This Season of Gratitude, the Mission Society has partnered with Yoga Ed., an organization committed to affecting positive change all over the globe by providing evidence-based wellness programs to students, educators, and families. Together, we explored the impact that gratitude practices can have on our physical and mental health, including how yoga can be instrumental when cultivating gratitude in each aspect of our lives.
During the holiday season, many of our days are spent with others, gathering in celebration and expressing gratitude. Yet, despite the profound power and benefits the practice of gratitude has to offer, we wonder why it isn’t emphasized more year-round. Focusing on gratitude day-to-day can have lasting effects – not only helping us feel grounded and centered in our physical body, but also creating a sense of joy, calm, and presence that greatly impact our well-being and relationships.
For our students, parents, and educators, we wanted to understand how and why gratitude can be such a significant part of maintaining our physical and mental wellness, and learn how to prioritize it every day by tapping into tools that already exist within us.
When humans feel grateful, the region of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex lights up. This is the area that is associated with understanding other people’s perspectives, empathy, and feelings of relief. It is also connected to the systems in our bodies that regulate emotion and support stress relief (Fox, Glenn). Practicing mindfulness in the form of gratitude allows us to tune into the present moment, and notice how our thoughts, feelings, and actions interact. The more aware we are of how we are feeling at any moment, the more capable we are of making choices to support ourselves physically and mentally.
In other words, gratitude strengthens wellness from the inside out. So how can we ensure that we're making this practice both accessible and a top priority in our lives?
Yoga is one way to this goal. Yoga - also a mindful practice - sets a foundation for personal wellbeing and lifelong health by providing us with tools to notice who and how we are being (self-awareness) and actively shift into who and how we want to be (self-care). In this way, both yoga and gratitude practices nurture who we are in relationship with ourselves and those around us. The benefits span the physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of our lives.
When we are stressed, for example, we typically breathe quickly and shallowly into the chest. This sends more stress signals to the brain and we can get stuck in what feels like an endless loop. However, when we take slow, deep breaths into the belly – as we do during yoga – we interrupt this loop, giving our body and brain a chance to relax, find more calm, and even focus. Yoga also builds upon basic tenants of physical fitness, such as muscle strength, bone strength, and flexibility. It does so in a way that is developmentally appropriate, accessible, and noncompetitive for individuals of diverse capacities.
The best part is that these practices can work with you and the time you do have. For example, the next time you feel your frustrations rising, muscles tensing, or butterflies in your stomach, pause to take a deep breath in and out and work in some shoulder rolls. Remind yourself how grateful you are for your patience, wisdom, and care. Even simply by starting to become more aware of how you’re feeling, and what you are grateful for within yourself, you’ll be better equipped to make adjustments and find yourself in a more supportive state of mind.
Parents, you’ll come to know yourself more deeply, understand your own needs, and unlock tools to uplift you and your families’ wellness. Educators, we know that you often spend so much of your time caring for your students that you may forget to acknowledge your own efforts or simply be kind to yourself. We’re here to remind you that you matter, your wellness matters, and as you learn to develop these personal practices, you'll be helping your students adopt concrete tools that empower them to take charge of their own health.
Tapping into mindfulness practices such as gratitude and yoga, allows us to stand firm in our own wellness, while also giving us the tools to thrive in our connections with others. We hope this encourages you to celebrate your own well-being this holiday season, and every season well into the future – and to lean into mindfulness practices such as yoga & gratitude as you develop a lasting wellness foundation. All of us at Yoga Ed. and the Mission Society are certainly grateful for you!