Giving Thanks: Valley Yoga Teachers on Yoga, Gratitude, and Thanksgiving Traditions
Thanksgiving is one of our favourite holidays at The Grapevine, and this year we’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude in general. We asked yoga teachers from all over the Valley about yoga and gratitude. We also asked each of them to share a little something about their own Thanksgiving traditions along with their answers.
The Grapevine: How does gratitude inform your yoga practice and teaching?
“I am grateful every day that I am able to get to my yoga mat to practice even if it is for just 15 minutes. To have a healthy body that can move and breathe each and everyday is enough to be grateful for. Gratitude is also present in every class I teach. To have yogis show up and want to share their time with me is more than enough to make the time and effort of preparing a class worth every minute and every breath together.
Traditions with my family this time of year consist of getting together and eating lots and lots of yummy traditional Thanksgiving food. We also always have a family tennis tournament in my parents’ backyard.”
–Jenny Sinclair, The Yoga Barn, Centreville
“I have had a long-time gratitude personal practice and professional practice. In my personal practice, gratitude begins to center and shift my inner focus to be more compassionate towards myself on all levels, as well as inviting more of an openness and presence to anything that is going on in my body and life at that time. In the evening, I also reflect on 3 things that I am grateful for that day in my nighttime meditation. It helps to shift the daytime energy as well as my nervous system, to a calmer and more relaxed place for a deeper sleep.
Before every class I teach (after almost 30 years of teaching full time) I still have a personal gratitude ritual to prepare me and the yoga space for the class. Invoking gratitude automatically shifts the focus and energy to a more expansive, compassionate, kind way of being where all are welcome and all is possible. Being grateful for whatever is present in the room creates a place of accepting and non-reactive openness and connectedness. By including gratitude, the class shifts to something nourishing and positive, and therefore towards a greater effect of calming and a deeper connection to one’s true nature, wholeness, inner peace, wisdom, and clarity.
Some of our family’s favourite Thanksgiving traditions include going for a hike and appreciating the beautiful colours of leaves, smelling the fresh fall air, and finding things in nature to make a centrepiece for our table. We go around the table and everyone says one thing that they are thankful for. Being grateful and appreciative for the farmers, the earth, and all who helped put food on our table and abundance in our lives, and also volunteering or donating food for those who may not have food for Thanksgiving are also a few of our ways to be aware and grateful.”
–Elizabeth Gaal, Yoga with Elizabeth, East Coast Fitness for Women, Greenwood Mall
GV: How has your understanding of thankfulness or gratitude changed through your yoga practice?
“As I practice I have the opportunity to learn and realize the vastness of the knowledge available to me. I am grateful to all the students who come to learn with me. I am grateful that they take the time to nurture their bodies and give them the care they require. I admire those who come with the greatest of physical limitations.
It is great that gratitude is brought to everyone’s attention in this culture of abundance. We hope it will seep into all of our daily lives. I will spend time with my marvelous daughter and grandchildren.”
–Carol-Joy Kaill, Inner Sun Yoga, Wolfville
*GV: What would your advice be to someone thinking about trying yoga? What are the non-physical benefits to the practice?
“Yoga isn’t about tying yourself into a pretzel. When you breathe, you yoga. Yoga is amazing for anxiety and depression. It can help with anger issues, self esteem, trauma, PTSD, overcoming fears, everyday stressors, and so much more.
We are so lucky to have a lot of family to see over the holidays. There’s always lots of food shared with family, and spending time together with the ones we love, which we often miss during the busy-ness of the week.”
–Cassie Doucette and Sarah McDowell, MoonCoast Yoga, Berwick
GV: Why and when did you begin practicing yoga?
“I started practicing yoga five years ago. I was at a very low place in life and found myself at a wellness retreat. The focus was on healing through meditation, yoga, self-discovery, and freeing your self from limiting beliefs and negative emotions. I have always been a very active, involved, and happy person but I had become stuck, sad, defeated, and broken. I had been searching for purpose, looking for something, anything, to fill me up. The moment I stepped on the mat I realized that all of the cracks in my life had been put there to allow my inner light to break through. I found myself at a solo yoga and adventure retreat in Costa Rica a year later. The instructor was Balazs Heller, founder of FitYoga. The FitYoga mission is to teach a strong spiritual foundation by which we learn to empower ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually, and to bring a high level of faith, trust, truthfulness, transparent communication, patience, humility, respect, and compassion into our professional and private lives. I will forever be grateful for the gift of yoga, and for the direction my path is unfolding.
I am a mother of two small boys and we find ways to bring mindfulness and gratitude into our home life as often as we can. We spend as much time as we can outdoors. Connecting to nature, exploring, getting dirty. We travel a lot and volunteer with events in our community. It’s important for children to feel connected and involved. We also watch TV, stay up late sometimes, and eat junk food too: life is about finding balance after all!”
–Sarah Dunham, FitYoga at Clifton House, Windsor
“I attended my first yoga class when I was 13 years old and unfortunately, like most teenagers, I was uncomfortable with my body and low on self-confidence. During that first class, I remember cursing the instructor under my breath when she instructed a lengthy hold in high plank. Even though the class left me feeling defeated and exhausted, I kept going back for reasons I didn’t even know at the time. I desperately needed that time for myself to go into my body and give it what it needed. It started out physical, then after my first experiences with breath work and meditation, I was absolutely hooked. I found myself stepping on the mat once a week, then over the years, my practice became stronger and I was either going to classes or rolling out my mat at home almost daily. It is important to understand that you cannot master or complete yoga, since our bodies and minds are constantly changing. Even people who have decades of experience will always be students. At some points I would practice for hours a day, and some months my mat would go untouched. And that is okay, because yoga finds you when it’s the right time.
For me, making the time to be with family and friends is the most important aspect of any holiday. Especially now that I have moved to Wolfville after travelling for the last year, going home for Thanksgiving will allow me to see loved ones who I haven’t seen in ages. We always go around the table at dinner and share the things we are thankful for. I feel extremely blessed this year for many reasons. A big one being Lahara Yoga coming into my life and all the amazing people I have met since taking over the studio.”
–Kayla Cotton, Lahara Yoga, Wolfville
GV: What is karma yoga?
“Years ago, I would have said a free yoga class. This is not the case. Karma is the life force of our universe: you put something out in it, it comes back and that can be positive or negative. I really think karma yoga is a way of getting more positive energy out there. Everything in this world is an energy exchange, and money can be viewed as a form of energy; we need it to survive. Typically, an instructor puts on a class, giving energy, gratitude, and love to the class, and the students pay for that class: energy exchanged. With karma, the exchange is really about the positive forces letting go. An instructor still gives energy, gratitude, and love, however this time, students can offer a donation to a charity, but most importantly, leave feeling empowered and grateful, and hopefully continue to pass that along for others. It is also an excellent way to share a yoga class with a larger population, as many may not be able to commit financially to a regular yoga practice.
My children are still quite young, so we are in this magical little phase where we are developing new traditions, seeing what works and doesn’t work for us. We definitely always fit in the classics like apple picking, corn mazes, and pumpkin picking, and this year I am hoping that they are old enough (the youngest is 2.5) to start doing something with a gratitude theme. We are so fortunate to have our health, to live in this country, to have all our needs met, that I think it would be really great to start a giving back tradition.”
–Karissa Fraser, Yogalife, Wolfville