The word grateful is described by Webster’s dictionary as being warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful. What if we put it into our daily practice, like brushing our teeth or getting dressed in the morning? What if, we took a moment to say thank you for being alive and breathing when we woke up and put our feet on the floor? How would that change your day, your week, your month, your year?! No one is saying you have to jump out of bed with exuberance, although wouldn’t that be lovely, but a simple ‘thank you’ to the creator, the universe for being alive. What a fantastic way to start the day!
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole world turned around.”
-Willie Nelson (B. 1933), singer-songwriter
When you are grateful for what you have, no matter how small or few they may be, you will begin to see those things instantly increase.
Focusing on and connecting to your breath is a useful way to be present, forgetting about the past and the future and just being in the moment. And it’s a great exercise to incorporate into a gratitude practice. When you are consciously breathing you are activating a part of your brain called the cerebral cortex that is a more evolved part of the brain. While breathing, you are sending impulses throughout the brain that impact your emotions creating a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions, therefore elevating your consciousness from primitive or instinctual to more evolved or elevated.
Different states of mind can be produced by changing your patterns of breathing. About a month ago, I was on my way to an event and my car was hit from behind. Everyone was fine, and aside from a bit of a fender scratch which I knew could be fixed, I was more concerned with getting back on the road because I was one of the speakers! As the young woman who hit my car exited her vehicle, I could see she was in a panic. She couldn’t catch her words, her breathing was irregular, and I could see she was about to cry. So before we exchanged information, I gently put my hand on her arm and told her it was all going to be ok and to just take a nice, deep breath. Have you ever been really upset and someone who is with you tells you to breath and count to 10? Well, I’m about to get a little technical and tell you how that works and why that little exercise is good for you.
Believe it or not, slowing down your breath really does have an impact on your emotions and changing your mood and state of mind. The cerebral cortex, that evolved part of the brain I was talking about early is activated by slowing down your breath. Then it sends inhibitory impulses to the respiratory center of the brain that overflows into the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for maintaining balance of everything—“status-quo” system wide and is concerned with emotions. This is why slowing down your breathing has a soothing, relaxing effect on your emotional state.
Breathing also helps to increase brain function by opening up capillaries, increasing the flow of oxygen, improving cerebral circulation and forcing the creation of new neural pathways so your brain is activated and awakened!
There are so many benefits to breathing, aside from the obvious, of course. Emotionally and energetically is can still your mind and relieve stress, physically is can eliminate joint pain and help with structural alignment and the postures and attitudes our bodies hold. Explore the many ways that a breathing practice can make a difference in your life and your yoga practice.