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For me, yoga is not about how far I can stretch, or how I can contort myself into a particular shape, or how I look in yoga pants. It’s a practice of mindful, functional movement—and a time to cultivate gratitude. I’m always grateful to be able to move well. My practice is also an opportunity to tap into my strength and will for compassionate action, on and off the mat.
Connecting an open heart to a strong core gives us strength to do what we are called to do—to “hold the world together.” In this practice, open your heart space while staying connected to your center. Recognize support and lean into it as you move and groove with gratitude. Deepen awareness of each part of the body without judgment, and feel yourself as part of a larger whole.
In his book The Art of Gratitude, my partner Jeremy writes, “The power of gratefulness is that it discloses the preciousness of life to us and returns our focus to how we are living right now…Through grateful eyes we come to know what is worth fighting for, and what is not.”
As you practice, take time to center your body and mind with full awareness in the present moment. Connect deeply with what matters to ignite the spirit into skillful action.
A sequence for giving thanks
Before you begin this sequence, I recommend warming up with a LYT Yoga Reset series and a round of Sun Salutations. Using blocks to bring the floor up to you helps keep your spine long and core engaged. And remember that how you talk to yourself matters. What is your internal narrative about your body like as you practice? Is it punishing, striving, frustrated? Try noticing these thoughts if they arise, and then intentionally send gratitude and love to that part of the body instead. Set the foundation for a nonjudgmental mindful practice with grateful talk.
Stand with hands at heart center to set an intention for your practice. Feel your feet rooted, stand tall, and align your sacrum, scapula, and skull (SSS).
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) with hands on blocks
Bend your knees and hinge at your hips to keep the spine long as you fold forward. Place your hands on blocks to keep length in your spine instead of rounding. Bearing weight into the hands with your hands on blocks will help to engage your core as you keep the heart open.
Step your right foot back and lower the back knee. Firm the right glute and align the SSS. Take a block behind you and try to pull it apart to feel space across the chest. Draw the shoulder blades a little bit together as you keep the ribs in and the core engaged to feel the stretch across the chest wall.
Place the block down and open the arms out at diagonal (one arm up and one arm down). Bring hands to heart center, and switch. Alternate arms in your diagonals a few times.
Bring your right hand down to a block right under the shoulder. Turn around the long axis of the spine and lean into the right shoulder blade, keeping the head of the arm bone centered in the socket. Extend the back leg and firm the glute.
Turn to the right for side lunge and take your blocks with you. Parallel the feet, bend your right knee, and sit back to flex at the hips while keeping the pelvis and the spine neutral with SSS in line.
Three-Legged Down Dog
Turn to the back of the mat for Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) and lift the right leg up. Keep the pelvis level and right knee and toes pointing down. Firm the right glute and lift the low belly. Stay strong in the shoulders and supported by the lift of the front body, not sinking into the armpits.
Kneeling Side Plank Pose
Place your right knee down for kneeling side plank, with the right palm directly under the shoulder. Zip your pubic bone up to the sternum to keep the pelvis neutral and abdominals engaged. Feel the shoulder centered and scapula secure with arms extended from the heart center.
Rise back up through Three-Legged Down Dog with the right leg lifted, and step the right foot forward for Warrior II. Alternate between Reverse Warrior & Extended Side Angle a few times, moving with your breath.
Tilted Warrior I (Humble Warrior Variation)
Pivot the feet to face the front of the mat in a Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) stance, with the feet hip distance apart and the back foot rooted at 10–15 degrees. Interlace your fingers behind your back to open the chest (like when you were pulling the block apart in step three). Lean forward on a diagonal and bring your knuckles to the right glute to feel it fire. Contain the ribs and keep the core engaged.
Keep the front knee bent and place your hands on blocks to keep the heart open and spine long. Slowly begin to straighten the front leg, without changing the alignment of the pelvis or spine. If the pelvis begins to tuck under or the spine begins to round, keep the knee a little bent.
Forward Bend with hands on blocks
Glide the blocks slightly forward and lean into your hands to step the back foot in for Forward Bend. Keep the knees bent and the hinge at your hips instead of rounding the spine.
Rise with a long spine and bring hands to heart center. Repeat for the second side.
About our contributor
Anna Sunderland Engels Ph.D., E-RYT 500 is a yoga teacher, photographer, clinical psychologist, and co-founder of Yoga Lab in State College, Pennsylvania. She is the founder of Sunny Get Up, an eco-friendly line of yoga clothes that raises money for environmental causes. She is pictured here wearing items from sunnygetup.com. Connect with Anna on Instagram @sunnygetup.