What do yoga and Thanksgiving have in common?
Pumpkin pie? No.
What they do have in common is the practice of gratitude.
Every Thanksgiving for the last 20 years, I've taught a morning yoga class. The class is usually small, but the group is always grateful for the time we spend relaxing and focusing on what is really important in life. We take a moment to give thanks. We work on gratitude by giving thanks for our health, our prosperity and our families.
I remind my students that although this is a day of giving thanks for all our blessings, every day we should take a moment and give thanks for all that comes into our lives. Everything in life has an element of good and an opportunity for growth. Sometimes, however, gratitude gets lost in the stress of the holidays.
That’s why we need to learn to walk the middle way. The middle way means to not become identified with anything: love or hate, happiness or depression, attachment or detachment, but simply to come back to the present moment putting aside all attachments to any position.
When we take a hard and fast position, we slip from the sharp edge of the moment and risk hurting others or getting hurt. Right now one thing may be important, but circumstances will change and in a moment what seemed important may lose its significance. The turkey may be dry and disappointing, but the pumpkin pie might be delicious and well-received. Stay present and in the moment, that’s the middle way. A great yoga pose I use to remind us of gratitude is the garland pose.
The garland has many symbolic meanings. Among them are reverence, respect and gratitude. In the garland pose, the head tucks in close to the heart chakra. When this chakra is closed and out of balance, we feel resentment, find it difficult to say no, overextend ourselves and can feel overwhelmed. This sounds like the stress of the holidays! However, if we take the time to balance and open the heart, we will always find compassion and understanding and this is exactly what is needed to bring gratitude into our lives.
It is important to remember that everyone here on earth is doing the very best they can. Life is not simple and relationships are very complex. As human beings we see things from our own perspective and oftentimes that does not align with the perspective of a well-meaning relative or friend. Respecting each other with a reverence for life and having gratitude for the gift of sitting together with plenty of food, in the warmth of our homes, with family and friends, is yoga and Thanksgiving at their best.
As an added benefit, garland pose is an excellent pose for helping the digestive system get to work after that heavy meal. Proper digestion is a process involving both movement and strength, and squatting and leaning forward puts pressure on the intestines. Anytime you put pressure on an area of the body, it shunts fresh blood to the area. This works to support health and proper functioning. Holding a squatting pose strengthens the muscles of the rectum and pelvic cavity.
Squatting can be difficult. If so, sit on the front edge of a chair, thighs forming a right angle to your torso, heels on the floor slightly ahead of your knees. Lean forward between the thighs and wrap your arms around your knees. Wreaths and garlands represent the never-ending cycle of life. They are symbols of victory and honor. They remind us to practice reverence, respect and gratitude. The Buddhists have a wonderful quote regarding the garland: "Fashion your life as a garland of beautiful deeds." May your Thanksgiving be filled with health, happiness and peace.