Learning Gratitude

12 years ago, at the age of 18, my family went through a series of painful and life shifting events. Everything in my life felt dark and challenging. My coping strategy became gratitude. It was the only thing that gave me hope. My practice became one that propelled me to continue to move forward.  As I now understand it, gratitude offers us a glimpse of hope and hope inspires optimism.  Combined with other healthy qualities like: physical exercise, eating fresh food and deep breathing, gratitude contributes to a healthy mental atmosphere. And a healthy mental atmosphere is the birthplace of all things bright and beautiful, right? Right!

I began my practice by recording gratitude through photographs. I took and collected photographs of simply anything and everything that made my life seem brighter. Sometimes this was a rock and other days it was a stray cat or sunset. Years later when I was gifted a gratitude journal my practice evolved and grew to cataloging 5 positive experiences a day. This concerted and focused effort lead to more frequent and extended periods of happiness.

Even though I may not have understood exactly how or why it worked, the practice of offering gratitude created a shift within me. Gratitude connects us to each other and to nature. It taps into our creativity and makes us kinder and more compassionate humans. It inevitably transforms us into happier, more positive people. It helps us focus on being present in each moment and notice the small things like: the sound of raindrops, a stranger’s smile, the sun shining through a grove of trees, a thoughtful email, a home cooked meal, a soft pillow and warm bed, and the smell of creosote after a desert rain. It develops within you an appreciation for life.

Science tells us that gratitude has a profound and transformative impact on our health, happiness, energy levels, and longevity. Fortunately there is no age too young to begin this practice. Not only am I ridiculously thankful that I get to be an Imagination Yoga Instructor, I’m equally thankful that Imagination Yoga is a brilliant platform that teaches children how to experience happiness through gratitude, movement, and kindness.

Each of my yoga classes begins by offering gratitude and ends by practicing self-love. It is my personal belief that gratitude and self-love are closely linked and as we practice one, our understanding of the other grows.  Shakespeare was onto something when it was memorably stated in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” At the beginning of class we take time to reflect on one event or person in their day that they are grateful for. After a few weeks of this activity we deepen the practice by adding a why. For example, someone might share, “I’m thankful for Penny because she played with me during recess.” or “I’m thankful that it rained and we had indoor recess because I forgot my coat, and was sad when I thought about missing playing with my friends outside.” The class concludes with each student stating an affirmation such as, “I am creative and a kind friend”.  By practicing both gratitude and self-love in my yoga classes my hope is for each student to intrinsically experience their abundant benefits.

Some of my sessions are 10 weeks long while others are sporadic, making it difficult to know how this routine can impact each individual, but last week when a 16 year old girl with an Intellectual Disability walked up to me after class and said, “I am beautiful and smart! Thank-you!” my heart overfloweth!

Walk with courage, self-confidence, and faith! Oh, and by the way, the glass is half full.

Story by Elissa Cirignotta

Elissa teaches Imagination Yoga in and around the Portland area.  To find out more about her and her class offerings please check our website www.imaginationyoga.com or e-mail her directly at elissa.cirignotta@imaginationyoga.com

*Ideas for strengthening your child’s gratitude ‘muscle’, in your classroom or home:

  • Begin meals and family meetings with a gratitude circle where everyone shares a triumph.
  • Teach your kids to savor positive experiences. Have them describe, act out, or share how that experience made them feel.
  • Before bed have your children recall three ‘good’ things that happened during the day.
  • Model the language! Freely and openly expand your own practice.
  • Stop to smell the roses. Literally, stop and smell flowers with your children.
  • Write a gratitude letter every month (11 for other people and the last one for themselves), not connected to receiving a gift, but rather for acknowledging and thanking someone for something they did.
  • Start a gratitude journal and catalogue daily/weekly experiences.
  • Have a gratitude jar in your home or classroom. Let children and adults freely add to the jar, read them aloud at the end of the day/week/month.
  • Make a gratitude sunshine (see image) that can be hung in your home or classroom

Image

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