With Thanksgiving upon us, heartfelt expressions of gratitude are everywhere. This week, friends and families across the US will gather to express appreciation for one another and for life’s many blessings. Though this annual holiday is often a catalyst for embracing the many reasons we have to give thanks, it’s important to remember that gratitude is also a simple yet powerful spiritual practice, available to us 365 days per year.
Since committing to a regular yoga practice, I find myself connected to gratitude more than ever. As we approach this widely celebrated day of giving thanks, I’m grateful for yoga’s many lessons, including the ability to view my life through a lens of presence, abundance and joy.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned on my mat is the practice of contentment, or samtosha, a quality greatly nourished by gratitude. Embracing samtosha—being content with who and where we are, as well as what we ‘have’—can be extremely challenging. But when contentment is joined by gratitude, this practice reminds us that we are whole, even when we might otherwise view ourselves as living in lack.
Well-respected teacher Richard Rosen refers to samtosha as a “helper” that assists us in welcoming our successes and failures with good humor and grace. Samtosha teaches us to embrace ourselves with kindness and gratitude so that we may find the lessons in all of life’s seasons and events, no matter how joyful or devastating they may initially appear to be.
Learning to be content in any given moment has taught me to view my life from a place of wholeness rather than one consumed by lack. Like the other niyamas, or attitudes we cultivate towards ourselves, the practice of samtosha helps us learn to bear witness, that is, observe the inner workings of the mind without judgement or critique.
This practice of bearing witness is a key player in cultivating samtosha. The witness inside, or sakshin, is the quiet observer that can see our emotional and mental fluctuations without engaging them. Standing in observant awareness without judgements, we are led to accept our selves and circumstances; through this acceptance, our ‘real selves’ emerge. When our perspective broadens in this way, we can let go of the need to change, understand or fix various situations that may present themselves in our day to day lives.
Experiencing contentment reveals the present moment as full and complete, with no need for change or longing. Through samtosha, we learn to say “thank you” for whatever is present in any given moment, because we realize that this moment is perfect as it is. This practice allows us to stand in a profound place of self-realization and gratitude for all of life’s circumstances that lead us to these moments of insights.
Remember, even the moments in life that might not traditionally be perceived as “blessings” can guide us to places of deeper knowledge of self. Through the practice of yoga, I have learned to embrace this lesson. That is why, this year, at our Thanksgiving table, I will give thanks for my yoga practice.
If like me, you experience heart-opening appreciation while on the mat, consider offering your yoga practice—and yourself—an expression of gratitude this Thanksgiving.