My yoga instructor surprised me the other day. In the middle of a particularly difficult pose (at least for me), she said, “Smile!” The tiniest of grins crept toward the corners of my mouth, not because I was particularly cheerful, but because of the absurdity of what she was suggesting. I couldn’t recall any other workout scenario where participants would be instructed to smile while they were straining, stretching, or “pushing it to the limit.” 

Seriously, picture a functional fitness class. Imagine doing a deadlift and just as you’re about to execute the lift, the instructor yells, “Don’t forget to smile!” What would you think if you saw a jogger in the park who was grinning from ear to ear? There are few CrossFit instructors who incorporate, “Say cheese!” into their commands. It just doesn’t happen. So when she said to smile, I couldn’t help it. My workout of choice does not use “feel the burn” anywhere in its philosophy and that made me happy.

The suggestion to smile during the rest of the time on the yoga mat was easier to accept. She suggested that as we opened our bodies in a few different poses that we open our hearts to feelings of gratitude as well. (Yet another suggestion you won’t hear in boot camp.) Ok, I’m grateful for…no, that’s not what she meant. It wasn’t the concept of ticking off a list of things I know I should be grateful for, but rather opening myself to the idea of gratitude and the place it could hold in my life and my body every second of every day, not just during yoga practice.

A regular yoga practice seems to be the gift-wrapped box holding all the good things I want in my life right now. How easy it would be to fall into the culture of fear that exists in our country right now, that separates us from each other and pushes us to extreme expressions. But gratitude prevents me from fearing The Other; it encourages me to see the value and pain in others as well as myself. And when I see intrinsic value in others, I cannot push them away. I can only feel gratitude they are in my life.

I’ll leave a smile on your face and another one waiting for you on the yoga mat with excerpts from Gratitude Poem by Jeanie Manchester: “I am grateful for my limits that teach me patience and pace…I am grateful for my past that has delivered me to my present…I am grateful for the fullness of my life.”