“Take a gratitude walk”, Rachel Baer of ‘Yoga-Keeps-Me-Fit’ and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

…To speak our gratitude, show your appreciation, even if you are just speaking out loud to yourself. For instance, you open the blinds & the sun streams in through the windows, say out loud, “what a beautiful day, thank you for such a wonderful start to my day”. Speaking our gratitude out loud acknowledges it […]

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…To speak our gratitude, show your appreciation, even if you are just speaking out loud to yourself. For instance, you open the blinds & the sun streams in through the windows, say out loud, “what a beautiful day, thank you for such a wonderful start to my day”. Speaking our gratitude out loud acknowledges it & makes it real. If you are able to share your gratitude with someone else, then they share in the benefits of an uplifted spirit also.


As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each of Us Can Leverage the Power of Gratitude to Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Baer.

Rachel is an E-RYT 200 yoga instructor with many years of experience both practicing and teaching yoga. Amongst many additional trainings she has also completed a 100-hour yoga therapy certification.

Rachel trained as a Fitness Instructor in the UK before moving to the US in 2003, her focus is now on Chair Yoga and Fall Prevention for seniors and those with disabilities.

Rachel shares how she is constantly amazed at the difference yoga regularly makes in the lives of her senior yogis, many of whom are in their eighties and nineties and are still committed to their yoga practice. Rachel has truly found her calling in life.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

I grew up in a small rural town in Lincolnshire England. I am the eldest of three children and the only daughter. I enjoy a great relationship with my two wonderful brothers. I married in 1986 to a very supportive and caring husband. We had two boys whilst living in the UK. In 2003 my husband had an opportunity to transfer to the United States, we agreed that we would live adventurously and see where it led us. At the time our boys were aged eight and twelve. They are now aged twenty-five and twenty-nine.

I have always loved yoga; I have been taking classes for over twenty years & teaching for fourteen.

I first came to work with seniors and teach chair yoga while subbing for a six-week session. Fortunately, I had taken a senior focused training just two weeks before I had this opportunity and was able to say yes. I had never really thought of teaching seniors and took the training to learn modifications and adaptations for those with physical limitations who came to my regular mat yoga classes. I had never really considered teaching chair yoga as a class in and of itself.

Although I was nervous and found it challenging at first (it’s sometimes hard going in as a sub) I was blown away by the amazing healing qualities I saw chair yoga bring my clients. Ranging in age from 55 to 97, my clients experienced more ease, less stiffness and pain in their joints, a greater range of motion, improved balance and strength as well as other benefits. It’s such a thrill to see people realize that they can do yoga — the pose may be adapted but that’s OK. They are moving more, breathing deeper and even doing a short meditation at the end of class.

I have had many of my clients tell me of specific improvements, one of the most moving being a woman who after only a few sessions of chair yoga was able to lift herself out of the bathtub for the first time in over two years after undergoing several back surgeries. This same woman used to be a yoga instructor and had first come to class not expecting to be able to do many of the poses. The delight on her face when she realized she could still do what she loved was heartwarming.

Another was a woman who was able to go with her family on a trip to London which she would never have been strong enough to commit to before yoga. I recently had the husband of a regular yogi attend several classes as his family were getting together for a reunion & were doing a wall squat challenge. This man was so proud to report that he won the challenge because of the strength poses we do in class. These are huge improvements in our client’s lives, I feel incredibly grateful to have the knowledge through my senior specific training to be able to help make such a difference each day.

The six-week subbing session turned into a regular class for me. Within 18 months the class had more than doubled in size and another session was added. Pre pandemic I was teaching four chair yoga classes a week.

I was so impressed with the life improvements yoga brought to this age group that I took further training, wanting to learn as much as I could to help these lovely people while keeping the sessions lighthearted and fun.

Almost every week I am humbled and still find it incredible that I can have a hand in helping to improve the quality of so many lives,

I truly believe that I have found my calling: to work with seniors and those with specific health conditions. I’ve found that less can often mean more, as it’s often the smaller movements that can bring unexpected relief and healing, such as hand and wrist movements, which improve mobility to stiff, arthritic joints.

I am currently teaching three chair yoga classes a week via Zoom due to the pandemic. My yogis can continue their yoga practice from the comfort of their own homes, for which I and they are grateful.

Over the past nine years I have been focused only on chair yoga I have become fond of many of my clients, learning about their lives and families, doing my part to bring life, hope, healing and acceptance to a group that can often be forgotten by the regular world of yoga.

I hope my experience helps encourage other instructors to explore chair yoga and its ability to bring health and healing to the older population. Thank you for reading.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have many amazing stories; this is the one story that I love whenever I think of this inspiring lady. It leads into our topic of gratitude perfectly, showing us how we really can be grateful for each & every day.

A few years ago, I taught a weekly chair yoga class at a local care home. The first few weeks the class was fairly quiet with a few brave souls checking out the unknown quantity that had entered their living space.

Soon, as word spread that it was “fun & not too weird” as overheard in the hallway, the class started filling up. I became very fond of my “regulars” & had the pleasure of often chatting both before & after class.

One character that I will always remember was a 102-year-old lady, sadly I can’t recall her name. She would arrive to class, usually a few minutes late, pushing her walker in front of her. She was incredibly independent & as bright as a button, not much could get past her. I soon learned that she had a regimented workout routine. Each day after breakfast she would walk several laps around the care home, quite some distance when reliant on a walker. If the weather was favorable, she would take her walk outdoors & make her way slowly around the pathways of the manicured gardens. She was convinced that these daily walks along with her half an hour on a stationary reclining bicycle was what had kept her going all these years. I tend to agree with her, we get to decide if we stay strong.

Occasionally she would fall asleep on the bike or during yoga class, however I figured that at 102 years of age that was more than allowable, the fact that she showed up to exercise at all still impresses me now.

One day after class I had the opportunity to chat with her, “what inspires you?” I asked. “Well, if you don’t use it you lose it” she replied, if only more of us thought this way. We chatted on for a while & she shared her memories of the local area; she had lived in Connecticut all her life & remembered Waterford before there were roads as we know them now. She told me stories of the dust roads with horse & cart for transport & about her family. It was one of those rare & special moments of connection.

The most meaningful part of our conversation was just before I left, she told me “when I open my eyes each morning, I say to myself, oh good I’m still here, what will I do today?” Whenever I think of this, I am reminded to be grateful for life, for each day & to be more aware of each present moment & the opportunities each day brings.

When you wake up tomorrow morning what will you get to do with your day?

The lessons and takeaways from this story are to keep moving, move in some way everyday & to be grateful for each day, asking ourselves how we can make a difference even in a small way each day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

This quote by Robin Arzon a favorite Peloton instructor, never fails to inspire me. “You hold the pen to your own story, what are you going to write today?”

This quote reminds me that every day I have a choice, to stay still or to push myself forward. I use this motivation in a number of ways, to push myself to work out each day when I don’t feel like it. To push myself to make show up for my family & my work & be the best version of myself that I can be.

It is also a good reminder that we don’t have to stay stuck in life or in bad habits, we have the power to change our story. Every day & every choice we make is another sentence we are writing, each day is a new chapter, what will I choose today?

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

Yes, the book that actually changed my life & my relationship with my mother is Inheritance by Dani Shapiro.

I read Dani’s book, a memoir a couple of years ago, like her, the story I uncovered by taking a DNA test was one of secrets & lies that covered several generations. I discovered a secret that my mother had uncovered decades ago & confronted her own mother about. My mother was told she was wrong & how dare she spread lies about her family, for years she was even called crazy & the truth was never acknowledged. Needless to say, she & my grandmother did not have a good relationship.

Unfortunately, the pattern continued, my mother & I had a strained relationship for a long time, often going for years without contact. In more recent years I learned that I was not the only daughter with relationship issues with her mother & discovered the book Difficult Mother’s, Adult Daughters,

A guide for Separation, Liberation & Inspiration by Karen C. L. Anderson I had the good fortune to work with Karen, finding her work to be incredibly helpful.

As a result of my research, I decided to call my mother on Mother’s Day 2019 to share my discovery. Unsure of how I would be received, there was a moment of silence as she took it in & she whispered, “so you believe me?”. This was the beginning of a much-needed healing in our relationship. I had the honor of my story being included as a chapter in the book Ancestry Quest, How Stories from the Past Can Heal the Future by Mary Beth Sammons It is rarely too late to change not just your own future but that of others. This healing of our mother daughter relationship was nothing short of a miracle, which probably would never have happened if I had not read Dani Shapiro’s book.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

A project I am currently working on is putting in a set of little free libraries around The Grace Trail® in our community that I completed in November of 2020. Please see further in this interview for details of The Grace Trail®.

I am working with a talented & creative carpenter to put in two libraries, one at adult height & one at child’s height, with a sturdy bench adjoining the two. I am currently fundraising to get this project completed in time for spring when the ground will no longer be frozen & more families will be out enjoying the trail.

This will be of benefit to the community & those who visit from other towns for sporting events or locals exercising & walking their dogs. The libraries will be next to several sporting fields, which post Covid will be busy again.

This project will be adding enjoyment & education to many people over the coming years who choose to walk the trail & take home or drop off a book or two.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people who have helped me along the way, my biggest supporter is my husband Dave. He has always encouraged me to push myself & has always wanted the same for me as I have wanted for myself. Which is to continue growing as a person & fulfill my dreams.

Even though he is busy with his work & also as a volunteer EMT he still makes time to encourage me on days when life is more of a struggle. He & my son were the ones that helped me get organized with a new laptop to offer my chair yoga sessions via Zoom. It would have been a struggle to have done it without their knowledge. In overcoming these challenges, I have learned so much & am grateful to them both.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

To me the word gratitude means thankfulness & appreciation. This can range from being grateful for having the basic needs of life such as shelter & food to noticing the small miracles in everyday life. Gratitude can extend to include thanks for community, family & specific experiences that we have in life. For myself it’s more of an enveloping of all of those things & a general gratitude for life itself.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

I think that gratitude can be hard for some people as it can undermine a sense of independence. It is easy to become used to crediting ourselves for our successes & it is all to easy to blame others for whatever we feel is going wrong in our lives. It is always easy to see what we need to improve in our lives instead of looking at what we already have & moving forward in gratitude.

Gratitude can be hard to grasp if you are always looking to a future event or goal in order to be happy. It’s easy to think that you will be happy when you get that promotion or move to a new home etc. If we are able to practice mindfulness & live in each moment with appreciation, we can learn to be grateful & happy moment to moment, one day at a time.

Grateful people tend to engage more with their environment, leading to greater self-acceptance as well as feelings of purpose & connection to others & the world around them. I believe there is a direct connection between gratitude & joy. Here is a great quote from Brené Brown, one of my all-time favorite author’s & speakers explaining the connection between gratitude & joy. [I] never talk about gratitude and joy separately, for this reason. In 12 years, I’ve never interviewed a single person who would describe their lives as joyful, who would describe themselves as joyous, who was not actively practicing gratitude.

Brené Brown

This might be intuitive to you, but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Certainly, gratitude improves our quality of life. Instead of seeing life as heavy or a chore, gratitude brings enjoyment & lightness to our lives. Practice being like the 102-year-old lady I met & be thankful each day when we wake up. Another day, what am I grateful for today?

When we start the day with gratitude, we set ourselves up in the right frame of mind to look for more gratitude opportunities.

Gratitude builds better friendships & relationships in general. If someone knows you appreciate them, in turn they generally will appreciate you in return.

Gratitude makes the world a kinder, a better place to live. I would rather mix with grateful people than those that are constantly critical & complaining about their world. We all know someone that looks for what wrong in their world, let’s be change makers & look for what is going right & show our gratitude.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Yes of course, gratitude is a great way to increase happiness & make you smile. If you thank someone, say at the grocery store for serving you, they will respond themselves with gratitude & often a smile. Gratitude forms connections which we all need. Gratitude creates more gratitude, imagine a ripple in a lake, you never know how far out it will reach & how many lives one act of gratitude can touch. I believe that if you express gratitude it will come back to you a multitude of times.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each of Us Can Leverage the Power of Gratitude to Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

1 — To speak our gratitude, show your appreciation, even if you are just speaking out loud to yourself. For instance, you open the blinds & the sun streams in through the windows, say out loud, “what a beautiful day, thank you for such a wonderful start to my day”. Speaking our gratitude out loud acknowledges it & makes it real. If you are able to share your gratitude with someone else, then they share in the benefits of an uplifted spirit also.

2 — Write it down, there is power in the written word, it can be a record for us to look back on during those moments when we are feeling down. Being able to look inside a gratitude journal can remind us of just how much we have to be thankful for. A journal is a good place to start, perhaps place on a bedside table & write three things you are grateful for at either the beginning or the end of the day. If you prefer to keep your journal on your desk, where you will see it every day. Some people keep a gratitude jar & write down special moments they are thankful for, when the jar is full, they read through the slips of paper which bring back wonderful memories of gratitude in their lives.

3 — Take a gratitude walk. Try to do this most days, this can be indoors or outside. The Grace Trail® is a perfect place to do this. Even if you can only walk for ten minutes, spend time thinking about all the things both big & small that you are grateful for. If you are able to do this outdoors you have the added bonus of enjoying a double boost of positive energy, just being outside in the fresh air can fill us with uplifting emotions while at the same time giving us an appreciation for nature.

4 — Practice gratitude at mealtimes. If you are fortunate to have had someone else prepare your meal express genuine gratitude for the time & effort they have spent as well as appreciation for the food itself. We may not all be great chefs, but we are fortunate to be able to eat for most part what we choose when in many parts of the world, even in our own country too many are going hungry.

5 — Spread gratitude, make an effort both at work and at home to share your appreciation. If we are working via Zoom we may have to try a little harder but we can still make a difference. Sincere smiles, compliments & positivity are contagious & can lift people up. On the downside, the reverse can have a negative effect. Choose what you are going to spread each day, gratitude, joy & positivity are a wonderful way to create change in our world.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

If you can, arrange a meet up or phone call with a trusted friend or relative. Connection is a great way to lift our spirits & make us feel like we matter & assure us that life will get better.

A practice I would recommend is a simple lovingkindness practice. If you remember, do this each morning when you wake up. Place a hand over your heart, take a deep breath & say “good morning, (insert your name) I love you”. It will seem strange at first but over time this simple practice will make a huge difference in how we see ourselves & with our self-acceptance. If you would like to, try it now, stop what you are doing, place a hand over your heart & say “Good morning/afternoon, I love you” making sure to speak your name.

There is a great Ted Talk that explains self-love & challenges the fact that we are often our own worst enemy & what we can do about it, click HERE to watch it.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

Yes, I love the book Living Life As a Thank You by Nina Lesowitz & MaryBeth Sammons. This book shares stories of people who have manage to still be grateful even in extremely difficult circumstances.

Another great book is Keep Moving by Maggie Smith. I love this book; I use the quotes often in my classes. They are so simple & yet so profound, some great life lessons & encouragement for everyday living.

A wonderful podcast that inspires living with gratitude is The Gratitude Podcast on I Heart Radio. This shares stories & practical examples of how we can cultivate more gratitude in our lives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would focus on a movement of kindness & grace to help people with their mental health, especially at the moment with so many outside pressures & the uncertainty that is in the world today.

In November 2020 I started a movement of grace in my small town of East Lyme by installing a Grace Trail® as a gift to our community. Please read on to learn more.

Welcome to East Lyme Grace Trail®

East Lyme has a new addition to its 0.8 of a mile walking trail situated at Samuel M. Peretz Park at Bridebrook. It is called Grace Trail. This self-guided walk was installed for the community to experience and enjoy as a mindful, meditative walk alone or with others. Our intention is for the trail to offer hope and peace as we honor and explore all of life’s twists and turns!

The Grace Trail process includes 5 letters (G-R-A-C-E) which invite the following questions to explore while you walk:

GRACE

G — What are you Grateful for?

R — What do you need to Release?

A — What is calling out for Acceptance?

C — What is my next Challenge?

E — What can I Embrace as possible?

How to get the most out of the Grace Trail?

  • When you reach a question, stop…ask…listen…and reflect as you move along the trail to the next question.
  • Questions can be asked in any order according to your needs.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer the questions… stay curious and open to hope and possibility.
  • Each sign will have a QR code. We encourage you to scan the code with your smart phone to listen to ways to enhance and deepen your experience.

Our East Lyme Grace Trail was installed by Rachel & Dave Baer with support from the East Lyme Parks & Recreation Department, generous members of our town and as an honorarium to the Brian Dagle Foundation.

East Lyme Grace Trail is modeled after the original Grace Trail in Plymouth Massachusetts, designed by Anne Jolles (gracetrail.com) and under license from Grace Trail, Inc.

When walking this Trail, you are joining a group of people worldwide in creating a Trail of hope and possibility…

Check out Grace Trail by Anne Jolles on Face Book https://www.facebook.com/thegracetrail

Also, our own brand-new page East Lyme Grace Trail

https://www.facebook.com/ELgracetrail

I was interviewed by a local reporter about the installation of the trail, HERE is the article.

My hope is to inspire other towns & communities to install a Grace Trail® of their own.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Readers can find me at my website & social media, see below for the links.

Website — https://www.yogakeepsmefit.com

Face Book — https://www.facebook.com/yogakeepsmefit?fref=ts

Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/rachelyogibaer/

Twitter — https://twitter.com/yogakeepsmefit2

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!


Rachel Baer of ‘Yoga-Keeps-Me-Fit’: How We Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness

…To speak our gratitude, show your appreciation, even if you are just speaking out loud to yourself. For instance, you open the blinds & the sun streams in through the windows, say out loud, “what a beautiful day, thank you for such a wonderful start to my day”. Speaking our gratitude out loud acknowledges it & makes it real. If you are able to share your gratitude with someone else, then they share in the benefits of an uplifted spirit also.


As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each of Us Can Leverage the Power of Gratitude to Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Baer.

Rachel is an E-RYT 200 yoga instructor with many years of experience both practicing and teaching yoga. Amongst many additional trainings she has also completed a 100-hour yoga therapy certification.

Rachel trained as a Fitness Instructor in the UK before moving to the US in 2003, her focus is now on Chair Yoga and Fall Prevention for seniors and those with disabilities.

Rachel shares how she is constantly amazed at the difference yoga regularly makes in the lives of her senior yogis, many of whom are in their eighties and nineties and are still committed to their yoga practice. Rachel has truly found her calling in life.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

I grew up in a small rural town in Lincolnshire England. I am the eldest of three children and the only daughter. I enjoy a great relationship with my two wonderful brothers. I married in 1986 to a very supportive and caring husband. We had two boys whilst living in the UK. In 2003 my husband had an opportunity to transfer to the United States, we agreed that we would live adventurously and see where it led us. At the time our boys were aged eight and twelve. They are now aged twenty-five and twenty-nine.

I have always loved yoga; I have been taking classes for over twenty years & teaching for fourteen.

I first came to work with seniors and teach chair yoga while subbing for a six-week session. Fortunately, I had taken a senior focused training just two weeks before I had this opportunity and was able to say yes. I had never really thought of teaching seniors and took the training to learn modifications and adaptations for those with physical limitations who came to my regular mat yoga classes. I had never really considered teaching chair yoga as a class in and of itself.

Although I was nervous and found it challenging at first (it’s sometimes hard going in as a sub) I was blown away by the amazing healing qualities I saw chair yoga bring my clients. Ranging in age from 55 to 97, my clients experienced more ease, less stiffness and pain in their joints, a greater range of motion, improved balance and strength as well as other benefits. It’s such a thrill to see people realize that they can do yoga — the pose may be adapted but that’s OK. They are moving more, breathing deeper and even doing a short meditation at the end of class.

I have had many of my clients tell me of specific improvements, one of the most moving being a woman who after only a few sessions of chair yoga was able to lift herself out of the bathtub for the first time in over two years after undergoing several back surgeries. This same woman used to be a yoga instructor and had first come to class not expecting to be able to do many of the poses. The delight on her face when she realized she could still do what she loved was heartwarming.

Another was a woman who was able to go with her family on a trip to London which she would never have been strong enough to commit to before yoga. I recently had the husband of a regular yogi attend several classes as his family were getting together for a reunion & were doing a wall squat challenge. This man was so proud to report that he won the challenge because of the strength poses we do in class. These are huge improvements in our client’s lives, I feel incredibly grateful to have the knowledge through my senior specific training to be able to help make such a difference each day.

The six-week subbing session turned into a regular class for me. Within 18 months the class had more than doubled in size and another session was added. Pre pandemic I was teaching four chair yoga classes a week.

I was so impressed with the life improvements yoga brought to this age group that I took further training, wanting to learn as much as I could to help these lovely people while keeping the sessions lighthearted and fun.

Almost every week I am humbled and still find it incredible that I can have a hand in helping to improve the quality of so many lives,

I truly believe that I have found my calling: to work with seniors and those with specific health conditions. I’ve found that less can often mean more, as it’s often the smaller movements that can bring unexpected relief and healing, such as hand and wrist movements, which improve mobility to stiff, arthritic joints.

I am currently teaching three chair yoga classes a week via Zoom due to the pandemic. My yogis can continue their yoga practice from the comfort of their own homes, for which I and they are grateful.

Over the past nine years I have been focused only on chair yoga I have become fond of many of my clients, learning about their lives and families, doing my part to bring life, hope, healing and acceptance to a group that can often be forgotten by the regular world of yoga.

I hope my experience helps encourage other instructors to explore chair yoga and its ability to bring health and healing to the older population. Thank you for reading.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have many amazing stories; this is the one story that I love whenever I think of this inspiring lady. It leads into our topic of gratitude perfectly, showing us how we really can be grateful for each & every day.

A few years ago, I taught a weekly chair yoga class at a local care home. The first few weeks the class was fairly quiet with a few brave souls checking out the unknown quantity that had entered their living space.

Soon, as word spread that it was “fun & not too weird” as overheard in the hallway, the class started filling up. I became very fond of my “regulars” & had the pleasure of often chatting both before & after class.

One character that I will always remember was a 102-year-old lady, sadly I can’t recall her name. She would arrive to class, usually a few minutes late, pushing her walker in front of her. She was incredibly independent & as bright as a button, not much could get past her. I soon learned that she had a regimented workout routine. Each day after breakfast she would walk several laps around the care home, quite some distance when reliant on a walker. If the weather was favorable, she would take her walk outdoors & make her way slowly around the pathways of the manicured gardens. She was convinced that these daily walks along with her half an hour on a stationary reclining bicycle was what had kept her going all these years. I tend to agree with her, we get to decide if we stay strong.

Occasionally she would fall asleep on the bike or during yoga class, however I figured that at 102 years of age that was more than allowable, the fact that she showed up to exercise at all still impresses me now.

One day after class I had the opportunity to chat with her, “what inspires you?” I asked. “Well, if you don’t use it you lose it” she replied, if only more of us thought this way. We chatted on for a while & she shared her memories of the local area; she had lived in Connecticut all her life & remembered Waterford before there were roads as we know them now. She told me stories of the dust roads with horse & cart for transport & about her family. It was one of those rare & special moments of connection.

The most meaningful part of our conversation was just before I left, she told me “when I open my eyes each morning, I say to myself, oh good I’m still here, what will I do today?” Whenever I think of this, I am reminded to be grateful for life, for each day & to be more aware of each present moment & the opportunities each day brings.

When you wake up tomorrow morning what will you get to do with your day?

The lessons and takeaways from this story are to keep moving, move in some way everyday & to be grateful for each day, asking ourselves how we can make a difference even in a small way each day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

This quote by Robin Arzon a favorite Peloton instructor, never fails to inspire me. “You hold the pen to your own story, what are you going to write today?”

This quote reminds me that every day I have a choice, to stay still or to push myself forward. I use this motivation in a number of ways, to push myself to work out each day when I don’t feel like it. To push myself to make show up for my family & my work & be the best version of myself that I can be.

It is also a good reminder that we don’t have to stay stuck in life or in bad habits, we have the power to change our story. Every day & every choice we make is another sentence we are writing, each day is a new chapter, what will I choose today?

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

Yes, the book that actually changed my life & my relationship with my mother is Inheritance by Dani Shapiro.

I read Dani’s book, a memoir a couple of years ago, like her, the story I uncovered by taking a DNA test was one of secrets & lies that covered several generations. I discovered a secret that my mother had uncovered decades ago & confronted her own mother about. My mother was told she was wrong & how dare she spread lies about her family, for years she was even called crazy & the truth was never acknowledged. Needless to say, she & my grandmother did not have a good relationship.

Unfortunately, the pattern continued, my mother & I had a strained relationship for a long time, often going for years without contact. In more recent years I learned that I was not the only daughter with relationship issues with her mother & discovered the book Difficult Mother’s, Adult Daughters,

A guide for Separation, Liberation & Inspiration by Karen C. L. Anderson I had the good fortune to work with Karen, finding her work to be incredibly helpful.

As a result of my research, I decided to call my mother on Mother’s Day 2019 to share my discovery. Unsure of how I would be received, there was a moment of silence as she took it in & she whispered, “so you believe me?”. This was the beginning of a much-needed healing in our relationship. I had the honor of my story being included as a chapter in the book Ancestry Quest, How Stories from the Past Can Heal the Future by Mary Beth Sammons It is rarely too late to change not just your own future but that of others. This healing of our mother daughter relationship was nothing short of a miracle, which probably would never have happened if I had not read Dani Shapiro’s book.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

A project I am currently working on is putting in a set of little free libraries around The Grace Trail® in our community that I completed in November of 2020. Please see further in this interview for details of The Grace Trail®.

I am working with a talented & creative carpenter to put in two libraries, one at adult height & one at child’s height, with a sturdy bench adjoining the two. I am currently fundraising to get this project completed in time for spring when the ground will no longer be frozen & more families will be out enjoying the trail.

This will be of benefit to the community & those who visit from other towns for sporting events or locals exercising & walking their dogs. The libraries will be next to several sporting fields, which post Covid will be busy again.

This project will be adding enjoyment & education to many people over the coming years who choose to walk the trail & take home or drop off a book or two.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many people who have helped me along the way, my biggest supporter is my husband Dave. He has always encouraged me to push myself & has always wanted the same for me as I have wanted for myself. Which is to continue growing as a person & fulfill my dreams.

Even though he is busy with his work & also as a volunteer EMT he still makes time to encourage me on days when life is more of a struggle. He & my son were the ones that helped me get organized with a new laptop to offer my chair yoga sessions via Zoom. It would have been a struggle to have done it without their knowledge. In overcoming these challenges, I have learned so much & am grateful to them both.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

To me the word gratitude means thankfulness & appreciation. This can range from being grateful for having the basic needs of life such as shelter & food to noticing the small miracles in everyday life. Gratitude can extend to include thanks for community, family & specific experiences that we have in life. For myself it’s more of an enveloping of all of those things & a general gratitude for life itself.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

I think that gratitude can be hard for some people as it can undermine a sense of independence. It is easy to become used to crediting ourselves for our successes & it is all to easy to blame others for whatever we feel is going wrong in our lives. It is always easy to see what we need to improve in our lives instead of looking at what we already have & moving forward in gratitude.

Gratitude can be hard to grasp if you are always looking to a future event or goal in order to be happy. It’s easy to think that you will be happy when you get that promotion or move to a new home etc. If we are able to practice mindfulness & live in each moment with appreciation, we can learn to be grateful & happy moment to moment, one day at a time.

Grateful people tend to engage more with their environment, leading to greater self-acceptance as well as feelings of purpose & connection to others & the world around them. I believe there is a direct connection between gratitude & joy. Here is a great quote from Brené Brown, one of my all-time favorite author’s & speakers explaining the connection between gratitude & joy. [I] never talk about gratitude and joy separately, for this reason. In 12 years, I’ve never interviewed a single person who would describe their lives as joyful, who would describe themselves as joyous, who was not actively practicing gratitude.

Brené Brown

This might be intuitive to you, but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Certainly, gratitude improves our quality of life. Instead of seeing life as heavy or a chore, gratitude brings enjoyment & lightness to our lives. Practice being like the 102-year-old lady I met & be thankful each day when we wake up. Another day, what am I grateful for today?

When we start the day with gratitude, we set ourselves up in the right frame of mind to look for more gratitude opportunities.

Gratitude builds better friendships & relationships in general. If someone knows you appreciate them, in turn they generally will appreciate you in return.

Gratitude makes the world a kinder, a better place to live. I would rather mix with grateful people than those that are constantly critical & complaining about their world. We all know someone that looks for what wrong in their world, let’s be change makers & look for what is going right & show our gratitude.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Yes of course, gratitude is a great way to increase happiness & make you smile. If you thank someone, say at the grocery store for serving you, they will respond themselves with gratitude & often a smile. Gratitude forms connections which we all need. Gratitude creates more gratitude, imagine a ripple in a lake, you never know how far out it will reach & how many lives one act of gratitude can touch. I believe that if you express gratitude it will come back to you a multitude of times.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each of Us Can Leverage the Power of Gratitude to Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

1 — To speak our gratitude, show your appreciation, even if you are just speaking out loud to yourself. For instance, you open the blinds & the sun streams in through the windows, say out loud, “what a beautiful day, thank you for such a wonderful start to my day”. Speaking our gratitude out loud acknowledges it & makes it real. If you are able to share your gratitude with someone else, then they share in the benefits of an uplifted spirit also.

2 — Write it down, there is power in the written word, it can be a record for us to look back on during those moments when we are feeling down. Being able to look inside a gratitude journal can remind us of just how much we have to be thankful for. A journal is a good place to start, perhaps place on a bedside table & write three things you are grateful for at either the beginning or the end of the day. If you prefer to keep your journal on your desk, where you will see it every day. Some people keep a gratitude jar & write down special moments they are thankful for, when the jar is full, they read through the slips of paper which bring back wonderful memories of gratitude in their lives.

3 — Take a gratitude walk. Try to do this most days, this can be indoors or outside. The Grace Trail® is a perfect place to do this. Even if you can only walk for ten minutes, spend time thinking about all the things both big & small that you are grateful for. If you are able to do this outdoors you have the added bonus of enjoying a double boost of positive energy, just being outside in the fresh air can fill us with uplifting emotions while at the same time giving us an appreciation for nature.

4 — Practice gratitude at mealtimes. If you are fortunate to have had someone else prepare your meal express genuine gratitude for the time & effort they have spent as well as appreciation for the food itself. We may not all be great chefs, but we are fortunate to be able to eat for most part what we choose when in many parts of the world, even in our own country too many are going hungry.

5 — Spread gratitude, make an effort both at work and at home to share your appreciation. If we are working via Zoom we may have to try a little harder but we can still make a difference. Sincere smiles, compliments & positivity are contagious & can lift people up. On the downside, the reverse can have a negative effect. Choose what you are going to spread each day, gratitude, joy & positivity are a wonderful way to create change in our world.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

If you can, arrange a meet up or phone call with a trusted friend or relative. Connection is a great way to lift our spirits & make us feel like we matter & assure us that life will get better.

A practice I would recommend is a simple lovingkindness practice. If you remember, do this each morning when you wake up. Place a hand over your heart, take a deep breath & say “good morning, (insert your name) I love you”. It will seem strange at first but over time this simple practice will make a huge difference in how we see ourselves & with our self-acceptance. If you would like to, try it now, stop what you are doing, place a hand over your heart & say “Good morning/afternoon, I love you” making sure to speak your name.

There is a great Ted Talk that explains self-love & challenges the fact that we are often our own worst enemy & what we can do about it, click HERE to watch it.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

Yes, I love the book Living Life As a Thank You by Nina Lesowitz & MaryBeth Sammons. This book shares stories of people who have manage to still be grateful even in extremely difficult circumstances.

Another great book is Keep Moving by Maggie Smith. I love this book; I use the quotes often in my classes. They are so simple & yet so profound, some great life lessons & encouragement for everyday living.

A wonderful podcast that inspires living with gratitude is The Gratitude Podcast on I Heart Radio. This shares stories & practical examples of how we can cultivate more gratitude in our lives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would focus on a movement of kindness & grace to help people with their mental health, especially at the moment with so many outside pressures & the uncertainty that is in the world today.

In November 2020 I started a movement of grace in my small town of East Lyme by installing a Grace Trail® as a gift to our community. Please read on to learn more.

Welcome to East Lyme Grace Trail®

East Lyme has a new addition to its 0.8 of a mile walking trail situated at Samuel M. Peretz Park at Bridebrook. It is called Grace Trail. This self-guided walk was installed for the community to experience and enjoy as a mindful, meditative walk alone or with others. Our intention is for the trail to offer hope and peace as we honor and explore all of life’s twists and turns!

The Grace Trail process includes 5 letters (G-R-A-C-E) which invite the following questions to explore while you walk:

GRACE

G — What are you Grateful for?

R — What do you need to Release?

A — What is calling out for Acceptance?

C — What is my next Challenge?

E — What can I Embrace as possible?

How to get the most out of the Grace Trail?

  • When you reach a question, stop…ask…listen…and reflect as you move along the trail to the next question.
  • Questions can be asked in any order according to your needs.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer the questions… stay curious and open to hope and possibility.
  • Each sign will have a QR code. We encourage you to scan the code with your smart phone to listen to ways to enhance and deepen your experience.

Our East Lyme Grace Trail was installed by Rachel & Dave Baer with support from the East Lyme Parks & Recreation Department, generous members of our town and as an honorarium to the Brian Dagle Foundation.

East Lyme Grace Trail is modeled after the original Grace Trail in Plymouth Massachusetts, designed by Anne Jolles (gracetrail.com) and under license from Grace Trail, Inc.

When walking this Trail, you are joining a group of people worldwide in creating a Trail of hope and possibility…

Check out Grace Trail by Anne Jolles on Face Book https://www.facebook.com/thegracetrail

Also, our own brand-new page East Lyme Grace Trail

https://www.facebook.com/ELgracetrail

I was interviewed by a local reporter about the installation of the trail, HERE is the article.

My hope is to inspire other towns & communities to install a Grace Trail® of their own.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Readers can find me at my website & social media, see below for the links.

Website — https://www.yogakeepsmefit.com

Face Book — https://www.facebook.com/yogakeepsmefit?fref=ts

Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/rachelyogibaer/

Twitter — https://twitter.com/yogakeepsmefit2

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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