In celebration of heart health awareness month, I’ve put together a heart opening yoga sequence that not only opens the muscles in the chest, but also alleviates shoulder and neck pain, creates space in the side body and calms the mind, heart and soul. These heart healthy poses are a great way to mix up that yoga routine while taking care of the chest and upper body.
One of the many reasons to focus on opening up the chest is that most of us are constantly hunching; our posture is rather poor and we spend most of the day leaning over our cell phones, computers, desks and in our cars. These actions also happen to be solitary activities, leading to a heart that’s not only physically closed, but emotionally closed off as well.
While going through this sequence, focus on breathing deeply and fully. Breathe oxygen into the parts of the body that need it most, visualizing space being created while also imagining yourself emotionally opening up to the world. Embrace any feelings that may surface, as many who practice heart opening poses tend to laugh or cry; this is just part of the process of letting go of any emotions that we’re storing in our chest and our heart, lightening ourselves up for a brighter future.
Begin by standing at the top of your mat. Step your right foot back about 3-4 feet, with your back foot at a 45-degree angle away from your body. Rooting down through the feet, square the hips to the front of your mat, with the right arm above and your left arm behind you. Bend both arms so that the hands are moving toward your back. Reach for your fingertips. If you can’t reach them, grab onto your shirt or use a towel. Pull in opposite directions as you root down through your feet and lift your heart towards the sky. Breathe here for five breaths before switching sides.
Beginning in a standing position at the top of your mat, step your right foot back as far as you can, enough so that your hips square toward the right side of your mat (Warrior II). Bend your left knee so that your knee is directly over your ankle while making sure that the right foot is parallel to the front of your mat (back arch intersecting front heal). Lift the left palm up and extend it overhead as you bring your right hand towards your right leg. Keeping your left knee bent, breathe into the side bend, trying to twist the heart open. Take five breaths here and then repeat on the left side.
Begin in Warrior II (same as above). Bring your left forearm to your left thigh (left knee is bent, right leg is straight), as you extend your right hand over your head, making sure the pinky is facing down to open up the shoulder. If this feels good, you can bring your left hand to the floor on the inside of your left foot or to a block. Breathe here for three breaths, then begin to bring your right hand along your lower back, twisting your heart open and deepening the stretch. Breathe here for an additional five breaths.
King Fish Pose
Start by sitting up on the floor, legs extended. Bend your elbows directly underneath your shoulders, hands placed underneath your hips (as if propping yourself up to watch your favorite TV show). Now, begin to puff the chest and bring the crown of your head to the mat. Bring the lower jaw over the top and point your toes. Breathe here for at least 10 breaths while maintaining a strong focus on the deep heart and throat opening.
Begin in a kneeling position. If your knees are bothering you, place a flat blanket underneath them. Curl your toes under and on an exhale, begin to bring your hands on your lower back. Try to send your elbows toward each other, feeling your shoulders come closer while your chest expands and begins to reach up towards the sky. If this feels comfortable, you can begin to bring your hands onto your ankles. Continue to extend through your neck and chest, feeling your chest expand towards the front of your mat instead of leaning backward. Stay here for five breaths. To come out of the pose, return your hands to your lower back and end in child’s pose or downward facing dog to allow the spine to lengthen.