by Megha Nancy Buttenheim

In my Let Your Yoga Dance® for Special Populations class this week, I offered the theme of Gratitude. We danced our yoga with appreciation for all we have been given. I found many gratitude songs to use; one in particular lit up the group: Karen Drucker’s “I’m So Grateful.” We were happily waltzing around the room (some were waltzing in a chair), singing with Karen: “I’m so grateful … I’m so grateful …”

Watching my students and loving this moment, I was overflowing with joy. I saw so clearly that, even when bodies are compromised and the world is challenged in enormous ways, there is still so much to be grateful for. This included the fact that we were free to dance together in this sweet little dance studio in Sarasota, Florida. There are many countries and cities that would not allow such simple pleasures that we take for granted.

Dancing about, I recalled the Four Freedoms, goals articulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt back in 1941, four profound goals worth clinging to:

· Freedom of speech
· Freedom of worship
· Freedom from want
· Freedom from fear

When I returned home, I picked up my favorite new book, The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks, by Robert Emmons, professor of psychology and director of the Gratitude Lab at the University of California. It’s filled with juicy tidbits and research on gratitude (one of my top character strengths). Here is a quote from Chapter 3, “Why Gratitude Works”:

“Left to their own devices, our minds tend to hijack each and every opportunity for happiness. Negativity, entitlement, resentfulness, ungratefulness all clamor for our attention. Whether stemming from our own thoughts or the daily news headlines, we are exposed to a constant drip of negativity. Doom and gloom are on the horizon as financial fears, relational turmoil, global conflicts, and health challenges threaten us. We are worn down by it, emotionally and physically exhausted. To offset this constant negativity, we need to create and take in positive experiences. Gratitude is our best weapon, an ally to counter these internal and external threats that rob us of sustainable joy. Gratitude rescues us from thieves that derail our opportunity for happiness, and gets us back to contentment and inner peace.”

Here’s the thing: Gratitude practices—writing in a journal or writing a letter, thinking gratefully, telling others we’re grateful to them—are all excellent interventions. But over the last 30 years, I have discovered that dancing one’s gratitude is a truly remarkable way to land this important practice inside the body, not just inside the mind. In Let Your Yoga Dance, we experience gratitude for self, others, and all beings throughout the class. Dancing appreciation builds our gratitude and joy muscles, and builds positivity in the brain.

After you finish reading this, I invite you to listen to the Karen Drucker song, and dance around your space! If there’s a lot of furniture, dance around it—or over it! Allow your yoga to dance the gratitude you have for your friends, your health, a roof over your head, along with these four freedoms everyone on earth deserves to enjoy.

Megha Nancy Buttenheim, MA, M.A., E-RYT 1000, is CEO and founding director of Let Your Yoga Dance® LLC, and author of “Expanding Joy: Let Your Yoga Dance, Embodying Positive Psychology”. An expert in experiential education, Megha is a long-time teacher-trainer at Kripalu Center, where she has trained thousands of people in yoga, health, movement, and meditation.