The Gratitude Bridge
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
At the end of a yoga class, just before we bow in Namaste, I like to gently remind the class to be grateful for their body, to be grateful for their breath, and to be grateful for their day ahead. Why? Because it helps to be reminded that we are far more critical of our amazing bodies than we should be. It also helps to remember that the natural life support system we call ‘breathing’ is not something we should take for granted. And being reminded that another day alive is a wonderful and special gift, can completely change our perspective at the beginning of a new day.
In a nutshell, being thankful makes us feel better.
Now, at the end of a yoga class, most people are relaxed, tension free and more connected to their inner self; and that makes it easier to practice gratitude.
But what about when we are stuck in a stressful situation, or a negative frame of mind? How easy is it to be grateful then?
When I have my Life Coaching hat on, I sometimes meet with clients who are experiencing heavy, draining emotions like; stress, fear, anger, panic, frustration, doubt, sadness or grief. And more often than not, I find that practicing gratitude can be an excellent bridge to gently lead the human mind from a place of being buried in heavy emotions to a lighter, happier state of mind. I’m not saying it’s as easy as clicking on some gratitude button and hey presto, everyone is deliriously happy again. But being grateful for the good in life is definitely a step in the right direction. And it's an amazing habit to form.
When practiced regularly, gratitude can be used as a tool to keep us in a positive frame of mind, or to change the thought patterns swirling through our minds when things get us down. Gratitude can even be used as a way to train our brain to develop better habits and to create a healthier future.
So what do I mean by practicing gratitude exactly?
Well, it's the practice of being thankful, of quite literally "counting your blessings," both by taking note of things, feelings and situations to be grateful for; and expressing that gratitude to others when applicable. Sounds easy right, but it can be challenging too — especially if we're prone to dwelling on the negatives, as we all are on occasion. So in order to practice it, we have to be prepared to put in a regular effort toward thinking about what's awesome in our life.
Which is a pretty cool thing to get into the habit of , when you really think about it.
When I first introduce a client to practicing gratitude in a Life Coaching Session, I usually serve it up as a playful challenge, by asking them to name seven people, situations, things or feelings they are grateful for in their life. (Going as far as at least seven, helps the brain to make that shift away from the weight of the heavier emotions.)
For some clients, those seven things will roll off their tongue, and they are genuinely cracking a smile and feeling happier by the 7th. And once they’ve felt the shift toward this bridge of gratitude, we then talk about creating regular times in their lives to practice, and get better and better at it.
For others, depending on what they are dealing with in life, it can be more difficult to leave the negative frame of mind, or the roundabout of stress they find themselves in, and some will struggle to find even one thing they are grateful for in life.
With these clients, I kickstart things by making some suggestions, and from there we slowly begin to move toward the bridge.
Maybe you’re grateful for your favourite music, I might suggest, for movies that make you feel good, or for the electricity that lights up your life. Maybe you’re grateful for your pet, for your child, for your loved ones, for your eyes that enable you to see, and your ears that enable you to hear. Maybe you’re grateful for your imagination. Maybe you’re grateful that you can think, that you can speak, that you can laugh and smile. Maybe you’re grateful that you have a roof over your head, that you have food to eat, and clean water to drink. Maybe you’re grateful that you can breathe, that your body can move, and that you are alive!
Say ‘thank you’ (quietly or out loud, the choice is yours) for seven people, situations or feelings you have in life right now, and feel your frame of mind change for the better by the 7th.
Tip: The more you practice gratitude, the more of an impact it will have on your state of mind. So try to associate a certain time of the day, or task, with being thankful. Like each time you go up the stairs, or each time you walk your dogs, or each time you wash the dishes … try to find at least seven things, situations, or people to be thankful for.
And just to entice you a little further across that bridge, here are six mental changes you can look forward to when you begin practicing gratitude regularly.
1. Anxiety and depression symptoms will lessen
2. Your brain will flood with reward chemicals
3. Your hypothalamus will work better
4. You will be more resistant to stress
5. You will fall asleep more easily
6. You will experience more positive emotions overall
Have yourself an awesome day :)