Gratitude Practice and the Brain

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Megha showing GratitudeIn my Let Your Yoga Dance for Special Populations class recently, 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 we take for granted. Dancing about, I recalled the American 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 by Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Gratitude Lab at the University of California. It’s adorable, filled with juicy tidbits and research on gratitude (one of my top character strengths): It’s called, The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks.

Here is a quote from Chapter 3: Why Gratitude Works/ Gratitude Rescues

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 letter, how about listening to the Karen Drucker song I sent you, 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.

When I teach folks who are struggling in their bodies, I get to witness the physical changes that occur as they dance. I watch them get younger before my eyes, more graceful, and smiling and laughing. I’m blown away each time.

I am so grateful that I not only get to teach folks who are challenged in their bodies, but I also get to train teachers to teach this practice! If you would like to learn how to bring Embodied Joy to the world, especially to those who need it most, come join us for the dance of Gratitude, to salute the Four Freedoms, and to explore the lovely Let Your Yoga Dance paradigm that helps us live with a grace-filled, moving, and grateful brain!

Here’s to knowing that we are all Dancers – And that we have so much to be grateful for!

Love and gratitude from the southlands,



What People are Saying about Let Your Yoga Dance Teacher Training for Special Populations:

“The Special Populations training changed my life. It was just wonderful. I thought I was retiring but instead the training catapulted me into a new career. My students always look forward to my Let Your Yoga Dance for Special Populations classes. Afterwards, all of us feel happy, healthy, and grateful.”

Elayne Goldstein, Elkins Park, PA.


Megha in meditation

Megha-Nancy Buttenheim, M.A., is the founder of Let Your Yoga Dance: Grace in Motion®. An international presenter and corporate trainer, Megha is a 27 year teacher-trainer at Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She is also a faculty member at the Nosara Yoga Institute in Guanacaste, Costa Rica and Kind Yoga School in Cape Cod, MA. She brings her passion and expertise as a lifelong dancer, actress, singer, yogi, and educator in experiential learning to all her workshops and trainings.

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