The Power of Gratitude: How mindfully slowing down and tapping into gratitude can promote increased and sustained happiness.
I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago who had recently herniated her L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs. As a highly active mother of two young children and someone with a daily power vinyasa flow yoga practice, this injury caused her not only significant physical pain, but also the grief, frustration and fear that often comes with a sudden loss of mobility. Yoga is a big piece of her self-care practice, and not knowing when or if she would return to this important daily ritual caused heightened anxiety and quite a few tears.
This woman, however, is young, fit and mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically strong. She has experienced more than her fair share of trauma, both throughout her childhood and into her 20s and early 30s. She’s been diagnosed with complex PTSD and lived with debilitating anxiety for more than a year. But, she’s done her work. It took time, willingness and the help of many skilled therapists using approaches ranging from cognitive therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), to somatic therapies, such as EMDR and Brainspotting, to yoga and mindfulness therapies, to energy work with a healer in India. She and I have also talked endlessly about my love affair with acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). She has adopted many ACT principles and, like me, draws from them daily in both her personal and professional life. Although it took dedicated self-exploration and a strong desire to heal and grow as a person, as well as the guidance and support of highly competent healers, today, this woman is rocking it. She has a thriving business, a fulfilling relationship with a loving, kind and loyal partner, two amazing children, many close friends and a vibrant, strong community. She also healed a very broken relationship with her mother and created boundaries that keep her emotionally safe, which is further testament to how far this woman (both women, probably) has come in the past few years. Although back pain is awful, I knew my friend could draw from the strength, resiliency and tolerance that she developed over years and would be okay in the long run.
As someone who has also struggled with back issues and lives with (and effectively manages) chronic pain, I reached out to her right after I learned that she had injured her back and was on oral steroids to help mitigate the inflammation. While the steroids were helpful in terms of lessening physical pain—and she believes they were instrumental in her physical healing—they made her feel loopy, unfocused and unable to work for almost a week. As a self-employed writer, this was another tough blow. On a phone call, I listened to her experience, gifted her space to express difficult emotions and then shared my experience, hoping to impart information that could prove helpful to her in healing.
A few days later, we spoke again and she was elated. She was pain free. Every day had proved better than the one before, and she had started practicing yoga at her studio again—of course, with big time modifications and under the guidance of highly competent teachers whom she had known for years and trusted. And, then she had met with a spinal specialist for a follow-up. Walking into his office totally pain free that afternoon—when she had been in the ER in an adjacent building for a MRI just eight days before—filled her with curiosity and immense gratitude. With no pain to treat, the doc sent her away with information, a referral for physical therapy—should she choose it—and an invitation to call should the pain return. Oh, and she had the go-ahead to return to all normal activities with the exception of heavy lifting, which made her laugh because she has a loving, kind and strong partner to tend to those activities, whether she is a little broken or not.
When we spoke last, she was in a beautiful state of lightness, joy and gratitude for her health. She was back into her daily studio practice and in love with her breath and the agility of her body. It was spring in Colorado (which is dynamic and gorgeous!), she felt springy, and everything was feeling good. She called mainly, however, to tell me a funny story about her practice that morning and a conversation she had with a friend who lives in the mountains just west of Boulder, where my friend lives. She has known this other woman for years, and they often take the same yoga classes. It had snowed in Nederland that morning (as happens during springtime in Colorado), and finding out last minute that school was cancelled for her 5-year-old, sent her yoga momma buddy into a spin that last minute changes can cause for busy parents. She was tasked with finding another source of care for her daughter and still making the 40-minute drive down the canyon for yoga before beginning her workday. Turns out she made it, but just barely. Rushing into the locker room to change and get onto her mat before the 9am class began, she looked over at my friend, commenting on how awesome it is to have her back and the rapidness of which she healed. Then she said, “Okay, let’s hurry up so we can go relax.”
Ah, the things that busy mommas say. My friend thought this statement was super funny, and knew I would as well. You have to love the irony that these words were expressed through panic in a yoga studio locker room. The back injury had forced my friend to slow down for almost a week, and it was hysterical for her to hear her friend say those words. She noticed later, while moving into the yin, cool down part of her practice, that “hurry up so we can go relax” conjured up feelings that had often arisen in her on days when she was rushed, overexcited and too unfocused to think mindfully. She and I spoke about this for a few minutes, her knowing that many coaching clients come to me in times when they struggle to juggle so much. She also knows that love, play, peace and gratitude are values that inform my life; however, it takes many of us an injury, accident, transition, trauma or loss to slow down and mindfully connect with our values and those simple things—health, body, breath, air, water, emotional and physical health and nourishment—that make our lives so incredible.
The Power Of Gratitude
If, like my friend, you’ve found yourself struggling with physical, mental or emotional pain or feel stuck or uncertain in one or many aspects of your life, I invite you to slow down and reflect on all the things in your life that make it special and that you, perhaps, have unconsciously taken for granted. It’s easy in this go-go-go world to become so busy that we lose touch with those places, spaces, people and simple gifts (think clean air, water and food) that give our lives breath and breadth. If you’re feeling out of alignment, I encourage you to reconnect with your values and tap into the power of gratitude. Many scientific studies show that people who regularly focus on gratitude experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t. Check out this blog from the Chopra Center, Cultivate the Healing Power of Gratitude, to learn more about the practice and benefits of gratitude and how you can infuse more of it into your daily life. If you’re really stuck and/or want to bring more gratitude, ease and excellence into your life, working with an Empowerment Coach can help, too.
What are you most thankful for right now? What or who in your life brings you fulfillment, happiness and joy? As humans, we all long for happiness. I’d love to hear about what practices you’ve adopted—whether they be self-care strategies, mindfulness techniques or something else entirely—that help you connect with your deeper self and engage in giving thanks.