I believe gratitude is one of the most important emotions that we can experience. And it can have a very powerful and positive impact on your health.
It also happens to be an emotion that is better felt than merely spoken about, so I want to start this blog post a little differently than the others – with a short meditation. Feel free to read the instructions first, then put them into practice.
- Find a quiet space where you feel safe, then close your eyes.
- Take a moment to think about the word “gratitude.” What do you feel in your body when you think of this word? Notice any sensations or feelings that come up.
- Then ask yourself, “what am I grateful for?” Allow images and words to come up freely, without judgment.
- Notice how you feel in your body as you think of these things – what does it feel like when you imagine the situations, the people, or the places you’re grateful for?
- After you’ve felt and observed the feelings and sensations, take a moment to write down the things that came to you.
What are you grateful for?
Personally, when I ask myself this question, the first person that comes to mind is my husband. As I sit with the image of my husband, I can feel warmth and love. I am extremely grateful for him.
The more you do this gratitude meditation, the easier it becomes to settle into the feeling. It also becomes easier with time to note all the things that you’re grateful for.
Many of us know what gratitude is on a cognitive level, and we know that we “should” be grateful, but not many of us know what gratitude actually feels like. So take the time to notice and feel that for yourself on a daily basis.
If you’re having trouble coming up with things to be grateful for, start small. You can be grateful for your eyes and the ability to see or the ability to taste your food when you eat. You can even be grateful for the challenges you are facing or have faced in life.
The things you’re grateful for can be deceptively simple, but the feeling of gratitude no matter how small can positively affect your health and physiology.
Studies have shown that regularly practicing and experiencing gratitude can lower your blood pressure, improve immune function and sleep. It can also help to bring your hormone levels into balance and reduce internal inflammation.
In fact, a study conducted by the San Diego School of medicine found that individuals who had a regular gratitude practice had better heart health – lower heart rhythms and less inflammation – than those without a gratitude practice.
Gratitude also helps us to maintain a positive attitude and outlook. When we are moving through life without gratitude, we tend to focus on what’s going wrong or what is missing. Just as being positive and allowing ourselves to experience gratitude can positively affect our health, a lack of gratitude can negatively affect our health, increasing inflammation and contributing to disease.
Gratitude is especially important when you have a chronic illness.
I know this practice can seem “easier said than done”, especially for my patients with Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, and other chronic illnesses that can cause great pain and suffering. It’s important, however, even in these cases to spend 5-10 minutes each day thinking about the things that you are grateful for and feeling grateful.
I include this practice as part of the treatment plan for chronic disease because good health is not just about taking care of your physical body by eating the right foods and taking supplements. There is also a spiritual component, and this affects your health just as much as the more tangible interventions like diet and exercise.
If you are living with a chronic illness, I want you to start your gratitude practice by reassuring yourself that you are safe. Say out loud to yourself, “I am safe to feel.”
Acknowledge the parts of your body that are in pain and allow yourself to be grateful for the feeling. This can be challenging, but practice holding the body parts that are feeling pain and discomfort in your mind’s eye with care and compassion.
Imagine that the headache or the stomach pain that you are feeling is a small child and offer it comfort, imagining you are rocking that part of your body like a baby. As you are comforting that part of your body, say “thank you.”
Yes, I want you to actually thank your body for feeling weak or feeling pain. It sounds contradictory, I know, but the more you try to run away from the pain, the more intense it can become and the harder it can be to heal.
When we shift from a place of fear to one of gratitude, we change our physiology and create the space and ability to heal.
Pain is an indication that something has gone awry in your body, so if nothing else, we can be grateful to our bodies for providing us with this information.
If you start to judge yourself for being in pain and doubting your body’s ability to heal, I encourage you to find a picture of yourself as a child. Imagine saying all those negative and judgemental things to the child in the picture.
It’s much more difficult to speak harsh words of judgment when looking at a photo of your younger self. Instead, you’ll want to meet the innocence of your younger self with kindness and compassion. This is the same way you want to treat yourself as an adult, with self-compassion and kindness.
Remember, gratitude encourages healing on a physical level as well an emotional one. I encourage you to incorporate this practice into your daily routine. Sit with yourself and feel gratitude for everything in your life – both the positive and the challenging aspects.
As you know, November is the month of gratitude. For many of us, this involves ending the month by sharing a meal with family and friends on Thanksgiving. In the next blog in this four-part series on gratitude and health, I’ll be offering a few tips to help you nourish your physical body by eating healthily during the holiday season.
In the meantime, give this gratitude practice a try. I promise you will feel better and your body will begin to heal from even the most difficult of illnesses.