Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Six Ways to Practice Gratitude for the Sake of Your Mental Health

Mental health is a matter of creating a good relationship between the brain and the body.  When this relationship is out of whack, we think are losing it or simply unable to cope - it just gets to be too much!  Somewhere, somehow along the line the brain and the body started mixing up signals and mis-communicating and now the patterns of thinking and reacting are very unpleasant.  Time to fix that brain-body relationship!

There are a few ways that we can improve our mental health by simply retraining the brain and the nervous system.  I use 6 methods in my yoga classes to improve mental health.  However, just coming to class isn't enough to retrain the brain and nervous system.  So, the following 6 skills are for practicing at home.  Everyday, and even throughout the day, practice is what brings the brain and body together.  Practice each of these every day for the next week and beyond.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  The more you think a certain way or about certain topics, the better your brain gets at this way of thinking.  I like to think of it as super highways and rustic roads.  If you spend a great deal of time thinking in a certain way, it becomes an automatic super highway. We are really good at thinking about and noticing what is going wrong in our days, what is not going well in life in general, and how the people in our lives could and should behave differently.  These thought patterns, for most of us, are on the super highway.  What we want to change to is making gratitude a super highway thinking pattern.  Everyday, throughout the day, find things to be grateful for.  Write them down, you can.

2)  Power pose:  Research has shown that practicing a stance similar to the super-heroes' such as Superman or Wonder Woman increases confidence.  In order to find strength in gratitude, practice a Warrior 1 Pose with arms behind the back to feel powerful and open the heart to gratitude at the same time.

3)  Relaxation:  This is a double whammy against stress and anxiety, because we are working with both body awareness and mental awareness in an attempt to retrain the system as a whole.  Lie comfortably and still and take your awareness slowly through each area of the body, relaxing and at the same time, feeling grateful for that body area.  For example, relax your feet, then feel grateful for you feet.  Sound weird?  Maybe, but let's not take those feet for granted!  And, I bet you are more than capable of complaining about your feet when they hurt!  By the way, your mind will think of a million other things during this exercise - stick with it!

4)  Meditation:  Speaking of the mind thinking of a million other things...that is exactly what happens during meditation.  But, every time it wanders and you bring it back, it is like a bicep curl, strengthening your ability to control your mind.  For this meditation, create a mindset of gratitude.  Then, let the gratitude become a feeling that you allow to permeate your entire body - thinking and feeling gratitude all over.  Stay for 1 minute or 2 or 5 or 10 or 20.  Whatever you can stick with and make happen every day.

5)  Breathing:  The number 1, easiest method for getting the mind and the body to work together is the breath.  You can do it anytime, anywhere and no one needs to know.  In this case, however, lie down on something like the image shows - a pillow or rolled blanket or yoga bolster.  Legs can be bent or straight.  In this position, we have a full open space for the breath and we are encouraging even bigger space by stretching the breathing muscles.  Breathe full deep breaths in and out and at the same time, feel as if gratitude were gaining in power and radiating from the chest (the heart center) outward into the space around you and beyond.

6)  Chant or sing or laugh:  These 3 practices open the blood vessels with oxytocin.  Chant the word YAM which is pronounced Yang.  Place your hand on your heart and chant the word a few times in a low note, so you feel your chest vibrating under your hand.

Now, you have your practice for the week!  Take time to do something or everything on this list every day.  The more you practice, the more your brain and body will want more!

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