How to Express Gratitude With Yoga: 5 Happiness-Boosting Tips

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Happiness experts agree that one of the keys to long-term mental and spiritual fulfillment is to regularly express gratitude. "It's important to practice gratitude because it increases your well-being by clearing your mind, focusing on all the gracious and good things in your life, and to appreciate all the simple things in life that we usually take for granted," says Jessy Chang, a teacher at Evoke Yoga in Los Angeles. Emily Cummings, a yoga instructor at L.A.'s Set & Flow, agrees that making a habit of focusing on what you're grateful for is important because it shifts the way you respond to the world dramatically. As she explains, "Things that were once challenges become teachers. When you're grateful, you always have enough. That insatiable desire to constantly be chasing the next thing goes away and you are able to fully enjoy the moment, which is really all we ever have."

So how exactly does one "practice gratitude"? Turns out that a few simple yoga poses and techniques can help. We solicited the advice of Chang, Cummings, and a couple other seasoned yogis to figure out how to involve "gratitude yoga" into our daily lives. "These practices work to help you express gratitude simply by shifting your perspective and bringing a sense of mindfulness to your practice," says Cummings. Keep scrolling for five easy, yoga-inspired ways to feel more gratitude.

Try a "Gratitude Pose"

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There are a few easy yoga poses essentially designed to enhance your gratitude goals, including Child's Pose, forward folds, and heart openers.

Take a wide Child's Pose with your knees out to the side for a gentle hip opener. "This beautifully humble pose is not only restorative to the body but is basically a gentle bow; a sign of respect and honor," says Lindsey Lekhraj, a Kundalini yoga and meditation expert and founder of Wellevation. By sitting over the heels with your forehead on the mat, you're able to focus on intention and gratitude for the day. 

Forward folds are also a yogi go-to for expressing gratitude: "As you fold into yourself, you are able to feel your own energy, to connect deeper with your body, and to take deeper notice of the mind-and-body connection as you tune out of external stimulation," says Cummings. 

Looking for a more empowering pose? Cummings suggests trying a heart opener. "Opening the heart requires a sense of trusting yourself, it requires surrender, and when achieved in harmony and connection with the breath, heart openers create space for energy to flow through the heart," she says. Cow Pose, Fish Pose, and Camel Pose are all great heart openers. Cummings suggests really dialing into your breath as you engage with these poses. "Imagine as you breathe in that you are creating space for something in your life that you are grateful for," she says. "As you enter into the heart-opening posture, maintain your focus and connection to the breath. With each breath in, imagine that space of love and gratitude expanding into your heart and radiating out into the world with each exhale."

Focus on Your Breath

"Each breath that we take is a reminder of what it means to be alive," says Cummings. "Each breath is a gift, and there is always gratitude to be found and practiced within that. The breath is like an anchor to the present moment."

Pranayama is the word for breathwork in Kundalini yoga, and our experts agree it's possibly the most important thing you can do in your gratitude practice. "Using the breath has been such a powerful healing tool that it can literally break up negative thought patterns in the brain," says Lekhraj. "Just a few minutes of intentioned breathing can produce dopamine and euphoric feelings, with the ability to brighten the outlook on nearly any situation." Your body has the power to heal itself from the inside out just with breath. "This gives you the option of choosing … gratitude even when faced with stress and adversity," says Lekhraj, whose favorite type of Pranayama is called Breath of Fire.

"This is a highly cleansing and energizing breath that can be practiced most anywhere, even sitting on the sofa," Lekhraj says. Start by sitting up straight with a tall spine. Breathe quickly and powerfully through the nose with an even inhale and exhale. "It should sound a bit like a puppy panting, but through the nose," says Lekhraj. "The navel will start to pump a bit. You may even start to break a sweat if you do it long enough!" This exercise pumps the lymphatic system, giving you an immunity and circulation boost, which not only makes you feel powerful but also makes your skin glow.

Take a Moment of Gratitude-Centered Meditation

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Lucy Wilson, a yoga teacher at Samarasa Center in L.A., suggests taking a simple two-minute Sukhasana or seated meditation, whenever you get the chance, focusing your intention on what you're grateful for, even if it's just that you have a living body. "Place your hands over your heart and take five or 10 breaths to find pure gratitude; unconditional, all-consuming gratitude for your physical self," she says. "Thank your body for all that it allows you to do. If you find yourself adding conditions ('I'm thankful for my body, except…' or 'I love body when…'), try again, and then just focus on your breath."

Allow Yourself an Intentional Rest

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We so often deprive ourselves of true, meaningful rest, but yogis say it's essential for focusing on gratitude. Savasana, or Corpse Pose, is simply a time for your body to integrate and rest, says Wilson. "You can do this with your arms wide, or with your hands placed lovingly somewhere on your body," she says. "Just focus your attention on your breath as you observe your body absorbing all that you've practiced."

After two to five minutes of Savasana, Wilson suggests giving yourself permission to hold onto any amount of that love and gratitude you found while in the pose, no matter how small. "Let it seep into you so you can carry it with you into the rest of your day, and share it with the people around you," she says.

Consider Gratitude Journaling

This isn't something you'll find yourself doing in most yoga classes, but it incorporates the intention of a yoga pose or breathing exercise, simply through a different medium. Cummings recommends starting each day by writing down a simple list of things that you are grateful for, even if it's just one or two things. "Some days may be harder than others—maybe some days all there is to write down is the fact that you're alive; you're here; you're breathing," she says. "But the simple of act of acknowledging what you are grateful for each day is a powerful shift in perspective."

Next, read about our editor's experience with gratitude journaling