Gratitude and Breathing It’s September again, the days are getting shorter, the leaves are starting to change, and I am slowly and painfully learning to adjust to a world without my dad who passed away unexpectedly on August 29th. I find myself reflecting on many things from the pragmatic and mundane to the spiritual and esoteric. What is at the forefront of your mind as fall begins?
Be Happy (or if nothing else, be grateful)
In this challenging time, I have spent much energy focusing on those things for which I am grateful, foremost among them having the father I had for 52 years.
It turns out that experiencing gratitude is good for our brains and our hearts. It makes us feel better, boosts our immune systems, even helps us sleep better. When we feel gratitude, we are more likely to be more generous and compassionate and less lonely. Learn more about why gratitude is good from Greater Good in Action. Buddhism teaches that gratitude is to be cultivated as a habit or attitude of mind and is not dependent on conditions. I interpret this as saying experiencing the feeling of gratitude is at least as important as what it is we are grateful for.
There is a wealth of resources about gratitude and how to experience it. Here is my short go to list for experiencing the benefits of gratitude.
It helps you to sleep, so as you are falling asleep at night, rather than counting sheep, think of three things for which you are grateful. Then, take a moment to experience the feeling of gratitude or appreciation for each of these things as you gently drift into sleep. As a side benefit, I would not be surprised if this also gives you some awesome dreams.
When you wake up in the morning, first thing, make a gratitude list. It could be as simple as being grateful for the cup of coffee you are looking forward to or as meaningful as gratitude for a loved one in your life.
In times of deep unhappiness and grief, gratitude might be hard to find or painful to experience. In a time of peace, calm, and serenity, create a long list of things for which you are grateful. Have it easily available to you and use it when you need it. Sometimes the simplest items are the easiest to focus on, so don’t forget the easy things, the things that you are most likely to take for granted.
Then there’s the hard one, be grateful for the things that cause you pain, whether it’s because you can learn from them or because they are both happy and sad (like memories of a lost loved one). In experiencing this type of gratitude, you also begin to heal.
One of the big toxic loads on our systems over which we have a great deal of control is stress. If nothing else, in stressful moments, sometimes breathing is all we can do and that is enough. Remembering to breathe, taking a pause, and shifting focus to the act of breathing can be incredibly helpful.
My latest favorite breathing exercise is about slowing your breath to five breaths per minute. To do this, breathe in to the count of five and breathe out to the count of five. Breathe in through you nose and out through your mouth. When I do this I can actually feel my heart responding. This breath improves your Heart Rate Variability which measures the distance between heart beats.
HeartMath® is a combination of gratitude and breathing. In experiencing feelings of gratitude and appreciation while breathing more slowly and deeply than usual and imagining the breath going in and out through your heart, you actually shift your physiology, reduce your stress, and improve your mental function.
Matt and I are experimenting with a vegan lifestyle. It has led to some interesting food choices for both of us as well as questions that we had not anticipated. Do we eat honey? How closely will we read bread labels? How will Pepper feel about this change? Yes on honey, not very carefully on the labels and Pepper is on the fence.
My favorite discoveries so far include:
Riced cauliflower from Trader Joe’s. So far I have sautéed it and used it as a base (like rice) for stir fried vegetables and tossed it, cooled, into salads. Next up is to roast it.
While I long ago discovered portabella mushrooms, I was delighted to learn that they are a protein source and so we’ve enjoyed grilling them or baking them. I either make a sandwich or slice them and put them on top of something else such as the riced cauliflower.
It’s easy to find vegan food. When I first stopped eating meat, it was often a challenge, especially when traveling, to find reasonable choices. Matt and I were in Estonia and ate one night at a vegan restaurant, where we discovered celeriac, and the second night at a non-vegetarian restaurant where options were labeled everything from vegan to vegetarian to gluten free to lactose free. Admittedly, they might still have a way to go since the vegan restaurant had a fried egg as its logo.
Try celeriac or riced cauliflower or other vegan choices. It doesn’t have to be your staple, but it can be a great entry point into some new and interesting food choices and potentially a healthier life style.
As the president of Break Through Academy, I work with individuals and groups to help them achieve their life goals through making choices to eat well, avoid toxins and be happy. As a strategic planning consultant, I work with organizations to improve performance through incorporating health and wellness into the fabric of their culture.
I am interested in talking to you about speaking at an event, offering you coaching, or talking to your organization about incorporating health and well being into the fabric of your culture.
I am a Certified Holistic Health Coach, a strategic planning consultant, a distributor of Pure Haven Essential products, and a HeartMath coach.