With all the stress surrounding the holidays, it’s important to remember what they’re all about—especially when you’re on your yoga mat.
Cross-country flights. Family reunions. Black Friday. With all the stress surrounding Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember what the holiday is all about—especially when you’re on your yoga mat. In fact, many yogis believe that every day should be Thanksgiving.
“I think it’s great to honor our ancestors and traditions, but Thanksgiving shouldn’t be set aside for just one day,” says Liza Savage-Katz, a yin yoga teacher in Rochester, New York, who has trained with Shiva Rea. “It’s a healthier frame of mind to acknowledge the things we should be grateful for every single day.”
We asked Savage-Katz to create this 7-pose, 45-minute sequence to calm your nervous system, open your joints, and count your blessings on Thanksgiving and all year long. “I chose these asanas because yin yoga is all about coming into a state of receptivity,” says Savage-Katz. “It allows us to slow down enough to really focus on the important stuff. In a society where we are always on the go, it is such a gift to take inventory of the blessings we have in our lives.”
Conscious Savasana (Corpse Pose)
GET COMFORTABLE Lie down on your back and let your feet fall out to either side. Bring your arms alongside your body, then place your left hand on your heart and right hand on your belly. Relax your whole body, including your face.
BREATHE Focus and allow your breath to expand deeply through your entire diaphragm, moving you into a parasympathetic state of receptivity and grace
Supta Matsyedrasana (Reclining Spinal Twist)
GET COMFORTABLE From Savasana, extend your left leg long along the floor and draw your right knee to your chest. Extend your right arm out along the floor at shoulder height with your palm facing up, shifting your hips slightly to the right. Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Exhaling, drop your right knee over the left side of your body. Keep your left hand resting gently on your right knee. Gently turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze toward your right fingertips.
BREATHE Keep your shoulder blades pressing toward the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knee even closer to the floor. If your right toes can touch the floor, allow your foot to rest. Hold the pose for approximately 3 minutes, focusing on your breath. Allow your breath to move deeply through your diaphragm. On an inhalation, slowly come back to center, bringing both knees to your chest. Exhale and extend your right leg.
REPEAT Repeat the twist on the opposite side. When you’re finished twisting, hug your knees to your chest again for a few breaths. Roll along your spine front to back 4 to 5 times to awaken the spine and make your way to Downward-Facing Dog or Cat Pose.
GET COMFORTABLE From Downward-Facing Dog or Cat Pose, slide your right knee toward your right wrist and your heel toward your left hip crease. Lean a bit to the right and check in with how your right knee. If the knee is fine, flex the right foot and move it forward. If the knee feels stressed, bring the foot closer in toward the right hip. Center your weight evenly, by tucking your back toes under and sliding your back knee away until your right buttock is on the floor or as low as it is going to get. Place a block or blanket under your right buttock for support if needed.
BREATHE Fold forward with level hips and rest your forehead on your fists or a block. To protect your front knee, keep your foot flexed before coming forward. Keep your weight in your hips as you lower yourself down. Focus on your breath for approximately 3 minutes on both sides with your palms facing up to stay in the receptive state, allowing you to focus on your blessings.
REPEAT Use your hands to push the floor away and slowly come up. Tuck your back toes under, come into Downward-Facing Dog, and switch sides. After another 3 minutes of deep breathing, transition back through Downward-Facing Dog and pedal your feet (walk your dog) to feel the openness in your hips. Slowly transition to a seated position.
Supported Chest and Heart Opener
GET COMFORTABLE Begin from a seated position. Place a block on the mat directly below under your shoulder blades and a block or several blocks and/or a thickly folded blanket under your head. Bend your knees, feet flat on the floor, and slowly roll down onto the blocks and/or blanket. Keep your head at chest height. More advanced practitioners wanting a deeper backbend can try a lower level. Rest your arms with palms facing up in a receptive and open state and slowly straighten your legs.
BREATHE Focus on breathing deeply through the diaphragm, allowing the breath to open up your chest and heart for approximately 3 minutes. To transition out of this pose, slowly roll to the right and remove the props from the mat. Hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths, then make small circles in your lower back in both directions. Roll up to a seated position.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
GET COMFORTABLE Sit on the floor with your sit bones supported, on a folded blanket if that feels right, and your legs straight out in front of you. Press actively through your heels. Rock slightly onto your left buttock and pull your right sit bone away from the heel with your right hand. Repeat on the other side. Turn the top thighs in slightly and press them down into the floor. Press through your palms or fingertips onto the floor beside your hips and lift the top of the sternum toward the ceiling as the top thighs descend. Draw your inner groin deep into the pelvis.
BREATHE Inhale, keeping the front torso long. Lean forward from your hip joints, not your waist. Lead with your heart as you fold forward. If possible, take the sides of your feet with your hands with your elbows fully extended. If this isn’t possible, extend your hands forward on the ground, palms facing up in a receptive state. Rest your forehead on a block or possibly two blocks if helpful to release tension in the back and shoulders. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly. With each exhalation, release a little more fully into the forward bend. Eventually you may be able to stretch the arms out beyond your feet on the floor. Focus on your breath for approximately 3 minutes. If your palms are facing up, you can imagine them as two chalices and “fill” them with all the blessings you have in your life. Slowly and gently come to an upright seated position, taking your knees into your chest. Roll down onto the mat one vertebra at a time.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)
GET COMFORTABLE Use this supported variation of Bridge Pose to continue opening your chest. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your arms out to the sides 12 to 18 inches from your torso with your palms facing up. Lift your lower torso off the floor and rest your sacrum just above your tailbone on a block. Start with the block at the lowest height, adjusting it to a higher position if your low back is free from compression.
BREATHE Focus on your breath and all of your blessings for approximately 3 minutes.
Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
From supported Bridge Pose, raise your legs into the air with bent knees at first, then straighten them when you feel stable.
Here, you have two options:
1. Stay here for approximately 3 minutes to end your practice.
2. Transition through Bridge, remove the block, and bring your knees to your chest, making small circles in your back in both directions. Return to Savasana to end your practice.
Photography by Tracy Grier