Thanksgiving in April

If you’ve taken a few yoga classes, you’ve probably had a teacher who encouraged you to focus on “gratitude” as your intention.  And I’m all for it, as much as the next person.  Between our annual celebration of thanks in November, the Oprah-made-famous “gratitude journal” concept, and tragedies like the Haiti disaster reminding us everyday to count our blessings, being grateful is a pretty popular idea.

Yet, I’m still not convinced we actually practice gratitude as consistently, as meaningfully, as we could.

And let’s just be honest here: usually something god-awful has to happen first.  Maybe a plane crash wipes out hundreds of human beings, and we become genuinely, wholly grateful for the good in our own fragile lives.  Perhaps we’re personally threatened with the total loss of something dear to us, and we become viscerally appreciative of what we have, without wanting more.

This tragedy-gratitude phenomenon happened to me last month, when I received a call just before midnight from my father, who was on his way to the emergency room with sudden, excruciating all-over body aches and severe chest pains.

A former athlete and federal agent, generally healthy and only in his mid-fifties, no one had a clue what was wrong.  And still, after emergency spinal surgery, biopsies, a barrage of tests, and neverending bloodwork, medicine hasn’t been able to provide an exact diagnosis.  He continues to recover slowly, exercising both mind and body to adjust to the shock-and-awe of re-learning basic activities like walking and getting out of a car.  It is an experience that cuts to the heart of a person, of a family.  You both bleed and heal together.  And you say “thank you” every day, for every success, miracle and moment.

Though my father never practiced yoga before, it is now part of the foundation of his strength in recovery.  Our therapeutic yoga work encourages things like muscle stimulation, spatial awareness, range of motion, and pain management.  But yoga is also the foundation for my strength, as his new teacher and as his daughter. In other words, my personal practice helped prepare me for this.

You see, yoga is one of those rare physical and mental exercises with gratitude built into its core.  On the mat, we focus on giving thanks for what we have, thus helping us to achieve contentment or “santosha” (one of the niyamas of Ashtanga yoga, the ethical behavioral observances towards oneself as described in ancient yogic texts like the Upinishads).  We focus on being thankful for our ability to use and transcend our physical bodies.  We practice acknowledgment and appreciation of who we are, just as we are, without judgment. Every yoga session I do is a reminder to be content in the moment, to move my body because I can, to remember I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I mean, really.  I physically reside less than 45 minutes from my father’s home; yet, six months ago I was apartment searching in Manhattan.  I’m a health and wellness professional with pain management training; just two years ago I was a corporate lawyer. It’s luck, and planning, and instinct, and the Universe.  For these things, I have overflowing gratitude.

So jump in with me.  Have Thanksgiving in April.

Heighten everyday awareness on and off of your mat, and then act out.  Show your appreciation.  Speak up.  Say thank you.  Say you love her, or him, and why.  Honor yourself.  Recognize others.  Reflect on what you’ve got, then give more.  Embrace and embody gratitude.

Be grateful.  Be great.

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9 Responses to Thanksgiving in April

  1. Sonja says:

    Beautifully said. Gratitude and perspective. Practice daily.

  2. Evelyn says:

    So true. Awesome post. Thank YOU!

  3. Aïdah says:

    I thank The Creator for you, and thank you for sharing your story. You and your family are in my prayers. Peace be with you, and thank you for inspiring.

  4. Jimmy Friday says:

    For some reason the only television that captures my attention nowadays is CNN. So each day I turn on the TV int he hotel room and see all of the violence, death, and destruction going on in this world, I’m reminded of how fragile human life is. We (‘We’ meaning me, but I’m sure others can also relate) have this perception of our fathers that they are Superman and they are indestructible.

    • Kelly says:

      We do often have that perception, and eventually have to learn that no one is indestructible — but everyone can find an inner strength that seems to be. That’s what my dad did, and together we all made it through a really tough time. Thanks for the comment, Jimmy.

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