This piece was excerpted from the Gratitude chapter of The Yoga Almanac: 52 Practices and Rituals to Stay Grounded Through the Astrological Seasons. Reprinted with permission. Lisette Cheresson is a Founding Circle Member and the content lead at Yoga Unify.
by Andrea Rice and Lisette Cheresson
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It is easy to lose sight of the myriad gifts our lives have bestowed upon us. We become mired in the ego, seeking status and recognition. The trappings of this focused self-importance hinder spiritual progress and convince us we are not enough; the mind perpetuates an illusion that having “more” enhances self-worth. It is the nature of the mind to fixate on problems and lack, to cling to scarcity out of fear.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes “non-grasping” to material things as aparigraha. When we recognize the abundance of all that we have and all we are able to do, we enrich our perspectives. From this place of perceived bounty we are able to evolve and ascend. Recognizing that true opulence is within cultivates deeper satisfaction and lasting fulfillment, and infuses our lives with meaning.
At the intersection of spirituality and science is the field of positive psychology, which posits that a positive attitude of gratitude is key to mental and physical well-being. Robert Emmons, Ph. D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is renowned for his research on the benefits a gratitude practice can have on health and happiness. Emmons has described this mindset as a “chosen attitude;” that when we are consciously grateful for what we have versus what we do not, we have actively made a choice to be happy. (Emmons, 2010) Imagine what might transpire if the developed world could acknowledge that free will determines the degree to which we experience happiness.
In the United States, Thanksgiving arrives alongside the start of Sagittarius season. Despite the problematic historical context of the holiday, it is nevertheless an occasion to celebrate our bountiful gifts with loved ones. Sagittarius is the ninth sign of the zodiac, symbolized by the wise Archer. Ruled by Jupiter, the largest body in our solar system and the mythical god of feast and abundance, the Archer reminds us of all that is possible—but not without adopting the high-minded rectitude of being grateful for what we have first. Karmically, we cannot expect the universe to reciprocate and make manifest our visions when we do not honor its blessings.
Practice: Squat or Garland Pose (Malasana)
Sagittarius rules the hips, and this squatting posture is known for its capacity to strengthen the pelvic floor. As the hip flexors and groins receive a deep stretch, the shape also strengthens the ankles and feet. The abdominal wall engages slightly to lengthen the back-body and draw the spine toward neutral. Squat Pose can be made more accessible by placing a block beneath the seat for support. This helps to build stability in the ankle joints and root into the outer edges of the feet.
Draw your palms together at your heart as a gesture of gratitude. Press into the lowest part of your inner thighs to maintain the opening as sensation percolates in your hips. The inner edges of your feet can be brought together to send the knees out wide as your spine flexes forward. This pose engages and opens the root (Muladhara) chakra, and stimulates the sacral (Svadhisthana) chakra as the transverse abdominal muscles are activated.
Ritual: Write Thank You Notes
It is common practice to keep a gratitude journal and carve out time each day to reflect on our many blessings, regardless of their significance. Freewriting about what it is you’re thankful for in the morning helps set the tone for the rest of your day. Reflecting on what it is you’re grateful for at the end of each day puts your mind at ease, especially when you’re able to consider each item on your list as a beautiful gift.
Think of this practice as writing a “thank you” note to your higher self, and notice the richness you feel each time you perform the exercise. You could even choose to hone your focus on a specific entity in your life, maybe a person, and explore the thoughts and feelings that arise when you realize the many reasons why you’re grateful for it or them. Bonus activity: Send this person a handwritten thank you note that expresses your admiration and appreciation.
Every day is a gift—
an opportunity to breathe, to smile, to be kind.
Though it is easy to forget—
we are here to remember
just how beautiful it is to be alive.
To be truly thankful, to count our blessings
is to commune with the self,
to converse with the divine.
Lisette Cheresson is a Founding Circle Member of Yoga Unify. All members are invited to share their concerns, ideas, and feedback with Governing Councils to help sculpt the organization. To join the Founding Circle, click here.