Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Does Gratitude Heal? Here are 7 Ways...

It's everywhere right now - be grateful!  It might be overused, but the reason for the ubiquitousness of a simple practice such as gratitude is that there is research behind it.  So, pay attention!  Also, if you are just plain sick of the word gratitude, then use something else - awesome, love, happy, good, great, connected, etc.  If you are a regular reader, then we have talked about this before, but if not or you need a refresher, listen up:  the brain is super good at negativity!  Super good.  It is an evolutionary thing - the brain thinks its job is survival.  And, it is.  However, the job description in the past century has changed,  No longer need to look out for the dangers of the wilderness, do we?  And, I hate to be critical, but the brain's evolutionary abilities are really, really, slow.  So, it is paying attention to a whole lot of scary, negative stuff and that stuff is really not helping us live healthier and longer.

What that means is that if you have negativity swirling around up there most of the time - critical thoughts, judgement, patterns of detrimental thinking, (need I go on?), then you need to retrain your brain toward positivity.  Your brain is up there paying attention to what sucks about your day and it is getting better and better at it each day, because you are literally practicing negativity.  Again, if you read my blog often, you know this: the brain gets better at whatever it is you practice and do.  The more you do it, the better the brain gets at it.  A gratitude practice is training the brain to get better at paying attention to and thinking about the good stuff.

So, let's get started:

Breathe:  Lie on a roller, as in the photo.  If you don't have a roller, you can roll up an extra yoga mat or a
blanket, or some pillows and create a position like in the photo.  Knees are together and feet are wider than the hips.  This position relaxes the hip area and the psoas muscle.  Let you arms rest with your palms up.  Inhale and fill the chest with the breath.  Exhale and relax into the shoulder blades - opening the front of the body.  This is one of those exercises I call an "anti-slumper."  Good for breathing, good for posture, good for feeling more positive.  Slumping actually makes us feel less positive.  Try it.  Slump, then stand tall and see how each feels.

Meditate:  You can do this meditation in the above position or any comfortable position.  I think it is a great meditation to do right before sleep, while lying in bed.  We often lie in bed thinking of things we regret about the day or all of the things we have to do the following day.  How about going to bed with a positive mindset?  First off, you have to decide:  Is this a gratitude practice?  Or, maybe it is about love or happiness or something else.  Bring to mind something or some things or someone that makes you feel the feeling.  Play it like a movie in your mind.  Let the feeling grow and stay with it as long as you like.  Your mind will wander, maybe even get critical.  Don't react, don't get frustrated, just come back to your movie, come back to your feeling of gratitude (or other).  If it is before bed, you will fall asleep to positive thoughts!

Relax:  Progressive relaxation is the most common method of relaxation.  It is easy to do and requires no guidance, but if you really want to be guided or get a better idea of what it is, here is a video.  Lie down and go through each part of your body, either toes up or head down and make sure each part is relaxed.  You could tighten and release the muscles in each area or just give them a shake or a wiggle to relax.  Inhale to tighten, exhale to release.  In this version, however, add gratitude or appreciation.  Say, "I am grateful" for each area of the body.  And be grateful!  Might seem weird to send gratitude to your toes, but I guarantee, if you hurt your toe or lose your toe, it will not be pleasant.  So, let's not take anything for granted!

Cognitive Behavior Therapy:  Cognitive therapies are all about changing your thinking.  I already covered the need for the change and how the brain does that negative thing above.  Moving on..... get a journal or some paper for this exercise.  The reason is that writing is a whole different part of the brain than thinking or talking.  Writing is the motor part of the brain,  If we get multiple areas of the brain involved in a practice, it sticks!  So, daily get out your journal or your paper and write down what you are grateful for (see photo).  Or, write "this is what I loved about today..." Or, "What was amazing today?" Or, "What went well today?"  Your question, your words, your focus - just make it positive!  Could be one thing or 20 things, just write.

Power Pose:  Warrior I pose is a favorite pose of mine and this photo by Candace is full of great cues to get it right.  Hold your hands at your heart to feel gratitude expand with the power of the pose!

Affirmation:  You gotta do it.  People feel awkward, silly, and even resistant to affirmations.  Really?  If you can't affirm yourself, then you will be looking around outside yourself for validation and I promise you, that is not the best source.  Plus, it is totally exhausting to do so.  Write this affirmation down and put it somewhere that you will see regularly.  Say it out loud regularly.  Look at yourself in the mirror and say it to yourself regularly.  Is the regularly part clear? It's important - see above for that whole bit about practice.  Choose an affirmation from this list or make one up yourself.

Chant: Ommmmm.... is a very powerful chant for bringing all creatures and beings into a mindset of love and acceptance.  This is a variation on Om that makes for more space within, because the tone and the feeling it creates in the body changes as the sound and tone changes.  Make Om into 3 syllables or tones:  AhhhhhhOhhhhhhMmmmmmmmm.........repeat.

Find positivity by practicing the above 7 skills as often as possible.  You have to train the mind and body into new patterns!  Contact me with comments or questions:  tammysytsma@circleofstoneswellness.com OR check out the services on my website for info. about individual sessions and group sessions offered.  circleofstoneswellness.com

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