How spiritual leaders give thanks during the holidays (and beyond)

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Photo: Daniel Duane for Taryn Toomey
Between an emotionally draining election cycle and a seemingly endless stream of violence and negativity on the news, many of us are counting down the days until we can say peace out to 2016 (and prepare our sage bundles for January 1).

But rather than end this gnarly year with bad vibes on the brain, what if we all focused on appreciating the good things that the past 12 months have brought forth?

You don’t have to wait until you’re sitting around your Thanksgiving table to start getting your gratitude on—and no one knows this better than the new wave of spiritual leaders emerging in New York City and Los Angeles. For them, giving thanks is an all day, every day kind of thing…and some of the brightest lights have shared a glimpse into their own practices with Well+Good.

The best part of having a gratitude ritual is that once you start acknowledging what’s awesome, you become way more aware of how goodness shows up for you day in and day out. And it helps to start small—after all, even in the darkest moments you can still show some love for delish pumpkin bread, puppy pics, and the perfect navy leggings, right?

Ready to send off 2016 on a high-vibe note? Keep reading to find out how spiritual leaders cultivate gratitude during the holidays (and beyond).  
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Photo: Daniel Duane for Taryn Toomey
Photo: Daniel Duane for Taryn Toomey

Taryn Toomey

Creator of The Class

I feel gratitude all the time and it overwhelms me a bit—I get surges of it. I don’t have a gratitude “practice,” I just express it every time I feel it. If I feel grateful for a girlfriend or the work someone’s done for me, I tell them. I don’t hold back when it comes to that.

When you feel gratitude for somebody, reach out. Speak it. You have no idea what that person could be dealing with and how those simple words could help shift the direction of their thought process.

Photo: Courtesy Paula Mallis
Photo: Paula Mallis

Paula Mallis

Women’s circle facilitator and doula

I express gratitude by writing a list of at least 10 things I am grateful for. This morning ritual supports starting the day with a shift in perspective and allows for beaming, positive vibes.

Also, during our Thanksgiving dinner gathering we go around and share three things we’re grateful for. One year my friend gifted me a “Give Thanks” deck of cards. We dealt the cards and everyone around the table read their “I am thankful for…” card. It was a beautiful way to share a meal and the holiday together.

Photo: Courtesy Alexandra Roxo
Photo: Alexandra Roxo

Alexandra Roxo

Intuitive coach and filmmaker

One way I express gratitude is through group text chains. Right now, I have a text chain with two of my besties who live in Seattle and we text each other five things daily that we are grateful for.  It keeps the brain programmed to gratitude and is also a lovely way to stay bonded and close to friends or family who live far away.

But the best way I’ve ever found to give thanks is giving your time and energy in the service of others. I highly recommend finding one thing you are angered by or impassioned by and finding a way to give your time to it weekly (at the least) with volunteer work. This will cultivate gratitude in your life naturally and you’ll see a big change in the way you perceive the world and your place in it.  It will also increase your self-worth and value…and potentially change the life of someone else as well!

Photo: Courtesy Biet Simkin
Photo: Biet Simkin

Biet Simkin

Meditation guide and co-founder of Club Soda

Gratitude has nothing to do with what you have or how much of it you have. To the lower self, or what some call the ego, there will never be enough. I used to have “nothing.” You know that story of rags to riches? Well that was me, but it didn’t stop me from seeking integrity. I believe integrity was my first window into true gratitude. When we can be completely honest and live in what we believe is the truth, I think we are truly wealthy.

The second stage to gratitude for me is “mattering”—getting that I matter and my contribution to the world matters. My single and completely unique expression of the divine is only mine to give.

The third stage in gratitude for me is giving. When you create a life of giving and creating value for others, you can never run out. We are meant to be wells of giving. When we seek to live life this way, then we become a “state of gratitude.”

That’s what I think most people don’t understand. Gratitude is not something you do, it’s a state you move into and live from.

Photo: Courtesy Elena Brower
Photo: Elena Brower

Elena Brower

Yoga and meditation instructor, author

Gratitude got scrubbed clean and polished up for me this year. Each morning before dawn, I sit in my cozy corner, pillows everywhere, and I look at the moon, grateful.

I sing, I pray, I listen for my mama’s voice. “EeeeLAYna…EeeeLAYna…I love you…today and every day. Extra kisses from Mimi for Jonah.”

After I sit, I field the updates from my sponsees [in recovery], sending in their daily doubts and victories, their full-heart glimpses of ease. Finally. Then I imagine the most outrageously beneficent possibilities unfolding in front of me, clearly.

This is how I express my gratitude each day, and it’s become a feeling state that doesn’t fade, but keeps amplifying, strengthening. A level of trust that’s lengthening forward in time. I can’t yet call it myself, but it definitely feels like mine.

Photo: Courtesy Guru Jagat
Photo: Courtesy Guru Jagat

Guru Jagat

Senior Kundalini yoga teacher, author, and founder of RA MA Institute of Applied Yogic Science and Technology

My gratitude practice is rooted in being grateful for the challenges, failures, trip-ups, and opposition that have made my life so wondrously interesting and deep.

Yogi Bhajan says the way you handle and maneuver your failures is exactly the way you show up in your successes. I have taken that to heart and made it a rigorous practice to courageously and unabashedly celebrate and give thanks for the endless and humbling mishaps of a human body, mind, and heart.

It’s so vulnerable to continually just be our bumbling flesh-puppet-with-a-soul selves. So I laugh a lot and rejoice in the mess of it all. [Tibetan Buddhist master and Shambhala founder] Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says that enlightenment is found in the piss and shit of the cow fields. I’ll see you there.

Photo: Courtesy Kelsey Patel
Photo: Courtesy Kelsey Patel

Kelsey Patel

Spiritual empowerment coach, intuitive healer, and meditation teacher

Starting around mid-October, I shift from meditating once a day to meditating every morning and evening before bed. It helps me to stay rooted and grounded, both as the season changes and also as the year comes to a close. My mind can get a little busy and chaotic, wondering if I’ve done everything I wanted to in the year, trying to see everyone during the holidays, making plans to travel. Incorporating two meditations a day really helps.

Aside from slowing down my mind, I do my best to cultivate gratitude in my body by honoring this time where the body wants to slow down, even though sometimes schedules tend to speed up. I recommend taking time once a week to do a nurturing body, mind, and spirit ritual—a bath with oils and salts to replenish my body, a candle, some tea, and yummy music. Then, after the bath, I lather up with lots of organic lotions and oils to massage and nourish my skin. I’ll usually cozy up afterwards and do some journaling or reading and allow my whole self to connect and just be. It’s amazing and something that helps me connect to me each week, no matter what day I do it on.

Photo: Courtesy MNDFL
Photo: Courtesy MNDFL

Ellie Burrows and Lodro Rinzler

Founders of MNDFL

EB: A show of gratitude can make a huge difference in someone’s life, whether you’re the person expressing the gratitude or the recipient of it.

I try to keep this top of mind on a daily basis, whether giving a barista an extra generous tip for the delicious cup of tea they’ve made or reaching across the table and holding a loved one’s hand, taking a few minutes to tell them how much they mean to me and how lucky I am to have them in my life. Regularly using generosity and kindness as a way of acknowledging our fellow humans is powerful stuff…so is that very special look of appreciation in their eyes.

LR: Sometimes I wake up and just pause before entering the action. I connect with my body laying in the bed. I gently lift up through my spine. I slowly open my eyes. I feel the natural cycle of my breath. Then I take literally one minute to contemplate: “What am I grateful for today?” I just notice whatever responses may arise. Sometimes I’m surprised what little (or big) things are going on in my day that are worthy of celebrating. Then I’m more able to mindfully enter my day. 

Photo: Courtesy Gala Darling
Photo: Courtesy Gala Darling

Gala Darling

Author, speaker, and self-love activist

Expressing gratitude is a major part of my radical self-love practice—and when I go too long without doing it, life starts to feel a bit flat and dry. When I make the effort to peer into the corners of my life where there is so much secret joy, everything becomes juicy again.

I like to write lists of things I’m thankful for as my Instagram captions. Just compiling the list makes me feel happy and energized.

I play the gratitude game—where everyone comes up with five things they’re grateful for, and speaks about them at length—with my partner and his daughter. (We did this the day after the election, and it really helped.)

I often text my friends with a short list of things I adore about them, because appreciating other people makes both of you feel amazing—and when they respond in kind, your heart almost explodes!

Photo: Courtesy Ryan Weiss
Photo: Ryan Weiss

Ryan Weiss

Writer, meditation instructor, and life coach

A day hasn’t gone by in five years that didn’t start with my gratitude practice. I simply say aloud five things I am grateful for before I even get out of bed. This is the beginning of my 10-minute morning practice, which includes further affirmation, movement, and breath.

Without it, the world so easily pulls me into its preferred ways of thinking—namely, fear and judgment. But I get to choose how I feel, and so starting the day with gratitude gets me started on the right foot.

Photo: Courtesy Cassandra Bodzak
Photo: Cassandra Bodzak

Cassandra Bodzak

Meditation and wellness instructor

Gratitude is one of those things we all know is tremendously powerful in shifting our energy, yet I also think it eludes most of us day to day. I have made it a habit to jot down some notes of gratitude after my morning meditation, as well do a “body gratitude inventory” each morning when I shower. I wrote about that practice in my book, Eat with Intention, because it’s something that has changed my life by helping me come into a loving relationship with my body.

Two years ago over the holidays my little brother was in the hospital fighting a very serious terminal illness and I convinced my whole family to skip the gifts that year and simply write each other personalized notes about how grateful we were to have each other that holiday season. I’ve never felt more gratitude in my life just for being around my family and truly soaking up how much of a blessing it was to be able to have all of my loved ones together and alive. Having my little brother’s health stabilize in the months to come was the best gift I could have ever been given.

If holiday chaos gets the best of you, use this guided meditation to tap into gratitude. Only have a minute? Here’s Gabrielle Bernstein’s preferred tactic for giving thanks when you’re super busy.

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