The art of being thankful is an amazing reason to celebrate on any occasion. Moreover, it's also good for your health! Gratitude provides a wonderful theme for a fantastic classroom exercise, and how cool is it that more schools are starting to incorporate yoga into their curriculum! You can also enjoy this fun gratitude sequence with your little yogis this Thanksgiving weekend, for an at-home practice.
Gallery Credit: Courtesy of the author with permission from St. Pius X/St. Leo School in Omaha
This thankful sequence begins with a game called "Pass the Gratitude." Pass a ball, or any item you have, around to each yogi. Whoever has the ball says something they are grateful for.
The game is followed with some breath work, "Blessed with our Beautiful World." First, find a seat in Sukhasana ("crisscross applesauce"). Guide your yogis to inhale through the nose, placing the hands pinky sides together as if holding the world in your hands. Exhaling through the nose, bring the hands together. Repeat 5-8 times.
An important part of a yoga practice, and a way to practice thankfulness, is to set an intention. With your little or young yogi(s) discuss the idea of dedicating their practice to someone else. Then they can write or draw a picture of their intention on a post-it note. The note can be placed at the top of their mat to help keep them focused during practice.
An OM chant will also help give deeper focus to your young yogi.
A beautiful activity we get to do in kids' yoga is bring in children's literature. I'm Thankful Each Day by Hallinan and Each Breath a Smile by Sister Thuc Nghiem, are great stories with themes of gratitude. The asana practice can follow the storyline of the book.
To begin, instruct your little yogi to lie on their back and hug their knees into their chest. Follow with a simple reclined twist to both sides and give thanks to the beautiful sky above.
Next we're thankful for the warm bright sun! Is there a better way to show gratitude for the sun than with a few rounds of half Sun Salutations?
Standing with feet grounded down and hips-width apart, reach arms up to the sky.
Exhale while folding forward, inviting a slight bend in the knees to not overstretch the hamstrings.
Inhale, lifting halfway up and pressing hands onto shins. Exhale, folding forward. Inhale to reach arms back up to the sky. Exhale hands to heart.
Repeat 3-5 times.
After a few rounds of half Sun Salutations, standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), release arms to side. Twist from side-to-side letting the arms swing, as though they were blowing in the wind. Invite your yogis to give thanks to the breeze!
Return to Mountain Pose and draw the sole of one foot either above or below the knee to practice Tree Pose on both sides. Hands can be by the sides, at heart center or raised overhead. Ask your yogis to smile as they give thanks to the beautiful flowers and trees.
From Mountain Pose inhale arms up to the sky, as if grabbing the clouds, giving thanks to the rain. Exhale with hands to the floor, like a raindrop falling to the ground, lifting right leg to the sky for standing splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana). Repeat on the other side.
Thankful for the moon! You and your young yogi can practice this fun, balancing pose that can be a bit of a challenge. Half-moon (Ardha Chandrasana) can be practiced against a wall or on the mat. Make sure your yogi's practice is balanced and find this pose on both sides of the body.
There are few poses as grounding as Child's Pose (Balasana). What a beautiful way to express gratitude to Mother Earth! Enjoy this pose for 5-8 breaths.
And of course we are thankful for friends! Partner poses provide an awesome way to have fun with these special people. In my classroom a favorite partner exercise is Boat Pose (Navasana). It always incites excitement, laughter, and a sense of confidence.
The joys derived from family come to the forefront this time of year. It is from our family we draw our strength, so what better pose to show gratitude for our families than a group version of Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III).
Standing in a circle, yogis put their arms around each other. As a family, everyone lifts up the right leg and leans forward, reaching with the crown of the head.
In this group pose yogis can physically feel the support of their family. Repeat on the other side.
As a type of meditation activity, give each little yogi a piece of paper to write or draw the various ways they plan on showing others how grateful they are to have them in their lives.
This can be done in silence or with instrumental music softly playing. These can be shared with the group or taken home to share with family and friends.
And at last, we are so thankful for peace! Guide your yogis into their final resting pose (Savasana) and enjoy.