Heart Opening Yoga Poses:
5 Yoga Postures to open your heart and give you more courage
Yoga postures that open up your chest and expand your heart space are often known as heart opening postures. Besides stretching the front body, they are awesome postures to help release fear and build courage.
The Ancient Fear Reaction
When we are fearful, we generally contract our bodies to protect ourselves. This is a natural reaction to fear to protect our vital organs encased within our torso. It is natural for us to want to protect them – it’s a matter of life or death. The mechanisms in place that set off this physical reaction to fear are from more ancient times when we lived in the wild and were at threat of being attacked by animals. Nowadays, not many of us live in the wild, yet we still feel fear – fear of deadlines, responsibilities, lack of money, loss of friendships etc. Our modern day fears are not about being eaten by a wild tiger, however, our body does not know the difference. If there is a threat, we contract. Great for the abs yet terrible for our upper body and spine. As with everything in life we need a balance of energies. If we stay in one physical posture for too long, we become out of balance.
The Body and Mind Connection
The body and mind have such a strong connection that they influence each other. When we hunch and contract, we are signalling to our brain that we are scared, so we close up even more. When we are contracted and closed off we stop saying yes to opportunities in an attempt to safeguard ourselves. Yoga offers us many tools to try and counteract this. By keeping the body both strong yet flexible, the mind too is also able to be strong and flexible.
If you are feeling contracted, stuck, or scared then try out these heart opening yoga postures. They may feel a bit uncomfortable to begin with but by opening the chest and heart space you are being courageous. You are opening up to life. It’s like shouting out a big, fat “YES!” to life.
Are you ready to become more courageous?
5 yoga postures to open your heart and give you more courage
Make sure you do some kind of warm up before you enter into these postures. If you are a regular yogi, practice a few Sun Salutations to get the blood flowing. If you want a guided warm-up, try one out for free here.
1. Supta Baddha Konasana (with a block)
Start seated with the soles of the feet together, knees out wide. Set up a block, pillow, book, or rolled towel just under the shoulder blades and gently lower yourself down. You want your chest to be lifted. You can let the head hang back or support the head with another pillow. Arms go out to the side with the palms facing up. Don’t place the block too high, you want to feel a stretch in the upper spine and across the front body but you also don’t want to feel pain. If you do feel pain, lower the height of the block or simply remove the block and lie the back on the ground and keep the arms open to the side.
Stay here for 8-15 breaths.
Roll onto the belly and place the elbows directly under your shoulders. Forearms will be flat on the floor with palms down. Gently press into the forearms to lift the upper body and look forward. Feel a sensation of the shoulders rolling back and down. You do not want to sink into the shoulders, the posture is quite active. To help protect the lower spine, draw the abdominals in towards the spine, as if trying to levitate the body. Make sure you keep your legs no wider than hip width distance.
Hold for 5-8 breaths.
After the posture, take the upper body and head down to the floor. Lay the head down on the arms and relax for a few breaths.
3. Humble Warrior
Start standing with the feet hip width distance apart. Find Warrior I by stepping one foot back into a lunge with the foot either at a 45 degree angle or the ball of the foot on the ground with the heel lifted. Bend into the front knee.
Inhale – Take the arms overhead.
Exhale – Bring the arms behind the lower back and interlock the fingers.
Inhale – Lift the chest high to the sky
Exhale – Lower the body forward with the arms still interlinked and bow the head on the inside of the front knee.
Hold for 5-8 breaths.
To exit use an inhale to raise you up and exhale step back leg forward. Repeat on the other side.
4. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Lie on the back with the knees bent (hip width distance) and feet on the floor. Take your arms alongside the body and reach the fingers to gently touch the back of the heels. Without moving the head (look directly up only), lift the hips up to the sky. Either stay here, or to open the upper body even more, interlock the hands, shrug the shoulders underneath the chest and feel a lift in the chest towards the sky.
Hold for 5-8 breaths.
To release, undo the interlock of the hands, then slowly the spine down to the floor one vertebra at a time. Once your entire body is back on the floor either knock the knees together or take the knees out to the side, with the soles of the feet together. Hold for a few breaths to neutralise the pelvis.
5. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose)
Note: Only try this posture if you are familiar with it or have practised with a teacher as it is quite a strong posture for the spine and upper body.
Start on the back with the knees bent (hip width distance) and feet on the floor. Take your arms alongside the body and reach the fingers to gently touch the back of the heels. Then take the palms of the hands to the floor above the shoulders (fingertips pointing towards the shoulders) Without moving the head (look directly up only), lift the hips up to the sky. Press the hands into the floor and push your upper body up towards the sky. There should be an equal amount of pressure on the hands and feet. Keep the knees hip width distance the entire time, avoid taking the knees too wide.
To lower, draw the chin to chest and slowly lower down by bending the arms and knees. The back of the head will gently touch the floor first then the rest of the spine will follow one vertebra at a time. Take your time lowering.
Once your entire body is back on the floor either knock the knees together or take the knees out to the side, with the soles of the feet together. Hold for a few breaths to neutralise the pelvis.
Hold for 5- 8 breaths.
To finish this heart opening practice choose a posture to take a few moments in. Savasana (lying on the back with the legs and arms out wide) or a seated posture are good options. Take a few moments to tune into your breath. After your breath has slowed down a little, start to incorporate a mantra into your breath.
Inhale: I am open to receiving love
Exhale: And I am open to giving love
Bring a little more love into your life by physically opening up the heart space. We are most courageous when we allow ourselves to feel vulnerable, to open up completely, to not hide ourselves. When we practice opening the heart space, we are indeed practising courage as well.