I grew up with a tangential relationship to church. We went to a Methodist Church (several different ones over the course of my school years in fact) in order to “gain a moral background” according to my parents who would gladly say that they do not believe in God. These Sunday morning outings usually involved getting donuts together on the way home. I was pretty much there for the donuts. But this is not to say that I do not have a connection to spirit, that is very much alive…
This is to say that I was never totally convinced that “blessings” were a thing and that I should be counting them. The very word blessing seemed kind of wimpy to me in some way. Please forgive me, my church-going friends, but I am only speaking my experience.
It was not until a friend and fellow yogi suggested to me that a blessing is really anything that makes your heart feel lighter, that I gained a better relationship with the word, and with the idea. Anything that makes your heart feel lighter. How amazing is that? We all experience ups and downs, some more than others, and it’s true, right? That when we feel bad, the heart gets heavy. Emotions have a physical seat in the body. This is a thing that yoga practice teaches us directly; often on the mat as we move through different shapes and forms, emotions and memories rise up, and in that safe space on the mat we can allow ourselves to feel them and recognize them for what they are — feelings — like waves in the ocean that are a part of the ocean but do not represent the full depths.
So with this new understanding of blessings, I began a practice of gratitude.
Each morning, as I begin my meditation practice, first I take the time to name three things that I am thankful for. Taking a walk, breathing fresh air, having a good meal, watching the birds in the yard, good health, good friends, a loving partner, a vibrant community in which to live, a career that I really enjoy. I try to vary it each day and think of even the smallest everyday things that make my world a better place.
If you have not tried a gratitude practice, I recommend it! Perhaps first thing in the morning upon waking is the best time because then you are immediately reminded and can maintain that feeling of thankfulness throughout the day. Three things.
And now scientists are discovering a biochemical reason for gratitude too. Neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb has a book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, in which he says that practicing gratitude boosts dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that governs pleasure and serotonin the one that governs mood.
“One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” —Dr. Korb
And he goes on to say that it is not the finding of gratitude, but it is the remembering to look for it that creates the beneficial effect. The more you remember to look, the more the dopamine and serotonin increase. It is an upward spiral. Fascinating. Thank you for reading!