Asana to Embody Gratitude This Thanksgiving
Whether you're a teacher in the midst of planning a Thanksgiving-themed yoga class, or a practitioner looking to add a little seasonal spice to your Turkey (or Tofurkey) Day practice, we hope you'll find some inspiration from the holiday-inspired pose variations below.
For a Pre-Dinner Practice
The following suggestions are meant to be included as part of a well-balanced practice, and not as an independent sequence.
Include a a few of your favorite "bird poses" in your sequence.
Sure, "Thanksgiving birds" might seem a little silly. But as far as we're concerned, there's nothing wrong with a little celebratory silliness when it comes to a holiday-themed yoga practice!
You might also consider including your favorite eka pada rajakapotasana (one leg king pigeon pose) variation in your Thanksgiving sequence. If you're practicing the backbend version of the pose, try bringing a hand to your heart to both encourage the lift of the chest and to give yourself a physical reminder of heartfelt gratitude—perhaps bring to mind something you're thankful for in the moment. (And yes, it's totally okay if that something is "that the pose will be over soon!")
And a bow of gratitude.
Forward folds are sometimes described as having a "devotional" quality. After all, you are, quite literally, bowing forward in these shapes. And anjali mudra (offering gesture, sometimes referred to as "prayer position") often evokes a similar sense of reverence. You can combine them both with a pose such as child's pose with hands in prayer, or parshvottanasana (intense side stretch, or "pyramid pose") with reverse prayer hands, pictured above. If you prefer, keep your front knee bent and/or come down only halfway (with a long spine) in lieu of folding forward.
And some of your favorite "heart openers."
Many yoga teachers refer to backbends as "heart openers," making them an especially lovely addition to a gratitude-themed practice. As with the backbendy pigeon described above, you might consider bringing a hand to your heart in poses like natarajasana (dancer pose), ustrasana (camel pose), chamatkarasana ("wild thing"), or even your urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose, pictured above) if you're feeling especially stable and strong in the pose.
Restful, restorative asanas can be nice to include in any holiday practice (they're a fabulous way to wind down, de-stress, and recharge). And while we definitely wouldn't recommend any post-pumpkin pie mayurasanas or urdhvas, you may find that some of the gentle, restful options below are nice to practice at the end of the day.
"Happy Belly Pose"
(supta virasana [reclined hero's pose] with hands on belly)
Sit between your feet in virasana (hero's pose). Sit on a block or folded blanket if your seat doesn't comfortably touch the floor. Lie back over a bolster, adjusting as needed until you feel nice and comfy! Keep your arms alongside you or bring one (or both) hands to rest on your belly.
While you'll want to wait a good long while post-Thanksgiving feast before you try any deep twists, you might find that lying on your side supported by a bolster for a (very!) gentle restorative twist feels, well, pretty "delicious."
Sit tall a couple of inches in front of a bolster. (We like to elevate the far end of the bolster with blocks for a slightly gentler variation.) Bring the soles of your feet together in baddha konasana (bound angle), and then lie back over the bolster, adjusting your seat toward or away from it as needed for comfort.
Keep your arms extended alongside you, or place a hand on your heart. You might also consider placing one hand on your heart and one on your belly as you rest and breathe here.
Rest and Digest
We would no more want to skip shavasana than we would our favorite Thanksgiving pies (and we are definitely not skipping those!). Think of shavasana as the "dessert" to your Thanksgiving practice. And it is a holiday, after all, so feel free to get really decadent, incorporating as many of your favorite props as you like. Once you get settled in, ask yourself: Is there anything I could do to make this shavasana even a little bit more comfortable? And if there is, do it! It may mean placing a bolster under your knees, a pillow or folded blanket under your head and neck, a warm cozy blanket over your body, or just moving a stray prop out of the way. Do whatever you need to get cozy. Then lie back, and enjoy!
Kat Heagberg is the editor of Yoga International and has been teaching yoga since 2005. She loves to write about ways to make challenging poses more accessible, the power of language in yoga culture, and to offer encouragement and advice to new yoga teachers. Though she initially trained in alignment-based styles of yoga (which continue to inform her practice and teaching), Kat likes teaching vinyasa flow best of all. Read her work and take her classes here on Yoga International!