A few years ago, I sat on a yoga mat in a small studio and I took a deep breath.
It was something my instructor always told us to do at the end of our practice. After 90 minutes of moving myself in ways that almost always made me feel insufficient, I sat on my mat and, like usual, heard the instructions to inhale. Let it out all at once, she said, and take a moment to express appreciation to yourself for all the things your body can do. Like walk or blink. Or breathe.
Interestingly, I can easily shift my way into a place where my mind is filled with judgment, and gratitude is hard to find. But there is a different part of me where the bar is low. Where I don't expect so much of myself and others, and the little things are enough.
A moment in the day when the sun warmed my face, a time when I turned my head and my neck didn't hurt, a conversation with someone who made me smile — in that humble, happy place, those are things that make me glad. Those are things that are part of the list I vowed to make for my great-grandmother Arizona Moritzky.
Those are also things that contribute to a healthy life.
According to Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and a leading expert on the science of gratitude, gratitude has specific biological impacts on the human body.
"It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep," Emmons said in a feature on the UC Davis Medical Center web page. "Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment and regret."
Gratitude also lowers creatinine and is linked to a reduction of stress hormones, according to the UC Davis Medical Center feature.
"Grateful people have 16 percent lower diastolic blood pressure and 10 percent lower systolic blood pressure compared to those less grateful," the feature says.
With that in mind, here is a list of 37 things for which I'm grateful, in honor of my great-grandmother Arizona, who died two weeks after her 38th birthday, 103 years ago this week. In no particular order of importance, and off the top of my head, here goes:
Gosh, I'm running out of room. As I write this list, I find myself wanting to edit out the material things I'm grateful for — like my car, my house and my comforts — but I'm grateful for them too. I'm grateful for my job, for blackberries and perfectly ripe blueberries and the way the sun looks when it sets every day. I'm grateful for rain, for harmless thunder storms, for my toes that can pick a pencil off of the floor, for my legs that can run and carry me where I want to go and I'm grateful for my lungs, that can hold a space for me, every day, to remember to appreciate what I've been given.
I'm grateful I can breathe.
I'm grateful that tomorrow, I can take a deep breath and add to this list for Arizona. Let me rephrase.
Tomorrow, I will take a deep breath and feel appreciation — for me.