Gratitude is good for the Heart – February Heart Healthy month

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

The leading cause of death for American men and women in the United states is heart disease, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths.

But here is some good news!  Research shows that feeling grateful doesn’t just make you feel good. It also helps — literally helps — the heart.

A positive mental attitude is good for your heart.  It fends off depression, stress and anxiety. This will decrease the risk of heart disease!

Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine specializes in disease processes and has been researching behavior and heart health for decades. He wondered if the very specific feeling of gratitude made a difference, too.

So he did a study. He recruited 186 men and women, average age 66, who already had some damage to their heart, either through years of sustained high blood pressure or as a result of heart attack or even an infection of the heart itself.

It turned out the more grateful people were, the healthier they were.  And when Mills did blood tests to measure inflammation, the body’s natural response to injury, or plaque buildup in the arteries, he found lower levels among those who were grateful — an indication of better heart health.

So Mills did a small follow-up study to look even more closely at gratitude.

  • He tested 40 patients for heart disease and noted biological indications of heart disease such as inflammation and heart rhythm.
  • Then he asked half of the patients to keep a journal most days of the week and write about two or three things they were grateful for.
  • People wrote about everything, from appreciating children to being grateful for spouses, friends, pets, travel, jobs and even good food.
  • After two months, Mills retested all 40 patients and found health benefits for the patients who wrote in their journals
  • And when he compared their heart disease risk before and after journal writing, there was a decrease in risk after two months of writing in their journals.

Mills isn’t sure exactly how gratitude helps the heart, but he thinks it’s because it reduces stress, a huge factor in heart disease.

Many scientific studies, including research by renowned psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, have found that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional well-being and physical health than those who don’t.

If you want more happiness, joy, and energy, gratitude is clearly a crucial quality to cultivate.

  • Gratitude is a fullness of heart that moves us from limitation and fear to expansion and love.
  • When we’re appreciating something, our ego moves out of the way and we connect with our soul.
  • Gratitude brings our attention into the present.
  • The deeper our appreciation,  the more our life flows in harmony with creative power.

Here are three powerful gratitude practices for you to try.

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal: One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:

  1. Who or what inspired me today?
  2. What brought me happiness today?
  3. What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

2. Write a Thank You Letter: Make a list of at least five people who have had a profound impact on your life. Choose one and write a thank you letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts you’ve received from that person. If possible, deliver your gratitude letter in person.

  • In studies of people who have practiced this form of gratitude, the results have been amazing.
  • Often the recipient of the letter had no idea what an impact he or she had had on another person and were deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude.
  • While we may often thank people verbally, the written word can often be even more powerful because someone has taken the time to write their appreciation.
  • A letter can also be re-read and treasured, creating joy and love.

3. Take a Gratitude Walk. Set aside 20 minutes (or longer if you can) and walk in your neighborhood, through a park, around your office, or somewhere in nature. As you walk, consider the many things for which you are grateful … nurturing relationships, material comforts, the body that allows you to experience the world, the mind that allows you to really understand yourself, and your essential spiritual nature. Breathe, pause, and be grateful for the air that is filling your lungs and making your life possible.

Enjoy this 7-minute video about an experiment in Gratitude. A beautiful example of Gratitude practice number 2 – writing a letter expressing gratitude for all the gifts you’ve received from that person.

11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

Elders find joy in Yoga practice!

Last December, a friend and I took a giant leap of faith and opened a yoga studio in our small hometown in Peru, Indiana, population 11,100.   We had both been drawn to yoga to help ease the aches and pains of injuries caused by our active lifestyles. Yoga helped both of us immensely, and we wanted to help others by making it accessible to people in our community.


One of our greatest surprises has been the popularity of our Chair Yoga classes. Chair Yoga is where a chair replaces the yoga mat and students duplicate any pose typically done on the floor but in a way that is easier for those with physical challenges. By far our most popular and well-attended class, it also comes with the best success stories! Our oldest chair yoga practitioner is 86 years young, and it has been remarkable to watch her become healthier, stronger, and more flexible.

The Harvard School of Medicine has concluded that yoga is beneficial for brain health.   And importantly, the laughter, joy, and sense of accomplishment is life-affirming! We’ve received several informal testimonials about the power of our chair yoga classes:

  • A woman in her seventies who regularly attends class was unable to bend over far enough to tie her own shoes when she first came to the studio. Within a few weeks, she had gained enough flexibility to reach down to her feet.
  • An Air Force retiree with disability due to challenges with his knee and shoulder joints has seen improved range of motion and less joint pain with his regular yoga practice.
  • Unable to bring her hand to the back of her neck because of shoulder pain, a woman in her sixties is now able to lift her arm over her head pain-free.
  • Upon leaving his first class, a first-time attendee remarked that the breathing exercises helped him to feel more relaxed and less anxious.

These are real stories from real people who attend chair yoga classes at Joyful Yoga. Hearing people talk about what yoga has done for them makes me even more excited about yoga and all the ways it improves our health, quality of life, and well-being. The benefits of yoga are real and can be accessible to anyone. Plus it just makes you feel great!

Check out this woman who celebrated her 105th birthday by teaching a yoga class. 

105 years old and still practicing yoga! There is probably no better testimonial than that.

Compass Senior Living has partnered with  Joyful Yoga owners, Carrie Gallahan and Tina Miser.  They have developed a Chair Yoga class specifically for Compass Senior Living communities that are located in Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.   The name of the Compass Signature yoga program is ‘True North Yoga‘.

About Guest Author, Carrie Gallahan and her business partner, Tina Miser

Tina Miser and Carrie Gallahan, co-owners of Joyful Yoga in Peru, Indiana
Tina Miser and Carrie Gallahan, co-owners of Joyful Yoga in Peru, Indiana

Joyful Yoga owners Carrie Gallahan and Tina Miser, are both Registered Yoga Teachers with the Yoga Alliance and are proud to be a certified Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga studio. Both were inspired by their own practice to treat and heal their bodies.

For years, Tina Miser and her husband, Brian, have traveled the country as a human cannonball act. It’s a unique gig that only a handful of people in history have ever done professionally. In just the last few months, the 41-year-old Peru Indiana native has been blasted from a cannon around 30 times in cities like Bluffton, Indiana, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the past, those cannon shots have led to achy hips and sore knees. But during her most recent stint as a human cannonball, those pains never came.The difference? Miser started practicing yoga.

Carrie Gallahan said she had started doing yoga a couple of years earlier to help treat the aches and pains she accumulated as a marathon runner. Since 2003, she has completed 11 full marathons. Her most recent run was two years ago in New York City.  Over the years, all that running took a toll on her body. “I was broken,” Carrie said. “I had run so many miles without really taking care of myself, and I had lots of aches and pains. I needed to heal my body. It hurt to run. It hurt to walk. Yoga helped with that immensely.”

Carrie and Tina celebrate 1 year anniversary of opening Joyful Yoga in Peru, Indiana.
Carrie and Tina celebrate 1 year anniversary of opening Joyful Yoga in Peru, Indiana.

Read more in the Kokomo Tribune  about Carrie and Tina, and their first year anniversary of Joyful Yoga celebrated  on December 2, 2017.