Take a deep breath in, roll your shoulders back, and lift your chest to the sky. Feel the immense release in your chest and relish in the power of opening the heart. We don’t always think of our chest and heart as something that needs to be worked on or exercised, but it can be a life changing practice.
Physically opening the heart and chest will improve your posture, relieve shoulder and neck pain, and benefit your breathing. Our modern lives of driving cars, texting, and typing away at a computer for hours causes us to tighten the muscles around the rib cage as our arms are perpetually drawn forward. This collapses the chest into itself and crowds the lungs and hearts while pulling on muscles of the neck and upper limb. Use yoga to consciously open up this area and to help counteract the activities of our busy daily lives.
On a more energetic level, opening this area of the body opens you up to the world around you. You will feel more present and connected with those around you. The heart and throat chakra sing, allowing you to speak kinder, and feel more fully. Many of us hold past traumas or deep emotions in the chest and heart. By physically opening this space, our bodies release these old tension and we can begin anew.
Who Should Use Heart Opening Yoga
The simple answer here is everyone. Everyone can benefit from being more open to the world around them and releasing the stress that buries itself in our upper body.
But aside from that generality, anyone who spends a lot of time with their arms forward or their chest tucked in will benefit greatly from these exercises.
If you are someone who has trouble keeping good posture, heart openers are key for you. Do you hunch your back, have “head-forward syndrome,” or constantly work on a computer or phone? Do you drive long distances for work? Work these exercises into your daily routine to counteract these activities and keep your heart open.
Have you suffered from emotional trauma but despite efforts to work through it there is still something lingering? Do you feel tightness in the chest or have trouble breathing when you get upset? Are you having trouble connecting with others, even close friends or family members, or feeling like you belong in the world? These types of yoga poses will transform your daily life. Opening up the heart will release those blockages, improve anxieties, and help you to connect more authentically to the world around you. Open your heart and energize your life.
Intentions For Your Heart Opening Sessions
It’s good practice to hold an intention for any yoga session. This focuses the mind and draws attention to whatever you choose to dedicate your practice to. This can be even more powerful when doing a heart opening sequence. Here are a few things you might want to think about when doing a heart-opening session:
Release: Because these poses will help to release constrained emotions or traumas, this is a great place for intentions to let go and move forward. Breathe fully in these exercises and imagine those stuck feelings loosening and leaving the body with each out breath.
Open and accept: If you feel that you are not opening up to all that life has to offer, these heart opening poses will help you to open and engage. Consider dedicating your practice to fully experiencing life.
Communicate: The heart, lungs, throat, and entire chest are all involved in the communication process. It is from our heart that our desires and feelings are born, through our lungs and throat chakra that we find our voice and speak up. If you are having trouble communicating with a particular person, or find it difficult to speak up for yourself, this can be a great intention for this practice. Additionally, if you find that you are communicating but it tends to come through anger, frustration, or unkind words, use this practice to open you heart to communicate with more compassion.
Sphinx pose is an excellent place to start with opening the heart. It is gentle and supportive, allowing you to ease into the practice.
-Start by laying face-down on your mat, with your arms by your side and your legs together. You may rotate your thighs inwards by rolling the outer thigh out to the floor to help support your back during this stretch.
-While flat on the ground, point your toes to the wall behind you and activate the leg muscles.
-Move your arms so that your elbows are below your shoulders and your forearms straight out in front of you.
-Inhale and lift the chest and head to sphinx pose. Continue to engage (but not clench) the buttocks and legs, and draw the belly in slightly to the spine. Take 5-10 breaths, then on an exhale, lower your chest back down slowly, turn your head to one side to rest on the floor, and rest for a few breaths. Repeat 2-3 times.
Similar to sphinx pose, cobra pose is a great way to gently open up the heart and chest. Taking extra time for full breaths in this pose can also help with breathing conditions or sore pectoral muscles.
-Lie face down on your mat, with legs together and feet pointing towards the wall behind you and flat on the ground.
-Place your hand below your shoulders and spread your fingers to create a stable starting point. On an inhale, straighten the arms and lift the chest high while keeping your legs and pubic bone firmly on the ground.
-Open the chest further by reaching the shoulder blades back towards the spine.
-Rest here for 5-10 breaths. On an exhale, release and gently lower back to the ground, laying the face on one side and resting for a few breaths. Repeat 2-3 times.
This pose involves a nice strong back bend to open the entire chest and torso. It is not only opening, but very invigorating and energizing.
-Kneel on the floor with your knees below your hips, parallel to each other. Engage your lower legs by pressing the shins into the floor below.
-Place your palms behind you on the back of your hips, with the fingers pointing down along the buttocks. Gently press down to lengthen the spine, but makes sure not to push your groin forward in doing so.
-Draw the shoulder blades back and life the heart.
-Lift the head up and lean back, bending the back, while keeping the hands on the lower back.
-If you are able, reach the hands down to grasp each foot. You may choose to curl the toes under and lift the heels here.
-Rest here for 10-30 seconds or up to a minute if you are able. Maintain an easy breath cycle and make sure not to push the pelvis forward, strain the back, or cut off flow to the throat/neck.
Here is another great pose to fully open the chest and release the entire torso. Bow pose may be difficult or take some practice to find comfortable, so take it easy.
-Lie face down, with arms along your sides and palms up. For added comfort, you may lay on a folded blanket under the pelvis to minimize the pressure from the floor.
-Exhale and bend your legs at the knees, bringing them as close to your buttocks as you can.
Lift the head and chest and reach back to grab each ankle in your hands.
-Inhale and push your ankles back away from the buttocks while also lifting your thighs away from the floor.
-Continue to open the chest by drawing the shoulder blades back and dropping your shoulders from your ears.
-Maintain a steady breath cycle and hold the pose for 20-30 seconds.
-On an exhale, release to the floor and rest for a few seconds before repeating 2-3 times.
Get ready for a full opening pose that will leave you invigorated. Wheel pose is an excellent choice for feeling “stuck” or needing new perspective while opening your heart to new things.
-Lie on your back and bend your knees to place your feet firmly on the ground. Try to get them as close to your sitting bones as possible.
-Bend your elbows to place your hands on the ground behind your shoulders with the fingers pointing towards the shoulder joint.
-Exhale and lift the tailbone to the pubis, engaging but not clenching the buttocks, keeping the thighs parallel. Take a few breaths here.
-Press your hands into the ground to lift the crown of the head.
-On an exhale, straighten the arms, lift the pubis further, and come into wheel pose.
-Take 2-3 breaths here, then gently lower back down to the ground to rest. Repeat 3-10 times.
Tree pose can be fantastic for balance and stability, but it is also a great way to gently engage and open the chest. Use this pose when you want to engage your mind in working through difficult situations, or to understand your feelings better.
-Stand tall, with feet firmly on the ground such as in mountain pose.
-Slightly shift your weight on to the left foot, and lift the right foot.
-Grab your right foot and place it on your inner left knee, thigh, or groin (whichever is most comfortable for you).
-Center your pelvis over the left foot to maintain balance, and look straight ahead.
-You may now bring your hands to anjali mudra at the chest and breathe deeply while focusing your attention to the heart and chest. You may also lift the arms above your head for a different stretch.
-After 5-10 breaths, slowly release your foot and return to mountain pose. Repeat with the opposite side.
Challenge your balance and open the entire torso with dancer pose. While there are several variations, this simple version will open the heart and hips. Be conscious of your torso during this pose and make sure to maintain full breaths.
-Start again in mountain pose. Shift your weight to the left leg and slowly bend the right knee, lifting the heel to the buttocks.
-Reach back with your right hand and grab the right ankle.
-Keeping your torso upright, lift the foot up and away from the torso, extending the leg away from you.
-Stretch the left arm ahead of you, parallel to the floor.
-Stay here for 20-30 seconds if possible, then repeat on the opposite side.
Use triangle pose to stretch the rib cage and open the sides of the chest. This pose is helpful for emotional conditions, as well as tight chest muscles.
-Start in mountain pose, then on an exhale jump your legs out to the sides about 3-4 feet apart.
-Lift your arms out to the sides, palms down, parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your shoulders dropped away from your ears.
-Turn your left foot in slightly and the right foot pointing out ahead of you (perpendicular to the left foot).
-Exhale and bend at the hip joint towards the right foot, with the right arm reaching down to touch the ground next to the right foot, or touching the foot, ankle, or shin.
-Reach the left arm high overhead, straight up to the sky and direct your gaze to the left thumb.
-Breathe here for 30-60 seconds.
-Inhale and, pressing the left heel to the ground, lift the torso and arm to return to an upright position.
-Repeat on the opposite side.
Fish pose releases tension in the chest and helps you work through difficult emotions. Breathing fully during this pose is key.
-Start by lying on the floor, face up. Bend the knees and place your feet on the ground, or leave your legs pressed to the floor.
-Lift your pelvis and slide your hands to rest underneath your buttocks with palms down. Keep your arms resting close to your torso
-Inhale, pressing your forearms to the floor and lifting the chest and head and arching your back.
-If you are able, rest the back or crown of your head on the ground to fully open the chest. Make sure to not crunch the neck here.
-Rest for 20-30 seconds while continuing slow controlled breaths. On an exhale, release back down to the floor. Repeat 2-3 times.
Supported Corpse Pose
Finish off your heart opening sequence with a supported corpse pose. While savasana is important to conclude any yoga practice, the use of the support in this version will continue to help open the chest and allow for a deep relaxation.
-Place a rolled towel or blanket on your mat and lay down on top of it. Position it so that your upper back, neck, and head are fully supported. This will allow you to completely relax.
-Rest your arms by your side with palms up.
-Feel the chest open and relax into the pose. Take several deep breaths here and rest for as long as you need.
Energize Your Life
Use these ten yoga poses as a sequence for a fully transformative practice, add in a few chosen poses to your typical session, or pick one or two to do to re-energize your day or when you need some extra heart space. You will not only benefit physically from the increased energy and oxygen these poses provide, but will be able to take on life more fully and with happy heart. When we release tension and vow to live more openly, everyone we encounter benefits. Be the change and open your heart.
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Paving the way for yogic living in Nebraska, Jacqueline Roberts is adored by her students as a constant source of support and inspiration. A knack for writing allows her to share what she has learned with the world.