On the Om Front: Grappling with gratitude


Humans are funny creatures. We don’t need to be reminded to complain or judge someone else (or ourselves)—that’s so easy. I mean, things always go wrong and people are constantly screwing up, right? So who needs a reminder to begrudge or kvetch? But to feel deep appreciation for what you have in this moment … that’s hard. We need reminders for that. In fact, we need a holiday. 

Why is a simple thing like gratitude so difficult? It’s not because we’re self-centered people who are intentionally fixated on what’s wrong rather than what’s right (though certainly this is what it often feels like). It’s because, and recent research by neuroscientists supports this, our brains are simply wired to solve problems. And if your brain really wants to solve a problem, and a problem does not currently exist, your brain will create a problem to solve. You’re probably trying to solve a problem at this very moment. You just can’t help it.

But you can shift your brain out of problem-solving mode consciously—it just takes a bit of practice. Way before neuroscience, the Buddhists were hip to the fact that most of us need to foster positive mind states in order to bring those mind states about, and one of the main practices in that tradition is to meditate on gratitude or katannuta. The Pilgrims knew something about this, too. Despite the sketchy conditions of their first Thanksgiving (on Native American soil and all that), their aim was to practice gratitude. And that T-Day was not the first: Holidays of thanks-giving have been happening around the world for time immemorial. 

So, on your Thanksgiving this year, try this practice: all day long, no matter what comes up, employ a feeling of gratitude. Focus on what you actually already have, rather than any real (or nonexistent) needs. The turkey or tofurkey gets burned? Be grateful your kitchen didn’t burn down, too. Your Uncle Hal smells like a mix of Wendy’s and engine grease? Be grateful your sense of smell is intact. Your family is fighting over absolutely nothing at the dinner table? Be grateful they’re all alive—or simply that you are alive to witness their bickering. Just for one day: View everything as a gift. It’s a great practice in mindfulness and it beats the cranberry sauce out of solving problems all day.


Top Yoga Picks (including Thanksgiving classes!):

Grand Opening Weekend for Yoga Tree Corte Madera!

The Yoga Tree chain that we all know and love is expanding to the North Bay. Such a great studio, and definitely something to feel grateful for. There’s a free yoga class from 6-7:30, and then the party goes from 7:30-10:30. DJ Drez is spinning. There’s also a whole weekend of free classes, too. Find the details on the site.

9/16, 6-10:30pm, free, Yoga Tree Corte Madera. More info here


Yogi Amrit Desai and Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra is the ancient practice of yogic sleep, and it allows you to shed light on your most unconscious and unconditioned inner truths. You can bring an intention to your yoga nidra—maybe gratitude?

11/16-18, $75 for the whole weekend, less for individual sessions. More info here.


Yoga and Live Music for Hurricane Sandy

Join me for a delicious rhythmic flow class accompanied by Sean Feit on harmonium and cumbus (Turkish banjo). After class, we’ll join voices in a soulful Kirtan (yogic chanting). All proceeds to benefit our East Coast peeps still dealing with fallout from Sandy.

11/16, 7:30-9:30pm, $25 suggested donation, Yoga Garden, San Francisco. More info here


Thanksgiving Day Gratitude Practice with Chad Stose and Sam Jackson

Take this easeful, breath-focused Anusara flow class with Chad Stose on T-Day, accompanied by the deep meditative quality of Sam’s unique crystal bowl soundscapes. Better than turkey.

11/22, 9-11am, $20, YogaKula, San Francisco. More info here


Thanksgiving Yoga St. Anthony's Benefit with Janet MacLeod

100% of funds raised by this Thanksgiving class will go to St. Anthony's Foundation, which offers shelter, housing, meals, medical care, clothing and furniture, rehabilitation and senior services to the poor and needy of San Francisco.

11/22, 9-11am, suggested donation $30, Iyengar Institute, San Francisco. More info here


Thanksgiving Yoga Benefit for the San Francisco Food Bank with Kate Lumsden 

Yet another wonderful donation-based Thanksgiving class with another wonderful teacher. The Mindful Body is a special place—this is a great opportunity to check it out if you’ve never been.

11/22, 9:30 - 11:30am, by donation, The Mindful Body, San Francisco
. More info here


Karen Macklin been up-dogging her way down the yogic path for over a decade, and is a lifelong lover of the word. To learn more about her teaching schedule and writing life, visit her site at www.karenmacklin.com. Follow On the Om Front on Facebook:www.facebook.com/ontheomfront

Related articles

  • Stretch out

    Summer yoga retreats and festivals offer escape for body, mind

  • Faith in flow

    Grace Cathedral's yoga team talk love, church, and the Christian-yogi connection

  • On the Om Front: Guys Wanted in the Yoga Room

  • Also from this author

  • Beautiful path to now

    A groundbreaking art exhibit mines yoga's mythic past for clues about its vibrant present

  • Rise and shine

    AcroYoga flies high in SF

  • Stretch out

    Summer yoga retreats and festivals offer escape for body, mind