Almost every Thanksgiving for the past 25 years, I’ve taught my 7:30 am yoga class. It would certainly be easier to sleep in on what is usually a busy day in the kitchen. Instead, my students and I enjoy regenerating with Thanksgiving yoga to prepare for the day ahead.
Years ago, we practiced mostly abdominal and digestive poses. In recent years, I’ve added restorative yoga to the mix. For some, holiday gatherings can be exhausting. Whether it’s the work involved or the heightened social interaction, holidays can take a toll. Restorative yoga helps smooth out our nervous systems and renew our energies.
The short routine I offer below is made up of practices my students and I have found to be helpful. Feel free to mix and match. For example, if you only have a short amount of time, go with the mother of restorative/digestive poses, Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose). And do give yourself a generous Savasana.
A Thanksgiving Yoga Routine to Help You Rest and Digest
- Breathe: Begin by lying on a yoga mat in Constructive Rest position. (Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.) Begin breathing deeply, expanding your abdominal muscles completely on the inhalation and contracting them completely on the exhalation. Make sure you are not straining to inhale deeply. Stop just short of strain. Continue for a minute or two, allowing your body to relax as you exhale.
- Stabilize Your Core: From Constructive Rest Pose, cross your forearms behind your head. Your hands should be on opposite shoulders. Continue breathing deeply. The next time you exhale, lift your head and shoulders off the floor, continuing to breathe. After a few breaths, lower your upper body back onto the floor. Repeat several more times, switching the cross of your arms.
- Strengthen Your Back: We often mistake the abdominal muscles as being the entirety of the core. But strengthening our backs is just as important. Spending lots of time sitting in chairs weakens the back. Practicing poses such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), can help strengthen the back part of our core. Practice 2 to 3 Cobras with deep, full breathing. In between, relax onto your mat with your forehead resting in your hands.
- Find Balance: Now that you’ve tended to your core, take that stability into a balance pose. Here are some suggestions: Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Garudhasana (Eagle Pose) or Hasta Padangusthasana (Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). Balance poses not only teach your body the skill of balancing, but they also help promote concentration. If you have a lot of responsibilities to juggle during the holidays, balancing can provide grounding.
- Expand Your Heart: On Thanksgiving, we often encounter friends and relatives we haven’t seen in a while. We may or may not have much in common with them. An open-hearted approach can help us enjoy these interactions. You can literally expand your heart area by practicing a supported backbend. Try Supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose). Stay as long as it feels comfortable.
- Rotate and Relax: We’re now moving into the restorative section of the practice. This restorative twist can help you shift toward your parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system.
- Create Digestive Ease: Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) is essential to a Thanksgiving yoga practice. It’s one of the few poses that can be helpful to practice after eating. Remember this if you find yourself overstuffed during the holidays! I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love this pose. Stay as long as you like.
- Savasana: Make sure to give yourself ample time in Savasana (at least 10 minutes, more if you can). You can lie flat on the floor, or try this lovely, supported variation.
Finally, give thanks for your yoga practice! Yoga asana was originally developed to help calm the mind and body. This Thanksgiving yoga can be an ally for helping you move gracefully through the responsibilities and joys of the holidays.