The practice of gratitude has deep roots in yoga, with even the earliest yogic texts—like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, compiled prior to 400 CE—encouraging positive emotion practices as a way to combat a negative state of mind. In Sanskrit, the word for gratefulness is Kritajna formed from the root words krita, meaning “cultivated or acquired,” and jna, referring to “a state of consciousness or awareness.”
Modern research continues to emphasize the importance of gratitude, revealing that fostering conscious gratefulness can boost your immune system, increase your energy and creativity, and create a deeper feeling of connection with others. Gratitude alone is a simple and easy practice, but I’ve found that when combined with the power of yoga, it is even more powerful.
8 Simple Ways to Practice Yoga for Gratitude
1. Set a gratitude intention
The first and best place to begin adding gratitude to your yoga practice is to begin with a clear Sankalpa, or intention. An effective Sankalpa is a short, positive, and precise statement about what you wish to attain for yourself and/or for the benefit of all. “When we create a Sankalpa with commitment and determination and use the tools in our yogic toolbox to support our growth, then our intention becomes our reality,” says yoga teacher Kelly Golden.
Try creating a new habit of setting an intention of gratitude at the start of every yoga session. Here are some examples of gratitude intentions to get you started:
• May I appreciate and see all of the abundance in my life.
• May I feel and express gratitude, success, and joy with each breath.
• May I clearly see all there is to be grateful for in my life.
• May sweet blessings of thankfulness surround me during my yoga practice today.
2. Meditate for a calm and clear mind
In today’s busy society, our thoughts can tend to have a negative bias. To counteract that, it is important to actively minimize negative thinking so that gratitude and other positive thoughts and feelings can blossom and flourish.
Find 5-10 minutes each day to sit quietly, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and let go of thoughts and worry.
Light some incense as a symbol of purifying the space around you of all negativity. Light a candle to represent seeing your inner light and inherent goodness. Once you have calmed your mind and cleared out negative thoughts, take a few moments to reflect on what you are grateful for, remaining present and aware of the feelings of thankfulness arising in your heart.
3. Practice heart opening asanas
An easy way to add some gratefulness to your hatha yoga practice is to incorporate more upper body opening poses—especially yoga asanas that activate the heart and throat chakras. If you already regularly practice these poses, try holding them for a few more breaths than you normally do. You can also supercharge these asanas by remembering and focusing on your gratitude Sankalpa while practicing them.
4. Breathe deeply
Our breath is our physical link to being alive and serves a constant reminder to be thankful for this precious and fragile life we are given. While moving through the yoga poses in your practice, maintain a strong connection to your breath and experience each inhale and exhale as a gift. See how much beauty, joy, wonder, and gratitude you can cultivate with each breath you take.
5. Place your hands in Anjali Mudra
Mudras are subtle physical movements of the hands that activate specific circuits of energy in the body. Hand mudras are used primarily in meditation, but can also be incorporated during asana and pranayama as well as in other quiet moments in your day. Anjali means “prayer” or “offering”, so this mudra is perfect for invoking a strong sense of gratitude.
To practice Anjali Mudra and invoke feelings of gratitude, bring your hands to prayer position at the heart center and lightly press your thumbs into the sternum.
6. Create a gratitude altar
Creating a yoga altar in your practice space is a great reminder to feel gratitude during your practice. On a table or shelf, place a few symbols of the things you’re thankful for in your life, like photos of your family and friends. Surround these gratitude symbols with candles, incense, and gemstones that you enjoy. At the beginning and end of each yoga practice, simply take a moment to gaze at your altar and be reminded of all that you are grateful for.
7. Give back to others with karma yoga
Offering your help to others in need is a powerful virtue that removes guilt, softens one’s heart, and promotes inner peace. Research has shown that volunteering and using your talents to help others reduces melancholy and creates feelings of gratitude. Many yoga studios will offer opportunities to practice karma yoga, or unselfish action, in the studio or greater community. You can also look for opportunities to practice small acts of kindness for your yoga teacher and fellow yoga students.
8. Remember to say thank you
Create a habit to acknowledge the kindness and goodness in others by regularly saying “thank you” to them, either out loud or in your thoughts. The potency of these two simple words is immense. As Meister Eckhart famously wrote, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
Actively look for ways to say thank you in your life and in your yoga practice. One easy way to practice this is just to say thank you to your yoga teacher after class, but you can also look for moments in your practice to silently say thank you to your fellow students, your yoga studio, and yourself.
As you try each of these eight yoga for gratitude techniques, you might find it helpful to document their effects in a yoga journal. When you start to infuse your yoga practice with gratitude, you will no doubt find many other ways to incorporate gratefulness into the rest of your life.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with combining yoga and gratitude—please share with us in the comments!