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YogaJournal.com is challenging you to get in the season’s thankful state of mind with gratitude-geared practices all month long. Share yours using #yjgratitudechallenge.
Every day holds the possibility of opening to life or closing down to it. External events are a call to action for the yogi to rise up and choose the way of growth from within. It’s up to each one of us to cultivate our internal state of mind in any given circumstance, and the spirit of gratitude is one essential way to nourish real growth and expansion.
I once read a line about gratitude in the novel The Red Tent and the way it stuck with me is like this: “Gratitude is the nectar of the beehive of the heart.”
I’ve contemplated this metaphor for many years, and it’s true for me. The heart is like a great beehive with bees buzzing all about gathering the pollen from life’s experiences and ultimately churning it into honey inside. When we learn to open to each life experience as a portal to our inner alchemical state, then our sense of wellbeing naturally flourishes. Gratitude becomes a way of living rather than something we are trying to force ourselves to feel.
In this Gratitude sequence, I feature an asana I call “Honey-in-the-Heart” Pose. It’s a variation of Wild Thing, aka Camatkarasana, which means something like “the ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart.”
Indudalasana (Standing Side Crescent Pose, Krishna Style)
Krishna is the energy of love and play. At the heart of Krishna is the Spirit of Gratitude for the dance of life. Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), with hands together in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position). Take a moment to feel the space at the root of your heart. Breathe with even rhythm. Allow the space of gratitude to exist within you even if you cannot name it. Ask for the space to open inside you. Reach your arms up to the sky, take in the expanse of what is truly possible. Clasp your left wrist with your right hand, step you left foot behind your right foot wide to the side, roll to the outer edge of your left foot, engage and spread your toes, lean into the pose, and stretch the entire left side of your body with power and strength from the foundation up to your hands. Take 5 deep Ujjayi breaths. Switch sides.
Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (Three-Legged Dog)
or “Love Raid” Asana
Step back into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Claw your hands and the underside of your knuckles down into the earth. I call this Tiger Paws. Lift your right leg up behind you, squeeze to the midline, and turn your inner right thigh up to the sky. Keep the strength of your inner thigh turning in, bend your knee and open up the hip and thigh into external rotation. Imagine you are sending massive amounts of love from your heart into the world as you stretch open. This is why I call this pose the “Love Raid” asana. Pulse in your inner rhythm with 5 deep Ujjayi breaths. Step back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Rinse out with a vinyasa or simply switch sides.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), Modified
Step your right foot forward into Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose). Bend your right knee over your right ankle, pointing the kneecap over your 2nd and 3rd toes, place your right forearm on your right thigh and your left hand to your hip. Hug your leg muscles, spin your inner thighs back and apart, draw your low back in, and create a powerful lift of the back muscles from your sitting bones up to your 12th rib emphasizing the natural curve of your low back. Breathe your navel and floating ribs back to support the core, and extend your left arm alongside your left ear. Anchor down through your legs and extend from the base of your pelvic floor up through your fingertips. Rest in the your inner expansiveness with 5-8 deep Ujjayi breaths. Exhale and step back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Rinse out with a vinyasa or simply switch sides.
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) step your right foot forward into a low lunge with your back knee on the ground and back toes curled under. Bring both hands to the front right thigh, look toward your navel with nabi chakra dristhi, and press your feet into the earth. Inhale as you magnetically draw your feet toward each other to strengthen the engagement of the muscles to the bones with isometric energy. Press your hands into your front thigh, breathe into your back body, and inflate the posterior kidneys, lungs and heart with your breath to create space. Exhale as you press down through the foundation of your feet. Inhale to rise up. Extend your arms out wide to the sides of the body with the palms facing forward. Inhale and lift up through the sides of your ribcage. Exhale, as you anchor your shoulders back. Open the front of your throat, gently gaze to the end of your nose with nasagra dristhi, and open your heart space with the 5–8 deep Ujjayi breaths. If you want a deeper arm variation, reach your arms up to the sky and bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position). Extend fully and lift up out of your low back to decompress the spine. Step back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Rinse out with a vinyasa or simply switch sides.
Parivrtta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II Prep (Twisting Low Lunge Pose)
Step your right foot forward into a low lunge. Lower your left knee to the ground and curl your back toes under. Bring both hands inside your front right foot. Turn your right foot out and direct the four corners of your knee over your toes. Inhale and isometrically draw both feet toward each other and breathe into your back body. Exhale and squeeze your outer hips around your sacrum and twist to the right. Keep your left hand with “Tiger Paws,” bend your left knee, lift the foot, and reach your right hand to catch your left foot. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and press your left foot into your right hand to engage the thigh muscles. Create as much space as possible between your back foot and your chest and sternum. Imagine your body is a bow with tensile strength and resiliency. Breathe deeply for 5–8 Ujjayi breaths. If you’d like to go deeper, bring your foot to your hip for a thigh stretch and lower down to your left forearm. Rest your awareness into your breath. Step back into Adho Mukha Svanasana.
Camatkarasana (Wild Thing), variation
or “Honey-in-the-Heart” Pose
Anchor in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) for several breaths. Shift your weight onto your left hand, lift your hips high, step your right foot behind your left leg, lift your right heel, press down through the mound of the foot, and roll open to the right side. Bring your right hand over the base of your heart. “Tiger Paw” your left hand, anchor the head of your left arm bone back, integrating your shoulder blade onto the back of your ribs with full power. Press down through your feet and lift up through your hips, using the strength of your posterior chain muscles to hold you in the shape of a backbend. Breathe deeply for 5–8 Ujjayi breaths. Let the entire pose become the expression of the spirit of gratitude in your life. Dedicate this pose to people you love, to those who have helped you along the way, to a special place in nature that holds resonance for your soul, and to the tough situations in life that have helped you to grow.
You can say this blessing from my teacher Martin Prechtel like a mantra: “Long Life, Honey in the Heart, No Evil, 13 Thank Yous.”
Anahatasana (Heart Chakra Pose)
I think of the heart chakra as the prayer wheel of love. Anahata is the Sanskrit word for the heart chakra and means “the unstruck.” From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), lower your knees to the ground, keeping your arms extended. Align your hips over your knees, extend long through your spine, claw your “Tiger Paw” hands into the earth to activate the muscles underneath your arms and integrate your shoulders more effectively. Inhale to strengthen the posterior chain muscles of your back body and exhale to surrender the root of your heart toward the earth. Rest your third eye, your Spirit Eye, to the earth. Breathe fully into the front, back and sides of your heart area. Spin the prayer wheel of your heart and send your gratitude into the world through the breath of your heart.
Danda Pranam (Full Body Staff Offering Pose)
Dandameans “staff” and Pranammeans “offering.” Lie down on the earth with your front body in a full prostration, reach your arms overhead, and rest your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position). Breathe in with a sense of ease and breathe out with the feeling of surrender and release.
Keep your elbows on the earth, lift your prayer hands to the sky and softly chant to yourself: “I offer it up. I offer it up. And again I offer it up.” Internally, make offerings to the beehive of your heart and know that everything is transforming through your inner commitment to grow and expand yourself. Stay as long as you like. Every day, I finish both my meditation and asana practices in this pose before Savasana.
Padma Mudra in Sukhasana (Lotus Mudra in Easy Pose)
Take a comfortable meditation seat. Sit on a blanket or cushion if your low back rounds or you feel tight in the hips or knees. Bring your hands softly to Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position)in front of the heart center. Slowly unfurl your hands like a lotus flower blossoming open. Keep the base of the hands together and connect the thumbs to each other and the little fingers to each other. Gently gaze down into the opening of Padma Mudra and feel the spirit of gratitude pour through, healing, and rejuvenating you.
Keep your eyes softly open and chant Om three times: Once with gratitude for your life, once with gratitude for your loved ones, and once for the challenges in life that help you to grow.
Photo Location: Lumeria Retreat Center in Maui
About Sianna Sherman
Sianna Sherman is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher, evocative storyteller and passionate speaker at conferences and festivals throughout the world. She is the founder of Mythic Yoga Flow and the co-founder of women’s empowerment training called Urban Priestess. She leads 200- and 300-hour Fearless Heart Teacher Trainings and writes for multiple magazines. Follow Sianna on Instagram and Facebook and learn more on her website: www.siannasherman.com