Being Thankful Empowers Our Workouts
by Marlaina Donato
Exercise is crucial to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and many other health conditions, but staying motivated to maintain a routine can sometimes be challenging, even for fitness devotees. Cultivating an appreciation for the way our bodies carry us through life can turn what may have seemed like a humdrum workout into something special. Research shows that a gratitude practice fosters patience, encourages self-care and nourishes self-discipline, especially when there is temptation to reach for another slice of pie.
Appreciation in Motion
“When we’re appreciating ourselves, we open the floodgates to joyful movement and freedom,” says personal trainer Katie Hunt, in Milwaukee. “What if today were the last day I got to run? This question forces me to appreciate every little thing my body can do and minimizes the focus on what I dislike doing. Suddenly, running feels like a gift instead of a task.”
During pandemic restrictions, a socially distant power walk with a friend can get the blood moving and shift perspective. “Something about feeling my heart pounding, a cool breeze after I first break a sweat and the ability to share authentically with a close friend at the same time reminds me of both my powerful mind and miraculous body. How can I not be grateful?” asks Andrea Stern, owner of the Satori Yoga Studio, in San Francisco. Her thankful intention is carried into each yoga session. “I encourage students to bring a sense of gratitude to the mat with them. Before the class begins, I ask folks to connect with the present moment and to check in with themselves.”
Motivation Through Affirmation
Using daily affirmations—simple sentences written or spoken aloud—is a wonderful way to infuse exercise time with positivity. Leaning into a challenging asana or doing one more lap in the pool with self-affirming intention can snuff out self-criticism. “Moving your body is not a competition. You don’t have to prove yourself or your ability to anyone. Practice feeling grateful for how your body can move, starting with your heartbeat and breath,” says Sofia Angelina Marcus-Myers, an intuitive energy worker and portrait photographer in Portland, Oregon. Healing self-portraiture and dedication to daily affirmations propel Marcus-Myers through chronic pain and help her to see the body as a sacred vehicle. “Affirming your body is a practice, and sometimes it will feel awkward, absurd or tedious. Do it until you feel more comfortable affirming yourself, and then keep doing it.”
Calling a truce with body imperfections can help us feel more comfortable in our skins, something that can go a long way. For Hunt, shifting perspective inward is key. “What if we all stop and imagine being on a desert island? What would your perfect workout, body and life be like if there were no outside influences?”
Pain and Compassion
Living with discomfort makes exercising challenging, but learning to respect the body’s rhythms and limitations can be beautifully empowering. “I love the quote, ‘Unless your compassion begins with yourself, it is incomplete,’” says Stern. “Taking a class together (even virtually) gives us a sense of being in this together. When we breathe, stretch and grow together through our practice, it helps us to appreciate where we are on any given day.”
For Loolwa Khazzoom, a Seattle-based author and musician, it’s all about surrender. “Don’t fight your pain; dance with it—literally and figuratively. Dance from your bed. Dance in your head. Dance wherever and however it’s comfortable.” As the founder of Dancing with Pain, a wellness company that teaches a natural approach to pain relief through movement, Khazzoom says, “Our consciousness naturally goes to the places in pain and overlooks the places that feel good. Those places are quite literally our pathways to wellness.”
She recommends focusing on pain-free areas of the body with the joy, power, harmony and other sensations that come from moving to enjoyable music, noting, “As we inhabit those places with our entire beings, there is less and less room for the pain, to the point that it may vanish altogether.”
Marcus-Myers brings the message home with, “It isn’t your body’s purpose to be anyone’s ideal. Your body is an incredible living thing, worthy of love and gratitude.”
Marlaina Donato is an author and composer. Connect at AutumnEmbersMusic.com.
Steps to Building Body Gratitude
Affirmations from Sofia Angelina Marcus-Myers
“When you wake up, take several deep belly breaths. During each breath, acknowledge parts of your body. Imagine sending oxygen to your eyes, nose, lips, throat, chest, arms, fingers, waist, legs and toes. Softly say, ‘I am grateful for my eyes. I am grateful for my hands. I am grateful for my heart,’ and so on. Affirmations to try during exercise or any other time: ‘My imperfections are beautiful and connect me to others. My body is good. I am worthy of taking up space.’ Write or type affirmations on a beautiful piece of paper and put them somewhere you’ll see daily.”
Daily Techniques from Katie Hunt
“Spend three minutes filling a piece of paper with things you love about yourself. Include physical, mental, spiritual and emotional things. The act of writing yourself a mini-love letter every day sets the tone for a day of taking good care of yourself. Listening to the body is a practice. At a minimum, run a daily head-to-toe body scan, taking note of what feels good and what needs extra care.”
Gratitude Yoga Poses from Andrea Stern
Savasana or final resting pose (lying flat on your back with your arms by your side): “Use support (a rolled blanket or pillow) under the knees or thighs if that feels good. I love adding a body scan, sending breath to each muscle or joint, to my savasana, because it allows me to tap into my body and thank all the parts of me.”
Ardha Uttanasana (half forward bend): “Place both hands on the kitchen counter or waist-high at the wall in front of you. Walk the feet back, folding at the waist. Press the fingertips into the wall or counter keeping the ears in line with the arms. Send energy up and out through the fingertips and down and out through the legs and heels. Keep the core engaged and the thigh muscles firm. You’ll feel this in your hamstrings, upper back and shoulders. Hold for three to five breaths and take a moment to bring gratitude into the present moment.”
A Movement Exercise by Loolwa Khazzoom
“Get as comfortable as you can—whether lying down, sitting or standing. Scan your body and find both the places that feel constricted and painful, and the places that feel expansive and comfortable. Wave hello to the pain places and let those places know that you’ll give them your full attention in the next 10 minutes, half-hour or hour; however long feels right to you. Then set your intention to focus on the places that feel good.
“Put on some gentle music you love, and fill with that music the places that feel good—even if the only pain-free place in your body is in your mind (imagination). Invite the comfortable parts of your body to move slowly and with a sense of ease when they are ready, moving from the music. Allow your body to make the tiniest of movements and recognize them as valid.
“Be sure to stay within your comfort zones at all times. Keep in mind that you can always move more slowly or gently, with tinier gestures and in different ways. Explore the parameters of your comfort zones and fill them with ease, joy, grace and harmony. If you start to feel pain, back off what you are doing and get curious about how to stay in your comfort zone. As you dance, you may discover that the edges of pain move out farther and farther as you ride the waves of sound and organically expand your happy places until the pain begins melting away as a result of your pleasure.”