We’re at that time of year when pressure mounts to be thankful. Which can be annoying, if only because pressure is usually annoying, if not anxiety-inducing.
So let’s come at it differently and experience whatever we think, feel or do—then simply be thankful for the unfolding, for accepting whatever is happening instead of resisting it. Sounds small, but it’s a pretty big internal revolution. If you’re anything like me, I spend a decent chunk of my time resisting everything from the weather (It’s so cold! It’s so hot!) to my actions (I should not have said that! I should have said that!). I’m proof-manifest of the expression I just can’t win!—and we’re talking only me vs. me.
A pleasant way to stop do-so-doing with a no-win cycle of frustration is to move your body gently. When you move gently, you have more space to experience what you’re doing, without striving. And that’s all you want right now: to bear witness. Here’s a low-impact gratitude yoga flow to help you meet yourself wherever you’re at, thank you very much.
1. Mountain pose, a moving variation
Start standing. No rules where your feet go, except that you want to feel comfortable. Take a few breaths and acknowledge if your inhales and exhales come easily, or not. Either way, it’s all good, ‘cos we’re just bearing witness to what’s unfolding.
As you inhale, sweep your arms out to your sides then up, lifting your crown then gently dropping your head back. As you exhale, return your neck to neutral (or drop your chin to your chest, if that’s calling) and release your arms behind you so that your fingertips and thumbs touch hand-to-hand. Keep with this for a few rounds, more if you so choose.
Hmmm: What happens to your belly, chest and shoulders as you inhale? As you exhale? Which muscles engage as your fingers touch (or are your digit-tips unable to touch?)? By the way, you can experience every “hmmm” in this yoga flow as internal dialogue or physical experience or both. However your flow unfolds, you’re along with you for the ride.
2. Standing twist
Continue sweeping your arms up as you inhale, but now touch your fingertips and thumbs hand-to-hand. As you exhale drop your arms to shoulder-height and twist to the right (or left, doesn’t matter) and turn your head the same direction. As you inhale, unwind to face forward, and sweep those arms up again, touching fingertips. Next, exhale, and twist to the left (or the right, if you started on the left). Keep going for a few rounds, more if you choose.
Hmmm: Which direction were you inclined to twist on your first go? Did you pick it out of habit? Because it came first in the directions? Most important, does it matter? And if you’re doing this flow as an entirely somatic experience, these four questions are irrelevant.
Safety modification: If you have osteoporosis, twist just slightly, though your head can turn to a degree that creates a satisfying neck stretch.
3. Leg balance see-saw
Place your hands on your hips. As you inhale, shift your weight into one leg and reach the other leg to the side, either barely touching your toes down or lifting your whole leg. Your torso will naturally lean the other way. Let it. Feel free to bend your standing knee, and if you do, align it with your second and third toes. Pause for a few breaths, and then as you exhale return to upright. Follow this pattern on the other leg. Then create the pattern with each leg ahead and then behind. Do it all at least one more time.
Hmmm: Is this part fun? Challenging? Ridiculous? All opinions are welcome, as is indifference. Keep slowly teetering, and let whatever arises arise.
4. Bridge pose, variation
Lift your heels, and then come to a squat. Transition to your back then bend your right knee (or left, doesn’t matter, but do switch the remaining cues accordingly) and place the sole of your foot a comfortable stance ahead of your hip, with your left leg outstretched. Rest your arms on the ground, away from your torso, up to shoulder-height. As you inhale, press through your sole to lift your hips, letting the heel of your straight leg naturally drag closer to your shoulder blades. As you exhale release back down. Do this a few more times, perhaps placing weight on the outer edge of your left foot as you rise. Explore, including by turning your head or externally rotating your right shoulder, as you rise. Then switch sides.
Hmmm: Did you intuitively create a massaging action in your upper back, with gravity’s help? How can you move to gently stretch or strengthen parts of your body that you wouldn’t normally access?
Draw both knees into your chest, releasing your lower back. As you exhale give yourself a squeeze with your arms. Rock side-to-side, if that’s calling. You’re hugging yourself, yes. Thank yourself for whatever you thought, felt or did during this flow. In other words, thank yourself for just being and experiencing, no “hmmm” needed.
Mitra Malek often closes yoga classes with thankfulness prompts. She’s not sure if her students do much with them, but she likes to think that they do.