“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” ~Buddha
In Yoga, we often refer to backbends as ‘heart-openers’. Heart opening yoga poses expand your chest and rib cage which makes it easier to breathe and open yourself up for love. When you sit at a desk all day you probably round your back a lot and your chest collapses. You literally close your chest and heart area. Heart opening poses do the exact opposite, you create space for your heart and lungs which gives you authority and feels liberating.
Spending time in front of a computer or phone rounds your spine. Try to focus your backbends on the part of the spine directly where your heart is – breath deeply into this area while practicing.
Here is a quick heart-opening yoga flow.
Warm-up with a few rounds of Cat-Cow stretches and Sun Salutations. Come to Downward Facing Dog and take some long deep breath into your chest.
Camatkarasana – Wild Thing
Wild thing opens your chest, your lungs, and shoulders. It also builds strength in the shoulders and stretches the front of your legs. It can fight fatigue and mild depression.
From Downward Facing Dog, lift your right leg up with an inhale. Bend the knee and open your hips. Transfer your weight into your left hand and roll to the pinky toe side of your left foot. With your upper right foot reach more and more to the left until your ball of the foot reaches the outside of the mat – you just ‘flipped your dog’. Inhale and lift your hips and chest toward the ceiling. Reach your right arm to the front of the room, your palm facing up to open your chest a little bit more.
Warrior I strengthens the legs, opens the chest, and improves the circulation in the entire body. It can strengthen your concentration and provide balance and groundedness.
From Wild Thing, come back to Downward Facing Dog. Step your right leg to the inside of your right hand and ground your left foot down. Your left toes should point to the left corner of your mat. Bring the hands to your hips and square the hips and shoulders to the front wall. You might have to step your back leg up a few inches. Your front leg is bent with your right knee over the right ankle. Inhale and reach your arms above your head, palms facing each other. Relax your shoulders.
Go through a vinyasa flow or come straight back to Downward Facing Dog.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – One-legged mermaid pigeon
Mermaid Pigeon is the ultimate hip opener. It stretches the thighs, groins, chest, and shoulders. It can stimulate the nervous, endocrine and reproductive systems.
From Downward Dog bring your right knee to the outside of your right hand and slide the right foot over to the left. Then, lower your hips toward the floor. Make sure your hips are square with the mat. Look back at your back leg and check that it is straight. Inhale, reach the crown of the head up and open the chest. You can stay here or lower your torso over your right leg down on the floor for Sleeping Pigeon.
If you want to challenge yourself you can come into Mermaid Pigeon by bringing your hands to the hips, bending your back knee and reaching your chest up. Stay here! Only if you can hold this position for a minute reach your arms over your head and bring your right elbow to the back of your head. With your left elbow trying to huck in your left foot. This is an advanced pose, so practice with caution!
Urdhva Dhanurasana – Wheel or Upward Bow Pose
Wheel pose increases the flexibility in your spine, opens your shoulders and strengthens your upper back and thighs.
From Pigeon Pose come to your back. Bring your feet on the mat, ground your shoulders down and reverse the palms of the hands on either side of the ears. Inhale, press into your hands and lift your body up. You can pause with the crown of the head lightly on the mat to squeeze your elbows inwards. Then lift up to full wheel. Press your knees toward each out (they should be hip distance apart) and relax your neck. After a few breaths, tuck your chin to your chest and slowly bend elbows and knees until your shoulders touch the mat.
Matsyasana – Fish Pose
Fish opens your chest and increases the flexibility of your spine. It can stimulate the circulation and the respiratory and nervous system.
Lay down on your back and extend your legs. Bring your forearms close to your body, your palms facing down. You can even slide your forearms under your hips. Inhale and press into your forearms and elbows and lift your upper body up from the mat. Gently place the crown of your head down on the mat – it is also ok if there is no contact. Stay here for a few cycles of breath but make sure to not rest too much weight on your head. If you feel comfortable you can play around with your legs and maybe come to a lotus position. Restorative fish pose with blocks behind your heart and under your head is another more restorative variation.
Savasana reduces stress and releases tension at the end of a practice. It improves your senses and brings mind, body, and soul in balance.
Lie on your back and let the arms and legs drop open. Extend your arms to the sides, your palms face up. Gently tuck in your shoulder blades and center your head. Your neck is long. Close your eye, take a deep and slow breath in through the nose. Exhale and let your whole body become soft and heavy. Everything in your body should be relaxed: from your pinky toe, over your hips, your abdomen, your shoulders, your face to your tongue. Remain here for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes. Take time when you come out of the pose.