Joan Moran, who leads yoga classes for faculty and staff for UCLA Recreation's FITWELL program, is a keynote speaker on fitness and wellness. She is the author of "Sixty, Sex, & Tango: Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer." Her opinion piece appeared Oct. 28, 2013, in the Huffington Post.
Meister Eckhart, a 13th century mystic, wrote, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'thank you,' that would suffice."
The holiday season is always an appropriate time to take a few minutes, pause, and reflect on the gifts you've been given, the people you love and cherish, and the opportunities you are afforded in life. It is my experience that giving gratitude with consciousness and pure intentions reduces stress and brings greater joy to your celebrations.
According to UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps the gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive, and less resistant. Now that's a really cool way of taking care of your well-being as you go through not just the holiday season but the rest of your life.
After every yoga class I teach, I ask my students to reflect on gratitude for several moments. We end the class with the acknowledgement that we've been given many gifts in life. Mindful daily recognition of gratitude creates an environment of positive emotion and a positive mental state. Having an attitude of gratitude inspires clear intention, reduces self-doubt, and empowers you to greatness.
The following questions (and their honest answers) will help you grow your attitude of gratitude during the holidays:
Ask who in your life — past and present — has given you inspiration, motivation, love, support, and guidance.
These people can be family, friends, teachers, mentors, or work colleagues. You carry these people around like angels on your shoulders because they are always giving you energy. Take a moment to acknowledge them and give thanks that that they are in your life. You can follow up with a note or phone call of thanks to let them know that they matter to you.
Ask what skills, talents, personal characteristics, values, beliefs, and education opportunities you utilize every day and are you grateful for.
The one stable gift that I am grateful for is my ability to teach. This is the gift I cannot live without because it leads to other fabulous learning and knowing experiences as well as different skill sets. You will recognize your greatest talents and gifts by reflecting on the values and beliefs that you live by and personal characteristics that you have developed. Ask yourself what gift keeps on giving for you. What gifts will change your life mightily?
Ask where you have been in your life that has deeply affected you emotionally, intellectually, physically or spiritually.
In what ways have experiences outside your normal daily activities positively influenced your life? It is likely you have experienced some travel during your life. The places you visited, the people you met, perhaps from other cultures have broadened your life, influenced your view of the world and affected your sense of self within your community. Take time during the holidays and reflect on how these powerful experiences have shaped who you are today.
Ask how you normally express your gratitude.
Do you express gratitude daily? And if you are not taking the time to do so, why not? It is easy to forget to say thank you because our lives are so busy and filled with "to-dos" and "musts." Make it a habit at least twice a day to find a quiet place to pause and say thank you for your gifts. Reach out to friends by phone or email to say thank you to them for being in your life because they cherish you and give you support and love. Acknowledge and be grateful for your loving community.
Ask what negative situation could be a positive in your life.
Why should you be grateful for the negative things that happen to you in life? Life isn't perfect. Bad stuff happens. But inside every negative experience is a positive experience waiting to happen. Eliminating the negative self-talk you put yourself through develops stronger mental health habits. It allows you to become more accepting of everything that happens in life — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the process of removing negativity creates the opportunity for growth and transformation.
Practicing daily gratitude not only produces more gratitude and more abundance, but it sets the tone for a joyful holiday season. Happy holidays, everyone!