Enjoy this day-brightening post from YD Educator Jillian Pransky who gives us the inspiration and tools to lighten up. How do you become happy? Become happy.
By Jillian Pransky
For as long as I can remember, I have loved spring. It is a joyful season. Nature’s regeneration ignites our faith and happiness; with the buds bursting and birds singing our hearts organically bloom open. Optimism flows more effortlessly.
However, while we may more easily find joy or gratitude in longer days of light, yogis believe that this ‘contentment’ is an inside job. From the earliest days, the Maitri Upanishad taught: “As is one’s thought, so one becomes. That is an eternal mystery.”
Yoga philosophy advocates that energy follows thought and that we choose our thoughts. Happiness is not a mysterious occurrence. It is a behavior, a conscious decision. It is a choice we make, each day, each moment of our day, with each thought we have (or don’t have). And while yogis believe this state of contentment is our birth rite, they acknowledge that it takes steadfast practice to live that way. However, with even a small glimpse of this state, we are able to find it more easily and more often.
Yogis are not the only ones who prescribe the practice of positive thinking. Many leading western doctors have substantiated that words, imagery and visualization elicit nervous system responses and can either promote a stress or relaxation response.
Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, says that the brain’s ability to affect the body has been scientifically proven. A positive attitude can boost the immune system and contribute to physical health and recovery. Through MRIs, EEGs, Blood Chemistry tests, and interviews it has been shown that when we focus on positive words, imagery, and visualization it can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system; initiating the Relaxation Response which cultivates an over all sense of well-being as it helps facilitate healing and regeneration on a physical, physiological, mental and emotional level.
And the Mayo Clinic reports that the over all health benefits of positive thinking may provide: decreased stress, greater resistance to catching the common cold, a sense of well-being and improved health, reduced risk of coronary artery disease, breathing easier if you have chronic obstructive lung disease, such as emphysema, living longer, better coping skills, and reduces the effects of stress on your body over all.
And if you still need more muscle to support the power of the mind, consider that the Cleveland Clinic has demonstrated that your ‘thinking’ can physically change your body, your actual structure! Volunteers were trained to do an imaginary weight lifting routine contracting specific muscles in their arms for 15 minutes, five days a week. At the end of the 12 week program, after lifting weights ONLY in their mind, they developed significant increases in strength in those muscles.
Of course, sometimes negative thoughts are useful, as they can help us perceive danger and then therefore protect ourselves through turning on the Stress Response (sympathetic nervous system) which helps us to fight or flee. But eastern and western scientists agree that as a habitual pattern, negative thinking or emotions create rigidity or solidity in us and over time can impair the systems of the body. They are energy draining, limiting, and contracting and can ultimately compromise our immune system as well as increase a physical and mental feeling of un-wellness, increasing symptoms like pain, fatigue, nausea, depression and anxiety.
PARASYMPATHETIC OR SYMPATHETIC COLORED GLASSES?
What’s most amazing to me is that when we think more optimistic, friendly, positive thoughts our actually chemistry makes it easier to continue thinking more optimistically, or vice versa.
Here’s how it works, when we turn on the Relaxation Response, we releases hormones (i.e.: serotonin) that help lift our mood and make us feel more ‘connected’ to our selves and the world around us. This organically breeds more open, friendly thinking. On the flip side, stressful thoughts which turn on our Stress Response, cause a release of hormones that help us survive (i.e.: cortisol), and therefore literally wire us to see the world and all we meet as the potential enemy; as it is most wise to stay well-protected when seemingly under threat. Of course this naturally supports our ability to see what’s ‘wrong’ with the world, our lives, others; further supporting more limiting, negative thinking and making it harder to think in a more positive way on a biological level!
POINT YOUR VIEW
“You become what you think about all day, and those days become your lifetime.” – Wayne Dyer
There are many yogic and Buddhist meditations to help shift this cycle and break our attitude habits, create an inner environment that will support more frequent and effortless ‘positivity’ and help us customize our personal lens shade.
For me the easiest (and fastest) way to shift into a more positive attitude is to practice Gratitude. When I practice Gratitude, I never feel like I’m faking it, as there is always something to feel grateful for. This is important to consider, as there are those times when we get – I mean when I get attached to my ‘negative feelings’ and can’t just override them. The point is not to judge, extricate, or replace your thoughts, but instead to simply open up the space of the mind and body. For just as negative thinking is contracting, positive thinking is expanding. And when I bring to mind what I am grateful for, I feel instantly relaxed and spacious. The gratitude simply warms up the whole space and naturally nourishing thoughts have room to grow.
Personally, I practice Gratitude regularly. Like I brush and floss my teeth. Not only do I do it after each yoga and meditation practice, when I’m most relaxed and receptive. But I also do a formal Gratitude Journal at the start of each season as way to recalibrate and ‘cleanse’. Within a couple of days of journaling I always experience a lift in energy, an ease of tension, a boost in my over all well-being, zest and passion. My entire system regenerates. I HIGHLY recommend experimenting with this now as we launch into spring! After all, it can’t hurt…
TRY A GRATITUDE JOURNAL:
Pick a journal and label 40 days of pages (It is said that 40 days is enough time to create or break habits, but not to much time that we hesitate to commit.)
Commit to writing once a day. Before putting pen to paper, pause and enjoy a few breaths. Then simply bring to mind what ever you may have gratitude for, in the moment. Open your mind to even the most mundane events and things i.e: toothpaste, car, phone, milk, bus driver, and so on. Sometimes I start with one word… and with out planning on it my writing continues to fill the page. All sort of positive thoughts, images, and doodles surprise me as they come out of my pen. Don’t worry if you skip a day. Just pick it back up the next day. But I bet you’ll find you won’t want to miss a day!
OR TRY SOME GRATITUDE ON THE RUN:
Use this breathing meditation on the train, in the car, on line… anywhere!
On Inhale mentally chant: ‘Thank you’
On Exhale mentally chant subject of gratitude: ‘Sun Shine’
And just incase you need a little more motivation consider Patricia Cota-Robles sentiment, “What we think about, what we hold in our minds and put our attention and energy into, we actually draw into our lives”.
RESOURCES FOR MORE READING PLEASURE…
- Gratitude and Wellbeing – psychology.UCDavis.edu
- Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior – socialemotions.org
- A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence – Social Psychological and Personality Science
- Research confirms the power of positive thinking – UNC College
- YogaDork Ed: Jillian Pransky on the Key Ingredient to Digestive Health This Season
- Too Busy for Savasana? Why We All Need to Play Dead
- Study: Restorative Yoga Defeats Depression In Breast Cancer Patients
- Dorkasana, or You Can’t Know Too Much Pose