Most of us have heard of and/or made gratitude lists. The speaker at a weekend retreat I attended said, “Gratitude opens the heart for further blessings.” When we are overwhelmed by life, the body pulls into its center. It is a survival mechanism that shunts blood to the most vital internal organs. The body often literally curls in toward the base of the rib cage and navel. The circumstances that overwhelm can be physical, mental or emotional, or all three. The physical is most obvious, of course. Mental and emotional demands can create the same body responses but it is a bit more difficult to recognize the source. Picture where your physical heart is. Now, curl slightly forward and roll your shoulders down as you tip your head toward your waist. You are creating a physical haven for the heart.
This can be helpful in the face of immediate trauma; shut down, turn inward, protect yourself. Staying there longer that necessary for survival is counter-productive and can be harmful for body, mind and heart.
In yoga therapy, we seek to safely and gently open the physical body to free the heart to beat more fully. This starts the process of restoring chemical balance, allowing adrenalin and other hormones to level out and return to normal levels. We comfort the body so it will emerge from survival mode. Until we relax and breathe deeply and easily, all levels of our being will remain tight and shut down.
Postures like child pose, which opens the back of the heart chakra, and triangle, which opens all the major joints as well as the torso, prepare us to open up to life once again. What affects the body, affects the mind and emotions. Compassionate consistency is the key to returning to a place of embracing the flow of life. Gratitude can begin with that first full breath that expands the ribs and softens the belly. My mental response is often “Oh my gosh that felt good. I can breathe again!” I am already moving into gratitude. Ten breaths later I see the clear blue sky, really see it, for the first time in a while. I smile and notice flowers blooming or squirrels playing. When was the last time I noticed? Doesn’t matter. I am on my way back to mySelf. Wahoo!! Before I know it, a list takes shape and I remember the gift of gratitude.
When the challenge is intense, my evening practice includes writing down 5-10 things from that day I am grateful for. I’m upright and breathing. A dove sits on my bird bath. Little things. Nothing new or dramatic. A beginning. An opportunity to nourish my weary heart and mind. My heart begins to open and the blessings that have been waiting begin coming my way – often in the little things.