ve changed the image on the blog to my cat, Maxine, for the month of November as a reminder to all of us that contentment is for everyone. I see and feel that she is content.  Granted her daily responsibilities are not  the same as mine but she is a cat with her own cat survival responsibilities.  She stretches, she breathes, she is completely in the moment as she hears the birds, chases the butterflies and flees from me catching her.  But her heart is open. She has this uncanny sense to come to me when I am upset.  She greets each of us by the window when we come home.  She is my daily reminder.

Gratitude Meditation with Breath

Sit comfortably. Close your eyes and, for a few moments, focus on the gentle movement of your breath.
Then begin pausing briefly after each inhalation and exhalation.

As you inhale, visualize receiving the elements of your life – experiences, people who have touched you, things you are capable of – with gratitude. Pause after each reflection and take a moment to integrate and appreciate feeling fulfilled by these gifts.

As you exhale, imagine sharing that sense of fulfillment with others. Pause again and imagine others – your family, community, the world at large – receiving your offering with a similar sense of gratitude.

Continue this cycle – inhale/pause, exhale/pause – for several minutes, and then shift your focue back to the subtle movement of your breath before opening your eyes.

Source: Yoga Journal, December 2008