As we head into the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving, we hear a lot about gratitude and being grateful and giving thanks.

But what does that really mean? And why should we?

In my opinion, and from the perspective of a yoga practitioner, being grateful and giving thanks is a smidge different than having gratitude. And for me, the reasons are abundantly clear.  Not because I have some sort of enlightenment granted by yoga. No.

Instead, the events of my life and the way in which yoga has framed some clarity in my understanding and acceptance of them has helped me formulate and synthesize my list of aforementioned reasons and my perspective. It is not that yoga bestowed some universal truth on me and that is a clear distinction, and possibly a discussion for another time.

So, what is gratitude then?  As I have written about elsewhere and teach in my classes, gratitude is that feeling of gratefulness put into action.  In order to do that, we either consciously or subconsciously recognize the privilege that we have. We are able to acknowledge our fortunes and how we got them and that other people simply cannot have the same, unfair and unjust as it is.  Gratitude goes beyond feeling helpless and sorry for our fellow humans. It seeks to DO something to make someone else’s life a little better and a little more worth living…

Speaking of life…this is why we have gratitude. It is why we educate, volunteer, give, seek justice, open our hearts and homes.  Prana. In yogic terms, Prana is our lifeforce.  It is our Self.  It’s a part of the air we breathe, the functions of our organs, the water we drink, and the thoughts and feelings we have. The energy which sprouts a seed to a tree.  The energy that warms the earth and that powers the stars. The energy that we share with each other when we talk, hug, and fight. All of it.  The human experience is a part of what we call life, Prana.  When we meditate and become mindful of our breath, we are tuning into more than just our inhalation and exhalation. We are finding that universal force that gives us life. This is what we, as intellectual humans and as primitive mammals, tap into and instinctively know to protect.

Yoga and Prana, as it happens, tends to help us think of life as interconnected.  So it is hard to be just grateful for ourselves and our individual circumstances when we know other humans, with whom we share the experience of life, are suffering.  Often referred to as “cosmic energy”, we know that those molecules travel and are shared among us.  When one person’s Prana is impacted by fear, hunger, and sadness we feel the need to help.  We recognize our unique position of privilege, power, and fortune so that we can go beyond just saying “thanks” to doing more to share, empower, and uplift our fellow neighbors.

It sounds hokey, and I am not the best person to explain it-I’m not going to pretend that I am.  It’s especially difficult for those of us who are scientists to explain something that is definitely spiritual.  I reconcile it by noting that the human experience (in a vast interstellar and living universe) is sometimes puzzling and inexplicable by logic, and that is okay.

The point is simple-gratitude and Prana go hand in hand.  To share an experience with others and the universe connects us in some way-that lifeforce-is Prana.  We are able to BE gratitude by our togetherness and by our reliance on Prana.

This Thanksgiving, keep in mind that after you say your “thanks”, you can follow it up by embracing your brothers and sisters on this Earth in such a way to make their understanding of Prana a little happier.  Because we are connected by the universal energy, we can give of ourselves to better our communities, our friends, and our earth.

1 Comment

Myles Butler · November 23, 2016 at 6:32 am

I’ve always found it odd that we have just one day per year to show how grateful for everything in our lives. It’s a nice sentiment (and I really do enjoy Thanksgiving), but this kind of “thankfulness” can often feel a little hollow. I think your distinction between gratitude and being thankful shows why. It’s easy to be thankful but a lot harder to live with gratitude. Thanks for sharing this.

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