By Mia Fasanella, March, 2019
“We can’t choose what happens to us, but we can change how we choose to receive our experience.” This quote resonates with me because it serves as a reminder that we have the power to shift our attitude. Even from difficult situations, we can learn something powerful and maybe even find something we are grateful for. Gratitude can shift the energy of your mind and body to help cultivate feelings of balance and peace, making you more resilient to stress.
I started regularly practicing yoga as a freshman in college. My first yoga teacher was a senior who taught a free class on Wednesday nights in the dorm lounge. At the end of each class she would instruct us to send gratitude to our body, for everything it does for us each day. I would quietly thank my body, but I never put much thought into why I was grateful.
Spring semester of my sophomore year had just begun and I felt tired and thirsty. I could barely sit through the first day of class. I spent my day running back and forth between the water fountain and the bathroom. Later that night my roommate brought me to the emergency room and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where your body attacks the insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. Without insulin, our bodies cannot use the sugar in our bloodstream as energy. People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin into their body every day to regulate blood sugar and stay alive. It was at this moment I realized how much our bodies do for us to keep us healthy. I understood my first yoga teacher’s emphasis on gratitude and her lesson not to take for granted our body’s capacity to care for itself.
After my diagnosis, I started incorporating gratitude into my daily life. It helped me realize how lucky we are to experience life, how fragile our lives actually are and how quickly they can change. Being diagnosed as a college student was challenging because I had to learn a new way of relating to my body and caring for myself while trying to keep up with my school work and activities. Expressing gratitude helped me get over the fear of living with a pancreas that does not fully function and find forgiveness for a body that needs extra help caring for itself.
The shift that practicing gratitude creates is that it helps you find joy, pleasure, optimism and compassion in your everyday life. It encourages you to notice things that are often taken for granted. Listing a few things you are grateful for each day cultivates awareness of the things happening around you that bring value to your life. “Gratitude is affirming the goodness in one’s life and recognizing that its source is outside the self,” says Robert Emmons, the world’s leading expert on gratitude.
Recently, I’ve incorporated gratitude stacking into my yoga practice. At the beginning of my practice, I come to a comfortable seated position and close my eyes. I become aware of my breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. Then I place one hand over my heart, the other over my stomach. Breathing in and out, being aware of my abdomen rising and falling as I breathe, I turn my attention inward and start to share with myself things I am grateful for. “I am grateful for my health, for the insulin that keeps me alive, for my boyfriend, the students in my yoga class, for the sun as it shines through the window. What do I have in my life right now for which I feel grateful?” I continue to list things for ten or so breaths. This practice of gratitude stacking grounds me in the present moment by focusing on my breath. It also allows me to take time to reflect on the things I have in my life that bring me joy and make me who I am.