Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie

gratitude

I often recommend cultivating a gratitude practice to the cancer survivors I work with. Why? Because it is easy to become consumed by anxiety and fear and to get overwhelmed by everything you need to do to take care of yourself. Gratitude – thinking of something you’re grateful for and feeling that in the heart – shifts you out of negativity. That in turn has an affect on the body. It affects mood and your sense of well-being.

I use gratitude as a way to stop my chattering mind and come into the present moment. Sometimes I’m acutely aware of this chattering “monkey mind,” so instead of letting it run wild, I think of things I’m grateful for. There are usually plenty of things even when I’m not having a good day. I’m grateful that the weather is nice or if it’s not, that I have a warm car that is running well. I’m grateful that I have people around me that love me; that I have an awesome pair of cats; that I live in a country that, while it has its problems, is still pretty great; that I get to do work that is gratifying. What I notice then is a shift in the feeling tone in my body. Feeling tone is a particular quality of awareness measured in terms of pleasantness and unpleasantness. Gratitude shifts me into a pleasant feeling tone.

You can practice gratitude toward other people – your support people, caregivers; the doctors and nurses and other people who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping you heal. You can be grateful for a smile from a stranger on the street or a bubbly personality on the other end of the phone. Cultivate gratitude for the small brightenings of the day.

You can also direct gratitude toward yourself. Thank yourself for getting to yoga class, for taking care of yourself. Thank your self for being patient or for enduring discomfort, fear, and uncertainty during a difficult time. Even when things are especially hard, being grateful for what’s going right can be helpful.

I feel gratitude each day for the circumstances that have brought me to this fascinating work. I feel gratitude that my job is to work with the whole person. I’m continuously heartened that so many people share their deepest hopes, fears and loves with me. I’m grateful that this work asks me to be my best self.

Gratitude can connect you to your heart and, given that we live in a world that seems to require us to reside in our intellects, this is a gift. Gratitude connects us to ourselves and to others through the heart.

The Diaphragmatic Breath

Of all the breathing techniques I teach the diaphragmatic breath is the most foundational and useful. I especially recommend it in times of anxiety or crisis since it slows down your breath and helps to relieve tension.

Here’s how it goes: place a hand on your belly. As you inhale, gently expand your belly outward and downward. Your hand will feel the belly expand. As you exhale you can either just soften the belly or, more actively, pull the belly in towards your spine. Minimize the movement of the rib cage with the breath and maximize the movement of the belly. Do this for about a minute then breathe normally.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that lives just behind the low ribs. When you breathe in, the diaphragm moves downward and outward, pushing the abdominal organs out. This action is actually what causes the inhalation – the downward action creates a vacuum, causing air to rush into the lungs. As you exhale the diaphragm softens upward, back to its resting state.

For some people the diaphragm holds tension and they find it difficult to expand the belly on the inhalation. Their rib cage wants to expand on the inhalation and the belly pulls in. Know that this is okay; that you’ve gotten along just fine all these years breathing like this and you’ll probably make it a good deal longer. But it’s that tension in the diaphragm that we’d like to address. Releasing that tension has a domino effect on tension in the rest of the body. This deep, relaxing breath will encourage any unnecessary tension to release and dissipate.