Crisp morning and evening air, warm sun, colourful changing leaves on the trees, steaming chai, curling up to watch documentaries with my family, new yoga classes, routine, oversized sweaters, warm oatmeal, preserving and canning food … all are some of the reasons why I love autumn. Perhaps one of my favorite things about this time of year though is Thanksgiving.
This holiday’s origin of prayer and ceremonies of “thanks” for the harvest may also resonate with me because of my farming heritage. My mom grew up on the farm and as a child we would visit Baba and Gido there. Growing up my parents would grow a large garden to feed the family, also because it kept my mom grounded and connected to her roots. Autumn would bring copious amounts of produce to process. At an early age I learned to can and preserve food, it gave me such satisfaction to be part of filling our cold room with beautiful, colourful, nourishing jars.
Now though removed from the farm and the formal harvest, this holiday has come to mean something more universal to me and others... that of “gratitude.” Gratitude and thanks not only for the bounty, whether it comes from my own yard or the farmer’s market, but also for all of my blessings.
It is tradition for us to host. We spend the day cleaning and preparing. We collect leaves from the neighbourhood to decorate the table that is set up in the length of the living room. The kids and I prepare the vegetarian dressing, gravy, and other fixings. I make a lentil loaf after the one year that the Tofurkey didn’t go over so well. My husband cooks the turkey that is locally sourced and ethically raised for the kids and the rest of the family.
We pray, eat, and laugh. Even the meat eaters think my vegetarian dressing is the best. At dinner we always end the meal by going around the table to share what we are grateful for. I am struck by the simple things that we speak of; health, family, friends, food, shelter, love… It reveals what is truly important in life and how we can live so much more simply. In the 8 limbs of Yoga this simplicity is one of the Yoga Yamas (internal observances) referred to as “aparigraha” meaning “non-grasping” or “non-possessiveness.” When we have food in our bellies from the harvest and love in our family that is all we really need (thank you Raffi for those wise words).
If we regularly cultivate this gratitude for the simple things in life we can live life in a more Yogic way, discern what is essential in life, and our lives will become more fulfilled.
A Short Practice for Cultivating Gratitude
Do this practice either before Thanksgiving dinner or after you’ve had time to digest your meal.
Start in Balasana (Child’s Pose)
~ With your legs tucked under you fold forward from the crease of your hips, bring your forehead to the mat or a prop, arms are at your sides and reaching toward the feet with palms facing up or stretched out in front of you, your knees can be together or wide with toes touching behind.
~ Bring attention to the feeling of grounding down into the earth, give thanks to where the bounty of the harvest originates.
Marjaryasana/Bitilasana (Cat/Cow (or dog tilt) Pose)
~ Come up to hands and knees, stack shoulders, elbows, and wrists and stack hips over knees, shins are parallel and toes are pointed behind you, start in flat back/neutral spine. Inhale and on the exhale tuck your tailbone, round your spine, draw your navel in, and tuck your chin. Inhale and tilt your pelvis forward, drop your belly and gaze up. Move between cat/cow synchronizing your breath and movement.
~ Notice your spine, how it is undulating, and give thanks for a healthy spine that supports you, allowing you to stand, bend, and twist. Your spine is a symbol of your health, give thanks for your health.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
~ Move forward onto your belly, create length in your legs by pressing toes of your flexed feet into the mat and then extend your legs away from your hips. Bring your legs parallel point your toes with the tops of your feet rooting down and engage the muscles of your legs. Bend your elbows, bring your palms below your shoulders or for a deeper backbend to the base of your ribs, spread your fingers wide and plug your palms in. Inhale lift up using the strength of your back, if in the deeper variation use the strength of your arms to lift up. Keep your buttocks lightly engaged but don’t clench. Draw your shoulders and shoulder blades back and down and keep your head as an extension of your spine. Breathe and hold for 30 seconds or so, inhale and exhale to come out.
~ As you are in Bhujangasana connect to your heart center and the love that resides there for your family and friends. Give thanks for all those you love and who love you.
Modified Bharadvjasana (Seated Twist)
~ From Cobra pose come up into simple sitting with your legs tucked under you. Shift your hips to the right and bring your left ankle (on top) to the instep of your right foot (on the bottom). Reach your right hand behind you toward the mat and your left hand comes to the outside of your right knee. Inhale to lengthen and exhale twist. Use the breath to take the twist as deep as what feels right for you, perhaps gazing around behind you. Do the opposite on the other side.
~ As you are twisting bring awareness to your belly. Be grateful for access to the healthy food and nourishment you receive. Give thanks for the food that sustains you.
Simple Sitting with a Meditation
~ Come back to bring your legs tucked underneath you. If this is uncomfortable bring a blanket or a foam chip block between your buttocks and feet or to the back of your knees. Lengthen through your spine, draw your shoulders back and down. Bring one hand to your heart and the other hand covers your bottom hand. Connect to your heart center.
~ As you connect to your heart center notice any emotion that resides there. Bring to mind someone you love, including yourself. Feel the warmth of that love, the heart that beats for those you love and connect to pure, true and infinite love. Give thanks for the love in the world and love around you.
Savasana (Final Relaxation/Corpse Pose)
~ Cover yourself with a blanket. Lay on your back on your mat, gently close your eyes. If your lower back is sore bring a bolster or rolled up blanket to the back of your knees. Let your feet and legs roll out in their natural position of repose. Bring your arms at your sides with palms facing up. Draw your shoulder blades underneath you lifting through your sternum, tuck your chin slightly and lengthen through the back of your neck and spine.
~ Draw your attention to the blanket. Feel the weight and the warmth of it. Feel how it wraps you up as a symbol of shelter. Give thanks for the shelter that shields you.
~ If thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise allow them without judgement or criticism. With every exhalation let go, with every inhalation draw in healing energy/prana. Relax your body from feet to your head. Feel yourself relaxing further and how the earth softens to receive the weight of your body. Feel your boundaries blur.
~ To come out bring your awareness back into the room and your body. Deepen your breath; bend in one knee and then the other bringing your feet to the mat. Roll to your right side and then gently come up to Sukhasana (Easy Pose/legs crossed). Bring your palms together to your heart in Anjali Mudra, bow to the light in all of us. Namaste.
love and light,