As the holiday season draws near, our lives become a whirlwind of festive decorations, family gatherings, and gift shopping. While these traditions bring joy and togetherness, they can also usher in a fair share of stress and distractions. It's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, losing sight of what truly matters. This is precisely where the practice of gratitude meditation can step in to offer a soothing escape for our souls.
We invite you to explore the power of mindfulness and the art of cultivating gratitude during this special time of year with meditation expert Brittany Bamrick of Bliss Camp Retreats. Whether you're navigating holiday stress or simply seeking a deeper connection to the essence of the season, Brittany’s guidance will help you discover the transformative magic of gratitude meditation.
Stephanie: How did you discover meditation?
Brittany: I was introduced to meditation during my second 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training back in 2014. In addition to our short, daily meditations, we had one memorable hour-long “sit” that became a hallmark moment of the teacher trainings I consequently led.
My meditation practice truly skyrocketed in 2021 with my enrollment in a 300 hour Teacher Training where my teacher emphasized daily hour-long sits. We even meditated for three hours straight one day! Since then, meditation has become part of my daily ritual, even for two to five minutes each day.
Stephanie: What's the difference between gratitude meditation and other meditations?
Brittany: When activating “your brain on gratitude,” you turn on your RAS or your brain’s Reticular Activation System. This means that whatever you’re focusing on, in this case, what you’re thankful for, begins to show up more often in your life. For example, if you’re thinking of buying a red car, you start to see almost exclusively red cars everywhere. This filter also applies to gratitude: you start to notice all of the small things you usually take for granted and experience a profound appreciation for them because you start to live in a state of gratitude. It’s no longer something you do, it’s who you are.
In other forms of meditation, you’re not necessarily activating your RAS. You might be simply noticing your breath, or consciously sending loving kindness out into the world. The Alpha brainwaves produced here help balance the typical busy, “monkey mind” but the result is different than practicing gratitude meditation.
Stephanie: If I have just 5 minutes to spare during the crazy holiday season, can you tell me the best gratitude meditation to try? (e.g. Is it the “gratitude rant”? Or is there an app or existing meditation I should try?)
Brittany: The holidays are certainly a busy and crazy time! The good news is five minutes is plenty, and I highly recommend doing the following mental gratitude rant exercise:
- Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, pause and take a few moments to acknowledge your breath.
- Once you feel fully present with your breath and body, begin to jot a mental gratitude list in your mind. I call this a gratitude rant, because the intention is to go on and on in your mind and heart about what you’re grateful for, like most people typically do when they rant on and on about things they don’t like or are unhappy with. Here, we’ve flipped the script and are creating a positive rant, listing everything we are grateful for - from the most obvious like our families and friends, to what we usually take for granted.
- You can do this mental exercise for as little or as long as you’d like. I’ve found that once I start, I can set a timer for 20 minutes and still not feel finished listing everything I’m grateful for that day. Since your RAS will activate once you begin practicing this form of meditation consistently, you’ll find that there will always be new and different blessings pouring into your life, amplifying your gratitude list. For this reason, and so many others, it’s a perfect exercise to do every day or multiple times per day.
Stephanie: Gratitude practice is such a powerful tool for mental health; can you share any best practices for weaving in a gratitude modality to a daily meditation? (Loved how you shared the example with our team of a few gratitudes and deep breaths every time you get behind the wheel of your car!)
Brittany: If you have an established meditation practice, you could conclude your daily meditations with a mini gratitude rant for the last minute or two of your sit. You could also journal your gratitude list as a continuation of your meditation (I much prefer handwriting this list over typing it in your cell phone!), or even create a ritual of dropping into a few seconds of gratitude each time to sit in your car (before turning on the ignition!), take your dog for a walk, or at the conclusion of your daily workout.
Remember, gratitude — and meditation in general — is never something to perfect or master. Instead, aim to create consistency and feel the lingering benefits compound over time. You’ll shift to living in a state of gratitude, rather than just practicing gratitude meditation.
Stephanie: If I've never meditated before, where and how should I start?
Brittany: This is a beautiful place to be! I highly recommend taking between 30 seconds and five minutes, first thing in the morning, to sit down somewhere comfortable and notice your breath. This is truly the simplest way to meditate — you don’t need any special apps, equipment, or lessons to follow. You can place one hand on your heartbeat, the other on your belly, and feel your breath slowly rise and fall for a little while.
If you’d like to set a timer, beginning with two minutes is accessible yet still provides profound benefits for your brain and body throughout your day. Try to elongate your exhales, breathing in for a count of 4 or 5, and breathing out for a count of 6 to 8, to ignite your parasympathetic nervous system, the opposite of fight or flight mode.
Stephanie: I have a hard time focusing during a meditation sometimes, is there a way to solve that?
Brittany: That’s normal! Most meditators — new and seasoned — experience distracting thoughts and are pulled away from their focus on their breath, mantra, gratitude, or other point of focus during meditation. There’s no “solution” to this other than practice! As your practice develops, you will be able to hold your focus for longer periods of time. Compassion is the key! Just like you wouldn’t scold a child who is learning to meditate, don’t be hard on yourself. Your brain is wired to think — so, when thoughts arise, remember that it’s totally normal and gently, kindly return to your point of focus.
Stephanie: Any pointers (doesn't have to be solely meditation) to help me channel good energy / release stress over the holidays?
Brittany: Be with people who truly light you up! It’s okay to say no and decline invitations to events you don’t really want to attend. Saying “no” is a form of self-care and self-love.
In addition to keeping strong boundaries: Get sunshine, visit an infrared sauna for the detoxifying and immune-boosting benefits, give the gift of experiences and presence over material goods, and keep your body moving! Whether it’s a grounding and soothing Yin yoga class, a sweaty kickboxing or cardio workout, or a run in the brisk air, don’t wait until January 1 to hit the gym or set your resolutions. Every day is an opportunity to become stronger, healthier, more grounded, and to alleviate stress through mindful movement (and meditation!).
ASK THE EXPERT: FAST FACTS
- Favorite Winter Wellness Practice or Beauty Ritual: Oil cleansing with Living Libations ‘Best Skin Ever’ cleanser — it keeps my skin so hydrated!
- One Thing You Can't Live Without During the Holidays: Plane tickets to somewhere warm to look forward to (For me, it’s Key West and Belize this coming February for two women’s yoga retreats!)
- What You're Reading Right Now: The Buddha and the Badass by Vishen Lakhiani
- What You’re Looking Forward to in 2024: Having my second child!
- Favorite Solara Product for the Winter: Fortune Teller SPF 30 for the sun protection and dewy, shimmery glow
Note: Brittany Bamrick is devoted to serving students on and off the mat. In addition to leading retreats and 200-hour yoga teacher trainings both in New Jersey and California, Brittany recently graduated her 300 hour teacher training with HeartYoga in March 2021. Her specialty trainings include a deep dive into yin yoga, Reiki level 1 and 2 attunements, Stand Up Paddleboard yoga, and Ayurveda. Brittany is a former lululemon ambassador, and has presented at Wanderlust festivals in Aspen, CO and Brooklyn, NY. Ask the Expert tips are for informational purposes only and any product, supplement, medical or dietary recommendations are personal to those featured in this blog post only. Always consult your trusted medical, herbal or integrative practitioner to determine the best routine and supplements for you.