Experimenting in Gratitude

Achieving more happiness through gratitude is a well-documented concept these days. But that doesn’t make it any less worthy of an experiment. In fact, what an improvement to the world it would be if we all experimented with more gratitude in our daily routine. That is what this Axis Yoga Teacher Training student did for the Ayurveda portion of the course. Each student experiments with a chosen Ayurvedic concept to see how it effects their daily lives. While the results may not be surprising, they are certainly exemplary.

 

Experimenting in Gratitude: Observation and Hypothesis

Observation: I have a tendency to rush, taking moments, meals and other aspects of my days for granted, which leaves me feeling stressed, impatient and out of balance.

Hypothesis: Beginning my day with a gratitude practice and weaving gratitude into my daily routine (with mindful eating and a bedtime gratitude practice), would help me slow down, appreciate what I have, and process experiences (including meals) in a more balanced way.

 

Experimenting in Gratitude: Structure

I. Begin each day with the following prayer (from my spiritual tradition) by the Dalai Lama:

Every day,

think as you wake up:

Today I am fortunate to have woken up.

I am alive.

I have a precious human life.

I am not going to waste it.

I am going to use all my energy to develop myself,

to expand my heart out to others,

to achieve enlightenment for

the benefit of all beings.

I am going to have

kind thoughts towards others.

I am not going to get angry,

Or think badly about others.

I am going to benefit others

as much as I can.

II. Consider, before eating, what exactly I am eating (i.e ingredients, potential doshic impact, source, the food’s process of arriving on my table) and express gratitude for it. Chew thoroughly with awareness.

III. Before bed, consider my day and things for which I am grateful.

Experimenting in Gratitude: Results

Daily routine, gratitude, and deliberate (i.e. mindful) eating are all prescribed in Ayurveda for helping create or restore balance. It felt important to me, in designing my experiment, to start at the very beginning of my daily routine and thread the experiment throughout my day, while keeping it simple and avoiding adding too much to my to-do list. I found the design effective towards these ends.

The Dalai Lama’s prayer, mentioned above, is one I find beautiful and manageable. In past years I would start my day reciting it, which helped give meaning and direction to my morning, but recently, until this experiment, I had fallen out of the practice. At first, resuming the recitation felt like reuniting with an old friend, bringing me joy and ease as I reconnected with the lines, but I noticed that it soon became easy for me to skim over the words. For this reason, I chose to deepen the practice by saying the prayer twice each morning, focusing very deeply (often pausing) on one line the second time through, and considering that section of the prayer to be my intention for the day. This was helpful in the moment as it helped me contemplate the words and their particular relevance to me, and to develop insight. For example, I felt an energetic longing to expand my heart to others. The effect of the intention throughout my day was much more subtle; sometimes I forgot it altogether. Most notably, the day I worked with letting go of anger towards others, I became aware of a choice, the moment after my anger sparked, regarding whether or not I would feed it; this was both empowering, and a relief.

The mindful/appreciative eating was the most challenging part of the experiment for me. I was aware that eating is an emotional process for me, but I did not anticipate the level of resistance I felt to mindful eating. I generally enjoyed feeling more connected to the ingredients and sources of my food, but I truly struggled to slow down my eating. In fact, I felt inclined to eat more and faster during the experiment, and often had the experience of “eating my stress”, so to speak. An exception to this was the day we did a vata-pacifying asana practice in class. I had a snack afterwards, and had no trouble slowing down—in fact, I preferred it. This led me to suspect that the more out of balance I am in the direction of vata dosha, the more inclined I am to eat emotionally. Interestingly, knowing this did not reduce my resistance to mindful eating during my experiment. I think that I tend to abuse vata imbalance to get things done when I get overwhelmed or behind on my obligations, and I am neurotically reluctant to let this go. In psychological terms, I use mindless eating to cope, and I need some replacement approaches as well as stress-reduction to help me relinquish such coping.

The evening gratitude practice was a simple and effective way for me to look back on my day, or even into the present moment, through the lens of appreciation, which felt good—grounding, relaxing and accurate. It also cut through some of the inane ruminating I was doing as I went to sleep at night.

 

Experimenting in Gratitude: Conclusion

I feel that my experiment was successful in slowing me down in general and in increasing my awareness—one, of things I appreciate and two, of how I cultivate doshic imbalance. I plan to continue with the morning and evening gratitude practices and with cultivating awareness of the ingredients and sources of my food, while allowing for a gentle, gradual process of eating more mindfully.

Exclusive Offer for a Better Life

With a flurry of media messages promoting “exclusive offers” and the next “hot item”, it can be hard to believe that we already have all we need to feel peaceful, content and balanced. But we do. And our breath is our greatest tool for achieving that life. The following paper, written by an Axis Yoga Teacher Training student, is an example of how our breath can significantly change the quality of our lives. Students have the opportunity to conduct experiments to experience the effects of Yogic and Ayurvedic principles to their own lives. This student’s experiment resulted in wonderful awareness of our own power.

Exclusive Offer: Just Breathe

The Ayurveda experiment that I propose entails practicing diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, regularly in the morning, prior to sleep and at times of stress or anxiety. I feel anxious and overwhelmed much of the time and I would like to feel more peaceful and serene. After taking the Dosha quiz, found in The Complete Book of Aryuvedic Home Remedies, by Vasant D. Lad, I understand that my constitution type is mostly Vata. According to Aryuvedic medicine, my anxiety and stress is caused by an imbalance of Vata. If I find ways to bring my Vata into balance, then I will feel less anxious and more peaceful.

My Hypothesis is that, by practicing belly breathing to start and end the day, at times when I begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed, will allow me to experience clarity and calmness and be able to balance my emotions and attain a sense of peace and serenity.

Because stressful situations and the feelings of anxiety can strike at any time and be quite sudden and unexpected, any methods that I employ to calm myself must be easily accessible, portable – requiring few props, and must be available to be performed anywhere at any time. I plan to start my day and end my day on a calming and positive note by using reflection and belly breathing. As feelings of stress and anxiety develop throughout the day, I plan to use belly breathing to calm my nerves and bring myself back to a sense of peace.

Exclusive Offer: Keep Breathing

To start my day in a peaceful and grounding manner, I begin by reflecting on my intention for the day and consider what I would like to accomplish, what I have accomplished so far and what still needs to be accomplished. This helps to order my thoughts and to provide a plan of action for the day. I express gratitude for the people I care for, all of the wonderful things in my life and say a prayer for those individuals who are experiencing difficult situations and send wishes of good will and good energy their way.

Having a great deal of training in dance, belly breathing does not come naturally to me as dancers are taught to hold their core in and up. Allowing my belly stick out seemed very odd and rather difficult at the beginning. I practiced this breathing technique by lying on my back with a foam block placed on my abdomen over my navel. This allowed me to watch the rise and fall of the block as I breathe, to become accustom to the feeling of letting my abdomen pooch out when inhaling and to fall back when exhaling, and to allow this type of breathing to become natural and flow effortlessly.    Another exercise I use when sitting upright, is to place my palms over my abdomen with my index fingers barley touching. When I inhale, the fingers should pull apart and when exhaling, they should come back together.  This practice is helpful when at work or at other times when I cannot lie down.   When belly breathing, I focus on my breath, trying to extend my exhale to a count of six and then a count of eight, ten and so on. I have been able to comfortably extend my exhale to a count of twelve and am attempting to extend it further.

Before going to sleep, I practice another round of belly breathing and take some time to settle in and reflect back on my day, how it met with my original intention, what good things happened and what I would do differently. This practice has proved grounding and relaxing and I feel a sense of serenity when falling asleep.

Exclusive Offer: Breathe Now

Recently, a very stressful situation presented itself where I had the opportunity to test whether belly breathing would help to calm me in an extremely stressful situation. I work for an international company and our team is spread out throughout the United States and abroad, with many of us working remotely.  Most of our meetings are conducted via teleconference, but occasional we travel to other office locations to meet live with specific internal and external resources. On a recent occasion, I was asked with very little notice to travel to a regional office to give a presentation to the senior leadership team regarding a large project which I have been leading. This would be an understandably stressful situation carrying out the presentation via teleconference, but the need to travel to the meeting and conduct the presentation live in front of such a prestigious audience was rather unnerving.  Having just started my belly breathing practice, I decided to use the belly breathing to keep myself calm and focused during the time leading up to the meeting, the travel and the presentation. The day before leaving to attend the meeting, I followed my new morning routine of reflection and belly breathing and took some additional time to include alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhan Pranayama. I performed one set of ten rounds of alternate nostril breathing to start. Afterwards, I felt additionally calm and relaxed having taken the extra time to focus on breathing and to ground myself. I decided to include the alternate nostril breathing in my regular morning and nighttime routines going forward.

The gripping feeling of anxiety and the accompanying nervous stomach ache came over me several times in the time leading up to the trip, while traveling and especially right before my presentation, but I used belly breathing to calm my nerves and to keep myself balanced. The breathing exercises seemed to dissolve the feelings of stress and worry into softened thoughts of peace and calm.   When it was time for my presentation, I felt rather calm and collected and I believe the presentation went well and was much easier to conduct as I felt grounded and focused, without the distractions of excessive nervousness.  Anxiety sometimes makes me forget what I want to say or stumble a bit when presenting information.   Happily, I was able to make it through the presentation without any hesitations or issues.

Exclusive Offer: Breathe On

Since beginning a regular practice of belly breathing, I feel less anxious and much calmer. In a stressful situation, when I start to feel the gripping feelings of anxiety, I find that stopping and taking a few minutes for belly breathing allows me to temporarily remove myself from a troubling situation and clear my mind as I focus on the inhale and exhale, the rise and fall of the abdomen. It alleviates many of the feelings of fear and relaxes my mind so that I can view the situation from a better perspective and allow myself to make more balanced decisions from a calmer and more even place.
Belly breathing has allowed me to feel more relaxed and less physically tense throughout the day. My muscles have generally not ached or felt heavy as often. I have experienced less nervous stomach aches and feel as though I have more energy, which could be due to the better blood flow and increased oxygen that diaphragmatic breathing exercises are known to produce. The energized feelings could also be attributed to feeling generally calmer as anxiety and stress seem to use much more energy than calm and tranquility. I have noticed that my breathing patterns during my Asana and Sadhana practices have improved and I am able to concentrate on my breath more easily than before. As an added benefit, I believe my abdominal muscles feel stronger.
This experiment has shown me that, belly breathing is always available when needed and it provides immediate and long-term positive outcomes with ongoing benefits to my health and wellbeing, as opposed to the negativity and unhealthiness that distress and anxiety can bring. At times when I feel worried and unsettled, I am learning that if I can stop and even take one or two deep breaths, I can readjust my thinking and be in a much better place. This experiment has made me reflect on a quote from the Dutch writer Corrie ten Boom, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”
Adding regular belly breathing and alternate nostril breathing practices to my morning routine has proved a wonderfully calming start to my day. As the day wears on, belly breathing helps me to feel much more relaxed and better able to cope with the odd stressful situations that seem to develop throughout the day. By adding belly breathing and alternate nostril breathing to my nighttime routine, I have less trouble falling asleep and my sleep has been much better with fewer interruptions. Overall, I feel calmer and experience longer periods of peacefulness and serenity than prior to the start of the Ayurveda experiment.