Experiencing Beauty and Joy in 2016

Guest Writer: Katrina Woodworth

I don’t want a new and better life in 2016. I want new eyes to see that my life is already beautiful.
— Kelly Cooke

This is my favorite New Year's Facebook post, posted by a friend. For many the idea of setting New Year resolutions is a depressing thought--one that causes many of us to focus on what we don't like about ourselves or our lives in effort to change or improve our quality of life.

As I can be "the glass is half empty" kind-of-gal, for me New Years becomes a time of critical examination of all my bad habits that I want to change. As I get older, I'm noticing that each year, I'm still struggling with many of the same bad habits as the last New Years. All these resolutions aren't so effective and haven't led to lasting changes anyway!

This year, I'm stealing my friend's resolution. It's actually more of a prayer and hope than a resolution. I'm asking God to give me new eyes, eyes filled with grace to see beauty in my life...even in the painful and difficult aspects of my life. Studies show that those who are optimistic and can see the positive in their lives tend to be healthier. Some of the benefits increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better coping skills during hardships and times of stress. 

Now, as I said earlier, I'm not a naturally optimistic person... just ask my husband! As the holidays approach, my anxiety increases. As the holidays wind down and the winter drags on, I tend to struggle with depression. So then, this prayer is a challenge for someone like me who is not naturally optimistic.

My daily practices of yoga and meditation are the keys to finding beauty every day. I'd like to share three simple ideas to help me look for beauty one day at a time.

First, rather than viewing this as a resolution, it is a prayer and intention. As a prayer, I'm acknowledging my own weakness and seeking grace from God on a daily basis. As an intention, I'm seeking to consciously look for beauty. Just as in a yoga class, in daily living I sometimes lose sight of my intention. When I realize that my thoughts have become critical, I only need to gently draw my attention back to my intention... to look for beauty. 

Second, I've written my intention/prayer in my journal. Writing it down and posting it somewhere where I will see it on a daily basis will remind me as I am quick to forget.

Third, I've been looking for yoga practices that can re-energize and focus me when I'm either anxious or depressed.  I have discovered and love the pranayama called "Breath of Joy," a practice outlined in Amy Weintraub's book, Yoga for Depression. It is simple, grounding and energizing. 

Here I share Breath of Joy with you from Amy's book...

Breath of Joy

Stand with feet a comfortable distance apart and your arms at your sides. Inhale one-third capacity through your nostrils and swing your arms up to shoulder level in front of you. Inhale to two-thirds capacity and stretch your arms out to the sides. Inhale to full capacity and swing your arms up over your head. As you exhale through your mouth, lean forward and stretch your arms out to the sides and slightly behind you. Repeat four more times. Return to standing. Close your eyes and experience the effects.
— Yoga for Depression, p. 148

This last statement is KEY. In order to find beauty in the present, it's important to BE fully attentive to the present experience. Otherwise, the beauty may go un-recognized and appreciated.

May 2016 be filled with beauty in all that you experience.

[This post originally appeared on Katrina's MBS Yoga page.]