Being Present During Exercise for a Better Workout

Mindfulness in our Workout

And to Make Sure We Keep Exercise in Our Lives

Mindfulness in our Workout

I have to remember to answer that important email at work. What will I make for dinner tonight? Are there any vegetables that are about to expire? What am I going to tell my mother about that trip she wants to go on? Oh, I need to schedule some time to see my brother. I haven’t seen that friend in a long time; how is she doing? Maybe I need to start getting to work earlier so I get closer to that promotion. Oh I need to fit in a workout.

A running to-do script is continuously going on inside our heads. Worries, questions, stressors are a constant presence in our mind. It is often difficult to shut off our brains from everyday stressors and disconnect. We keep over-analyzing every situation until our eyes shut at night. And even then, it can be difficult to go to sleep since our minds keep racing.

Our brains are overflowing with all the things we need to do from work-related issues, family issues, personal issues, and more. These everyday stressors can affect our workout!  Our cluttered minds cause us to shift away from what we are doing. During fitness, this means we work out on autopilot; just going through the motions. We allow every thought that has nothing to do with our present workout to wander in.

Not being present during fitness causes us to enjoy that time less. We are just going through the motions and we don’t even allow ourselves to enjoy it.

This is a problem since it affects whether or not we will keep our workout goals. Multiple studies relating to exercise behavior show that one of the most reliable indicators of whether people will continue to exercise is that they find exercise satisfying. Whether they enjoy being active.

So being present will allow us to enjoy our fitness time. And this, in turn, will lead us to keep exercise in our lives.Click To Tweet

A recent study published in The Journal of Health Psychology, published findings that support the fact that people who reported being most satisfied with exercise were also the people who exercised the most, and vice versa. Additionally, people who reported being mindful during exercise also generally reported satisfaction with exercise.

Kalliopi-Eleni Tsafou, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Utrecht University who led the study, explains that the message is “that mindfulness may amplify satisfaction, because one is satisfied when positive experiences with physical activity become prominent. For those experiences to be noticed one must become aware of them. We would argue that this can be achieved by being mindful.”

Let’s talk about what being present means.

Being present simply means being engaged physically, mentally, and emotionally in what you are doing in this moment. Being fully involved and attentive to what is happening with your body, mind, and heart at that precise instant.

The opposite is focusing on the past or the future. Thoughts of the past most often dwell on what could’ve been or what would’ve happened and thoughts of the future dwell on what’s going to happen or what might happen if…

How can we be present?

Stop trying to multi task and focus only on one thing. Let go of everything that happened before that instant and everything that will happen after. Being in complete awareness of what is happening in the present moment.

“There is only one time that is important – NOW! It is the most important time because it is the only time that we have any power.” – Leo Tolstoy

Choosing to dial in and be more present in our workout has many more benefits.

  1. We turn a workout from just something we need to get in and get done into working with a purpose. Working with a purpose will give us something to focus on. We can focus on certain muscle groups, finishing an entire workout, or pushing ourselves harder in a certain section that is usually difficult for us. Focus will challenge us more than just doing mindless repetitions as if we were checking items off a list.
  2. We prevent injury, while enhancing the workout. Being present makes us focus on what we are doing and ultimately ensures that what we are working on is the target. For example, if we are working on biceps, focusing on that action will help make sure the effort is coming from the bicep and not the neck. If working on squats, focusing on the action will ensure that we are engaging the glutes every time we come up, instead of letting all the effort come from the thighs. This prevents injury by working the correct muscles and not overworking other muscles that should be in relaxation mode.
  3. We give our workout our full attention, and start asking questions. We feel the workout harder in our body and ask why we are enduring all this effort and/or pain. This is the moment we remind ourselves of the positive benefits of a healthy lifestyle. We remember why we decided to start exercising to begin with and how it makes us feel afterwards. This keeps our goal reinforced as we recognizing all the positive benefits.
  4. We are mindful of the quality of our workout instead of the quantity, which will lead to better changes and will benefit other areas of our lives. Drawing attention to the way our muscles feel after strenuous strength training can lead to a confidence boost. Noticing our breath in yoga will make us feel more connected to our center. Going to the rhythm of the music in spin class will make it a quality workout since it will boost our mood and feel uplifted.  Making connection between our workouts and how we are feeling or what we are thinking will make the workout work more for us. A quality workout will guarantee that the benefits of that time extend to other areas of our lives. This is more effective than just burning calories or building muscle.
  5. We focus more on our form which leads to better posture.  We will make sure we are in correct alignment. During exercise, this not only prevents injuries but leads to a better workout. A better posture will influences the way we walk or stand after the workout extending the better form to our everyday lives. Good posture is critical for our health and reduces neck and back pain. Poor form adds strain to muscles and puts stress on our spine. Not only is a good posture better for our health, but it works wonders on our appearance and our self-confidence.

Being mindful of every moment in our lives is incredibly important. So we can practice being present during our workouts and take advantage of that time. We are all busy, so doing both things sounds great! We get a workout in and we practice being present so that it ultimately transcends to other areas of our life.

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How to Keep Your New Year’s Fitness Resolution

Gratitude Flow

fitness resolution

Exercise more, work out in the morning, do more yoga, train and run a marathon, work on strength, be FITTER…many people’s 2017 New Year’s resolutions are geared towards leading a healthier, more active lifestyle. The degree may differ person to person. But, the resolution to start an exercise routine or improve some aspect of their current routine is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. According to a study from the Statistic Brain Research Institute, roughly 42% of Americans made New Year’s resolutions for 2017. The most common resolution—made by almost a quarter of every person making one—involves increasing fitness and activity.

It is easy to set an exercise related resolution; it is not so easy to keep it. As the months pass, we desert our resolution as genuinely as we make it. According to a Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll, almost half of New Year’s health-and-fitness commitments deplete by midyear. Along with a cold front, January brings in a lot of motivation and good business for gyms. People are more driven than ever to embody the “New Year, New You” mentality. However, by summer, the motivation to keep up New Year’s fitness goals starts dwindling.

Why Are Many Fitness Related Resolutions Doomed to Fail?

We expect instant gratification and instant results from our workouts and fitness regiments. We use Uber to avoid waiting for a cab. Tinder to avoid the long wait to find the perfect soulmate. Likewise, we don’t want to wait for the results of hard work. Like waking up early to get a workout in or changing our already busy lifestyle to add exercise. So, it can be difficult to stick to your resolution if you’re only looking for results in the mirror. Why? Because it can take longer than you think to see changes in your outward appearance. For many the reward does not justify the effort. Hence, many people jump ship before December comes along. Before you are able to say “resolution resolved.” The motivation is just not there anymore.

Change Your Perspective on Fitness, and Resolve Your Resolution.

There are tons of tricks to help make your New Year’s goals stick. My favorite are these fitness strategies published in Greatist.

However, in addition to tools, the way to make fitness goals last is to see the value of fitness way beyond rocking that #sweatyselfie.

However, in addition to tools, the way to make fitness goals last is to see the value of fitness way beyond rocking that #sweatyselfie. We need more inspiration than just getting “bikini-ready.” This will change our perspective and make fitness part of our life. The truth is that a commitment to fitness shapes your overall attitude and experience. More than it does your body shape. The secret is to be able to recognize the endless benefits of exercise. In this way, we will overcome thoughts like “too much work for too little change.” When you change your mindset and realize how your day can change for the better by adding a fitness routine to your lifestyle, the probabilities of resolving your New Year’s goals are much higher. We need to be inspired by the multiple benefits in order to keep up the motivation. Here is my story on how I made fitness part of my lifestyle. My mindset changed way more than my body.

The Secret Is Knowing the Ways Exercise Enriches Your Day-to-Day Life.

There is no doubt that exercise makes you healthier. The health benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, have been the subjects of many years of scientific research. In addition to the endless health benefits, strong muscles, and a leaner physique, exercise can enrich your daily life in other, more “hidden” ways.

Knowing these “hidden” benefits will cause your fitness resolution to inspire you every day — or at least 5 times per week. The importance of being inspired to keep pursuing your goals is summed up by Emanuel Maidenberg, Ph.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California in Los Angeles: “If each morning you have to find a way to make your goal happen, you’re more likely to decide based on whether you feel like doing it, which we rarely do.” Inspiration should be there every day so we don’t loose our motivation.

Top “Hidden” Ways Exercise Improves the Quality of Your Everyday Life

  1. Go ahead and add happiness to your day. When you exercise, ‘happy chemicals’ are released in your brain. These are: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. These neurotransmitters can be called ‘happy chemicals’ since they are responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness: they work together to make us feel good. Many events can trigger these neurotransmitters, but instead of taking the passenger seat and waiting for these events to happen to us, we can find ways to activate these chemicals and one way is through exercise. So by scheduling in that gym time, we take an active role in boosting our mood. It is no surprise that a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999 by Harvard Health Publications, suggested that exercise could be a substitute for antidepressants. The takeaway is that exercise can contribute to a more positive state throughout your day which in turn impacts your motivation, productivity, and overall well-being.
  2. Raise your energy levels and fight fatigue. Any exercise or physical activity that gets the heart rate up and the blood flowing and releases endorphins, is going to raise your energy level. As Pete McCall, Exercise Physiologist at the American Council On Exercise has stated: “If a sedentary individual begins an exercise program it will enhance the blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissue improving their ability to produce more energy.” Good cardiovascular exercises will strengthen your heart and give you more stamina. Exercise literally creates energy in your body. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, a nutrition adviser for the Journey for Control, a diabetes program, explains that this happens in the cellular level with our tiny organs called mitochondria that produce energy in our bodies. The number of mitochondria you have—and thus your ability to produce energy—is affected by your daily activity. It can be explained that the more we exercise aerobically, the more mitochondria the body makes to produce more energy to meet our needs. Robert E. Thayer, PhD author of Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood With Food explains further: “It’s now been shown in many studies that once you actually start moving around — even just getting up off the couch and walking around the room — the more you will want to move, and, ultimately, the more energy you will feel.” Even though a we may feel tired and suffer from fatigue and the last thing we want to do is exercise, actual research shows that getting off the couch and exercising will boost our energy levels.
  3. Use it as an antidote to daily stress. A study from the American Psychological Association in 2015 depicted how stress levels in the U.S. have risen over the past years. There’s even been an increase in the number of adults who experience “extreme stress.” 24% reported that they were highly stressed last year, compared with 18 % the year before. Younger adults also reported higher stress than in the past generations. New Yorkers report an average stress level of 5.2. on a 10-point scale (healthy stress level is defined as 4.0). Let’s be real, as we get older our daily stressors increase, whether it be poor communication, difficult coworkers, anxiety over money, family problems, etc. We face stressful situations everyday and why not indulge in some fitness time for yourself if exercise is able to reduce our stress by even a little bit. It’s been reported that exercise lowers levels of stress. When you exercise, you’re actually subjecting yourself to a low-level form of stress by raising your heart rate and triggering a burst of hormonal changes. “Expose yourself to this ‘stress’ enough and your body builds up immunity to it. Eventually, it will get better at handling the rest of life’s stressors,” says clinical psychologist Jasper Smits, Ph.D., coauthor of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety.
  4. Ease anxiety by creating vibrant new brain cells—and then shutting them down when they shouldn’t be in action. These new brain cells are easily excited, which is not ideal when want clear thinking and good memory. They are even less ideal during times of everyday stress. If a stressor is not a life-or-death situation we want those new brain cells to be shut down when not required. According to recent studies, that’s what exercise does. Also, the effects of exercise show that in people suffering from anxiety, the immediate mood boost from exercise is followed by longer-term relief. This is similar to that offered by medication and talk therapy. In fact, according to Daniel Landers, a professor emeritus in the Department of Kinesiology at Arizona State University, exercise seems to work better than relaxation, meditation, stress education and music therapy at easing anxiety.
  5. Feed your brain and become smarter. It helps feed valuable oxygen and nutrients to your brain to improve cognitive functioning. Just think about it: How do you feel after you exercise? I feel very differently on the day that I go to work in the morning after exercising. On those days I am able to concentrate more. The days that I don’t exercise in the morning, I feel groggy and sluggish. Exercise makes you feel alert and focused. Mentally and physically prepared to achieve your 2017 goals. A Journal of Applied Physiology review of more than 100 studies found that the more you perform focused strength workouts, the more you’re able to avoid distractions outside the gym.
  6. Boost your confidence. When you start working out and achieving goals you never thought possible, you’ll feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. Just the success of creating an exercise plan and sticking to it allows you to enjoy a sense of achievement. It also boosts your personal body image since you become more toned, have a balanced weight, pleasing proportions, better posture, and increased vitality. This boost in confidence extends to other areas of your life, including your relationships, decision making, and your work.


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The New Year’s Resolution to Work at Everyday

Happiness Goals

New Year's Resolution

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” (Groucho Marx). Can you imagine if it were as simple as that? If you had this much power and control over your life? The quote carries a lot of weight, given that it can be liberating yet frightening. Liberating because your happiness is not in other people’s hands or based on life’s curveballs. Frightening because you suddenly realize you had more power than you ever thought.

The New Year is coming. And with it, it brings a blank slate. You get the chance to start over and decide how you want this year to go. You decide to let go of sad events, mistakes, disappoints, and the misfortunes that 2016 carried, and you get the gift of a new year, a new you. We make resolutions and set goals for the year ahead.

For this New Year I decided to let 2017 revolve around one motif, Happiness.

There are plenty of reasons for choosing happiness. Actual research backs up the connection between happiness and health. There is a reason “laughter is the best medicine” is a very popular cliché. This is a resolution you can work at every day AND it can bring forth countless positive results. Instead of focusing on one New Year’s resolution, such as being healthier, happiness can produce better health, more success, more friends, a better perspective, reduce stress; the list goes on and on.

This New York Times study claims that happiness is about 48% genetically determined, and that 40% comes from things that happen in our recent past that are isolated events, such as landing that dream job, moving across the country, or taking an exotic trip. One-off events like these govern a large amount of our happiness, however that happiness is usually short-lived. Soon, it dwindles and new worries and stressors will cloud it. This only leaves about 12%. Although this doesn’t sound like much, at least that percent falls completely under our control. We can fight for that 12%. Although small, it has to be made up of constant, lasting happiness.

So my 2017 resolution is to make happiness a habit and decide how to fill that 12%. The goal is to find small bursts of joy throughout the day and to feel happiness at least once a day. This makes the resolution achievable, attainable, and realistic. It can be hard to pinpoint happiness and it is often considered an elusive concept. However, we can all find small things that bring us joy throughout the day. The trick is to notice them and let ourselves feel the happiness they bring us. So how do we do this?

This everyday work on happiness can be done by following these easy steps.

  1. Setting the intention. Although the percentage of happiness that is in our control is up for debate, we can agree that at least some of it is in our hands. So we can make the conscious decision to boost our happiness. Rick Foster and Greg Hicks list the intention to be happy as the first of 9 choices in How We Choose to be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People. “Intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy,” they write. “It’s the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.”
  2. Bringing awareness to the small things that bring us joy. By realizing what simple things or moments make us happy each day, we begin to notice them, relish them, and try to bring them more often into our day. It is easy to go through the day’s motions not being mindful and rushing from one thing to the next. So the things that bring us joy can often be overlooked, even if they are there. As author William Feather says: “Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.” So instead of rushing these happy moments, such as drinking our favorite cup of coffee, we can stop and actually enjoy it, noticing and embracing the joy that cup can bring to our mornings.

  3. Finding time to do a thing you love. Although our days are filled with work and other responsibilities, there is always at least 20 minutes we can dedicate to our ME time. This can be a hobby, finding time to write, meditating, doing yoga, taking long walks, it can literally be anything. The trouble is placing it as a priority in your life.
  4. Exercising daily. As Legally Blonde taught us: Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. There is substantial research that exercise can provide abundant psychological benefits. Our mood can lift by incorporating more exercise into our lives. Exercise will also boost our confidence level and reduce stress. This in turn will also make us happier. So it’s a no brainer that this cycle can only bring more positivity into our days.

  5. Cultivating gratitude. I heard some time ago of the good practice of listing 3 things we are grateful for each day before we go to sleep. Some will ultimately be the same for weeks in a row, while others can change every day. By observing them, we will shift our mindset from the things that are missing in our life or the things that are going wrong to the blessings we do have. Even if there are some days we struggle to find things to be thankful for, our mind will focus away from the negative while bringing awareness to what is working and ultimately lead us to appreciate the small seemingly unimportant things that often don’t get that much attention. The importance of ending your day on a positive note is listed in Business Insider as 1 of 9 things successful people do every night before going to sleep. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of replaying negative situations from the day that you wish you’d handled differently. Regardless of how bad the day went, successful people typically manage to avoid that pessimistic spiral of negative self-talk because they know it will only create more stress.”

  6. Letting go. What do we want to manifest and what do we want to let go of? We can’t fully enjoy the present moment or embrace moments of happiness if we are holding onto grudges or anger, so we must focus on letting go of sad events, mistakes, fights, and past struggles. As Buddha says, “Learn to let go. That is the key to happiness.”

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How to Turn Your Yoga Flow into a Gratitude Practice this Thanksgiving

Gratitude Flow

I am grateful for… the Holiday season. During the holidays, it is easy to fall into the trap of continuing the stress mode of our daily life. It can be easy to find new stressors relating to the holidays and/or keep holding on to all the past ones. Or, we can take the opportunity and shift our minds to a state of gratitude this holiday season.

Thanksgiving has always been a very special holiday for my family. For the last couple of years, no matter where we are, my brothers and I go home to Tijuana, Mexico for it. My mom cooks an amazing feast that combines Mexican and American delicacies. Who knew that langosta burritos and honey glazed ham would taste so good together? We talk about the old days; share funny stories; relate where we are in our lives and where we want to go. And of course, we go around the table and say what we are thankful for. For one night, the world goes still.

Gratitude Yoga Flow

State of Gratitude

This stillness has a lot to do with the fact that for one day we focus purely on the good in our lives. The racing to do lists, regrets, disappointments, sad thoughts…all the bad parts of life are overlooked. The blessings come to the forefront. The blissful happiness experienced in Thanksgiving dinner is due to the fact that for this day we are in a state of gratitude. There should definitely be more days like this.

We are constantly in stress mode over something. So much, that it is often hard to go through a day smiling and remembering all the blessings we do have.

This year we may have received bad news; experienced sad events; felt overwhelmed at work; and went through days feeling unmotivated.  The Thanksgiving holiday provides a break from these types of events and other daily stressors. It forces us to take a break from the “if only this were different in my life” attitude and just enjoy the moment we have with people we love, eating really good food, and reflecting on the things we are thankful for. Because even if we had tough moments this year, I am sure all of us can find really good ones too. We are lucky to have something in our lives. These are the things that make life a little more enjoyable and that make us happier. There is always something to be thankful for.

However, it would be good to live in this state of gratitude more often. Research shows that acknowledging what you’re thankful for can lead to a happier, healthier life. And what is more important than that?

Gratitude Yoga Flow

A Gratitude Practice

Unfortunately, this will be my first Thanksgiving away from my family. Since I still want to experience the stillness and happiness this holiday usually provides, I will be hitting the mat and turning my yoga flow into a gratitude practice all weekend.

The good thing about this is that I can practice this flow even when it’s not Thanksgiving. I can bring the state of gratitude more often into my life.

Already, practicing yoga is a way to achieve a state of stillness. We are free from racing thoughts as our mind shifts to focusing on our mind body connection through our breath and flow. The physical and mental awareness that comes from a regular yoga practice can help you feel gratitude towards yourself, others, and your body. So, is there a way to introduce even more stillness and gratitude into the flow? The answer is YES.

Below are five steps to turn your yoga flow into a gratitude flow.

1. A Gratitude Attitude

Start to shift into a state of gratitude. This starts the moment you enter a yoga studio for class or when you are preparing your home for your practice. We take a moment to be grateful for this time that we have on the mat and that we have set aside for ourselves.

Gratitude Yoga Flow

When we are in a sincere state of gratitude our energy is one of acceptance and harmony. According to Chuck Danes, author of Abundance and Happiness, in this state “you resonate, and as a result project a much higher vibrational frequency which is exactly what attracts to you the events, conditions, and circumstances that you desire.”  This state of gratitude will attract more positive benefits into your flow. It is the law of attraction. If we practice being in this state more often, we will draw more blessings into our life.

The importance of this step and the reason it comes first is captured by Yoga Master Teacher, Rod Stryker. He says that in order for the next step of setting an intention to grow and flourish, we must first prepare the mind by shifting into a state of gratitude. One of the things he encourages before planting the seed of our intention, which is step 2, is to find gratitude for this moment in time and everything that has led up to this moment.

2. Set a Gratitude Intention 

While we are in the first pose of our practice, whether it’s Child’s Pose (Balasana), Easy Pose (Sukhasana), Downward-Facing Dog (Adhi Mukha Svanasana) or any other pose, this is the opportunity to turn inward and prepare for the flow. We usually set an intention or resolution for the practice. This is typically what it is that you are hoping your practice will help you achieve. Why are you doing yoga; what brought you to class; why are you on your mat. During this practice we will set our intention to one of gratitude. Throughout the flow, we will bring our attention and awareness to the blessings we’ve experienced this year.

Gratitude Yoga Flow

By setting gratitude as our intention, we are building a bridge between what we will work through on our mat, and what we will continue to focus our mind on, when we step off the mat. Hopefully, we will leave the mat still focusing on our blessings and therefore with a more positive thinking than when we started.

Take a few breaths to focus on what your thankful for. Make sure your statement is simple and something you can easily repeat over and over again to yourself.

Setting an intention seems like such a simple thing. However, many people make intellectual resolves all the time but they rarely bring results. Swami Satyananda Saraswati writes in his book Yoga Nidra that the reason for this is because the resolve is not planted deeply enough and is made when the mind is disturbed or when the mind is not ready to receive it. Luckily, yoga creates the perfect opportunity and the right atmosphere to set a gratitude intention.

We are already in the state of gratitude from Step 1 and now our mind is prepared for the intention. When we plant the seed of gratitude during this time in our yoga practice it has the chance to take root and work on the subconscious layers of our mind throughout the practice. It will also extend beyond the flow. The key is that the mind must be open and receptive and ready to receive the seed of the intention for it to be effective and for us to see results.

3. Start Connecting with your Breath

The first fifteen minutes of the flow is designed to warm up while focusing on our intention and our breath. We safely ease our self, both physically and mentally, into the exercise. Postures, such as light twisting and bending, shoulder rotations and spinal rocking, help us prepare for the activity ahead. We are not only improving our muscle flexibility, loosening areas of our body, and increasing blood flow to our extremities, but are also focusing our mind on the flow ahead and start moving along with our breath and intention.  We start establishing a mind body connection.

We can establish this connection by practicing gratitude breathing. Let’s take the typical warm-up of the Cat-Cow gentle flow between the two poses as an example. We begin by inhaling as we move into Cow Pose (Bitilasana) and we drop our belly towards the mat. Lift the chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. We exhale as we move into Cat Pose (Marjaryasana). We draw our belly to your spine and round our back toward the ceiling.

As we flow between the two, we imagine breathing in and out of our heart. As we do, we focus on a positive feeling or attitude. While moving into Cow and breathing in, we think, “Breathing in the gift or blessing.” This is the person, object, or event we are thankful for. By doing this, we are opening ourselves to actively and intentionally taking in the experience of what we’re grateful for being a gift in our lives. As we move to Cat Pose and breathe out, we think, “Breathing out my gratitude.” We imagine ourselves surrounding the object of our appreciation in a cloud, bubble, or field of gratitude.

4. Use Yoga Poses to Move your Gratitude Intention Forward

Below are 4 Examples:

Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

⇒ How to do it

This is one of the most common yoga poses and is considered a foundational pose. The pose opens up the heart. It is my favorite heart opener due to the fact that we keep coming back to the pose throughout the practice. We have multiple opportunities to open up the heart.

Gratitude yoga Flow

Heart-opening yoga poses are huge emotional releases. We store countless memories and emotions in the heart center, including past traumas that no longer serve us. By holding this pose and coming back to it, we allow ourselves to bring to the surface buried emotions and finally releasing all those that we don’t need to keep holding on to. When we release those heavy emotions that have been holding us down, we invite space in our life for joy and gratitude.

We can visualize our chest and heart opening to let go of negative emotions and invite gratitude in instead. By going back to this pose, we will leave our practice feeling lighter, more energized, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)

⇒ How to do it

This pose is also known as Peaceful Warrior. It starts in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) with feet wide apart and front knee bent. The arms are raised to the side to shoulder height, so they’re parallel to the floor. We go into Reverse Warrior by bringing the back hand down to rest on the back leg and with an inhale bring the front arm up towards the ceiling, reaching the fingers away from each other.

Gratitude Yoga Flow

The poses are aptly named after a fierce warrior named Virabhadra. According to legend, Virabhadra had a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet, and wielded a thousand clubs. The physical expression of Warrior II  represents the focused attention and warrior strength required to prepare for battle. When we practice yoga, our mat becomes our battlefield, and our “enemy” becomes our mind. Over time, as we strengthen our bodies and our minds, we learn how to face and defeat all our challenges swiftly and gracefully.

Often, in order to feel gratitude, we need our minds to let go of whatever is not serving us. In yoga we strive to be present and quiet our minds from racing thoughts and to do lists. By living in stillness we invite gratitude to take place. This is fully expressed in Peaceful Warrior.

Warrior II is one of the basic yoga poses. It is considered among the most powerful of all the yoga asanas. It can help you feel gratitude toward the strength of your own body. It helps increase our capacity to be in alignment with our body and our heart. Once we’re in alignment, we take the pose further by going into Peaceful Warrior. This builds stamina and concentration so it helps focus our intention even more.

Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)

⇒ How to do it

This forward bend, particularly with hands in anjali mudra (anjali appropriately means “offering”), evokes an image of bowing and offering gratitude to the world.

Gratitude Yoga Flow

In Pyramid Pose, you first have to create boundaries through alignment. Once you set up a steady outer structure, you create the conditions for a vast inner spaciousness, which then frees you to fold, lengthen, spread, or soften more deeply into the pose. It releases tension and brings flexibility into your life.

Building a firm foundation with alignment in Pyramid Pose will teach you how to cultivate a sense of freedom. The boundaries and structure of alignment and muscular action that you’ll establish through this sequence will allow you to release safely and deeply and to experience more freedom of movement in each pose. This is why technique is so important. After you have good technique you can go further into all the poses.

In the pose, imagine that all of your worries and stress from the day roll down your spine and pour into the floor. As you leave all the negativity outside of your body, you can feel renewed with gratitude and positivity in your life.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

⇒ How to do it

This is a hip opening stretch pose. Hip stretches allow you to connect with the tightness and tension in your body and mindfully, consciously, let it go. Any time we bring awareness to where we’re tight and can release it, we can feel grateful. Pigeon is a deep hip opener that has that effect.

Gratitude Yoga Flow

We can’t fully embrace gratitude if we are holding onto grudges or anger, so we must focus on letting go of the things that prevent us from being grateful. The pose requires consciously releasing tension in our body. It reminds us of the importance of letting go.

With each exhale, focus on releasing the tension in your hips so you can press them close to the ground. At the same time picture letting go of whatever may be blocking your gratitude.

5. Find Stillness in Savasana and Renew your Intention

Savasana, Sanskrit for “Corpse Pose,” is the supine resting posture performed at the end of a yoga class. Yogis all over the world use this time to quiet the mind and body, allowing the asana practice to settle in.

We settle into it by lying on our back with our legs slightly apart and our arms extended to our side, palms facing upward. We inhale and exhale through the nose, allowing our breath, muscles and mind to be completely relaxed.

We express gratitude by taking this opportunity to be still, calm and present while soaking in the benefits of the practice. We can reflect on how it felt to be in a state of gratitude throughout the practice. We review our intention set at the beginning and set the new intention of taking our gratitude with us off the mat.

Swami Satyananada Saraswati says the resolve you make at the beginning of the practice is like sowing a seed, and the resolve at the end is like irrigating it. The body and mind are very relaxed and very receptive at the end of your practice, especially when you have just come out of a deep savasana. This is the moment where you decide to take your intention with you.

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