Several years ago—when my husband and I decided to start a family—I wanted so badly to become pregnant, that I felt jealous of women who were expecting.
The stronger my desire to have a baby, the more pregnant women I would encounter. They seemed to be everywhere I went, and it felt like a cruel joke.
From my vantage point, these women moved gracefully through their lives—with hands softly resting on their baby bellies, which were of course dressed in adorable maternity clothing. These women seemed to radiate maternal bliss—to exist on a different plane, to be chosen ones. Now, two babies later, I can say with confidence that most of those women probably were not feeling as carefree as I had fantasized.
As a yoga teacher and practitioner, cultivating gratitude as a means to feel more satisfied with one’s situation was a concept that I was very familiar with and a practice that I had integrated into my life. Recently, gratitude has become of interest to researchers. Last year, Forbes reported on seven scientifically proven benefits of practicing gratitude—with improvements in physical and mental health topping the list.
The jealousy I felt during that time was troubling, mostly because deep down I knew it was an ugly feeling. Frankly, I struggled to cultivate gratitude to temper my jealousy. Still, I wanted to change my attitude. I wanted to be free of feeling down on myself, as well as negative toward strangers and the babies they were carrying.
I surprised myself one afternoon, when—upon seeing a pregnant woman—I paused, glanced her way and whispered to myself, “I wish you well.”
In that moment, I felt calm instead of jealous—sincerely happy for the woman and not sorry for myself. Although I didn’t turn to gratitude, I did find a way to cultivate goodness. It was truly a profound moment.
Since then, I have found the yogic path of love—also called bhakti yoga—to be a helpful practice when I find jealousy seeping into my psyche.
This yogic path focuses on the emotional nature of relationships with ourselves and others, and it teaches about how to balance strong emotional states—such as sadness, fear, worry, anxiety and so forth. When we feel good in relation to ourselves and those around us, our energy is up, and our emotional capacity is more nimble—meaning we might have a more lasting supply of patience or generosity, versus when our mood dips due to stress (which is usually caused from relationships). Bhakti yoga offers practices to smooth out these dips in mood, so that we experience equanimity, even if for just moments at a time.
With the holiday season in full swing, I find myself needing to call on bhakti yoga, and the practice I call “well wishing,” more frequently. This time of year can also stir up jealousy, resentment and other corroding feelings. It also offers plenty of opportunities to interact with and relate to others—both whom we know and don’t know.
Think about the countless number of cashiers we interact with when shopping, or the crowds we might find ourselves in at holiday events, or even others driving on the highway around us. People seem to be everywhere, right? More than may be comfortable at times.
Well wishing is just that—wishing others well. It is a quite simple practice, and the intention behind it is virtuous. I am not suggesting you shout from the rooftops or the third floor of the mall. Rather, this is a quiet practice meant only for you to hear. It cultivates positivity within and extends goodness without.
Follow these seven quick steps to wish others well and shift your mood:
1. Notice when you feel anxious, resentful or unhappy.
2. Identify where in your body you feel stress.
3. Determine the relationship that is instigating the feeling (a colleague, family member, stranger, inanimate object or yourself).
4. Pause. Take a few breaths to clear your mind and calm the feeling.
5. Place your focus on the person or thing you are reacting to and quietly say to yourself, “I wish you well.”
6. Repeat the words until you sense the stress in your body retract.
7. Smile, continue with your day, and repeat as many times as needed.
Well wishing opens us up to our natural capacity to offer love, even to strangers. By simply pausing to send out goodness to others, we also calm our nervous systems and balance out stress-producing emotions.
And remember, we may need to practice well wishing dozens of times a day. I certainly do! There’s no shame in that.
The power is in the practice and the goodness it manifests.