With Valentine’s Day in the air, there’s no better time to explore heart-opening yoga poses. These poses guaranteed to benefit your posture and inspire positive emotions.
The word ‘heart’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘hrt’ which means ‘the innermost.’ This is fitting because our hearts are the center of several key elements in our bodies. Our physical hearts pump blood through our circulatory system automatically, without a thought or effort to the process.
Heart of the Matter
Emotionally, our hearts absorb and store our experiences, whether they are filled with great joy or deep sorrow. On a spiritual level, our hearts reside in the energy center called the anahata chakra, also known as the heart chakra, the center of the seven-chakra system that links and balances the upper and lower chakras.
Modern lifestyles often necessitate a lot of hunching over desks and computers all day long, then curling over a steering wheel, followed by slumping onto the couch for an evening of Netflix. The results of this over the long term can be a sharp pain between the shoulder blades or chronic tightness across the upper back resulting in poor posture and an unhappy outlook. In other words, the more we hunch, the more likely we are to stay that way. This slumping posture curls the heart inward, stifling compassion and connection, and inhibiting breath function by compressing the lungs.
Yoga can offer relief on multiple levels. Regular practice helps to keep stress at bay, reducing cortisol and stress hormones and staving off adrenal fatigue. Yoga can also help cultivate awareness of the breath and the mind-body connection, and this can result in healthier eating habits and greater overall well-being and a more open heart.
Chest opening postures, also called heart opening postures, can be of particular benefit to your posture and help bring about good emotional health. These postures involve back bending and lifting the sternum to assist in opening the heart. Physically stretching the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and belly can create a deep emotional release, helping you to appreciate and honor yourself and your loved ones. These poses also bring a feeling of lightness and contentment.
Give the following five poses a try, practicing each one for 5 to 10 complete breaths and practicing the series once a day.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Lie face down with your legs straight out behind you. Press the tops of the feet into the floor. Place your hands on the floor, just under your shoulders, spreading your fingers, and hug your elbows to your ribs. Inhale and begin to straighten your arms (the elbows can stay bent).
Stretch your heart forward and bring your torso up. Concentrate on firming your shoulder blades against your back and lifting your sternum so that there’s no compression in lower back. Follow this pose with Balasana (Child’s Pose).
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Begin on your knees with your legs hip-width apart. Place your palms on your sacrum. Without compressing your lower back, lean back into the support of your hands. If you have the mobility, move into the full pose by reaching your hands to your heels.
Concentrate on reaching the center of your chest toward the sky. Bring the hips forward to line up over the knees and reach the tailbone down. Keep the chin drawn toward the chest, or let the head hang back if it feels okay for your neck. If you feel you are compressing your low back, it can be helpful to practice this pose facing a wall and pressing your hips into the wall as you lean back.
Remain in the pose for a few deep breaths. Release by engaging through your abdominals to rise gently back to a kneeling position. The sit back on the heels for a few breaths in Balasana (Child’s Pose).
Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
Begin on lying your back, legs extended, with your hands palms down, under your hips. Inhale and press into your elbows and forearms to arch your upper back and gently place the crown of your head on the floor (it’s okay if it doesn’t make contact). Keep the feet pointed, elbows in. Be careful not to rest too much weight on the head. Remain in the pose for a few breaths, focusing on lifting the sternum. Release and hug your knees into your chest.
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge), Variation
.Start in a runner’s lunge, with the right foot forward and the front knee over the heel. Slowly lower the back knee to the floor, gently stretching the thigh and groin. Release the top of the back foot to the floor, pressing the top of the back foot down firmly.
A variation that will open up the chest further: Come up, bringing the hands to the top of the bent knee. Then bind the hands behind the back, drawing the knuckles down the back thigh, lifting through the center of the chest.
Keep the shoulders relaxed and the shoulder blades drawing together on your back. Lift your gaze and take 5 breaths, then switch to the other side.
Set Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Lie on your back, knees bent, with your feet directly under your knees, hip-width apart on the floor. Inhale and lift the hips off the floor. Clasp your hands underneath you, rolling the shoulders toward one another to expand the chest. If clasping your hands together is uncomfortable, roll the shoulder blades under and press the backs of the arms firmly into the floor.
Close your eyes or softly gaze up, taking slow, full breaths. Release by rolling down one vertebra at a time, then hugging your knees to your chest.