Open your Heart

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” ~~ Helen Keller

Photo Courtesy of The Yoga Blog

Many of us begin a yoga practice with little awareness of the muscles of the middle and upper back. We spend so much of our time hunched over computers and Smart Phones, and we feel the effects (a collapsed chest), but we lack the knowledge about how to reverse this condition.  

Thankfully, yoga gives us many poses that encourage us to use the muscles of the middle and upper back to open the chest, which opens the heart center. The best poses to open the heart are backbends, and these poses are not only great at opening the chest, and strengthening the upper and middle back, but they also provide an emotional experience for many.

This week in class, we’ll be working on poses to open the chest, and strengthen the upper and middle back. Be ready for lots of backbends, but not all of them will be. Some things to think about if you can’t make it to class:

  • When in Mountain Pose, draw the shoulder blades in towards each other and then down. As you do this, notice how these movements open the heart center. Then raise your hands to the sky, palms touching…try to keep those muscles active and engaged, so that the heart center continues to stay open.
  • In Warrior 1, try doing the same thing as in Mountain, first with your arms raised up by your ears, then with your palms touching. Keep those upper and middle back muscles fired up by constantly focusing on drawing the shoulder blades in and down. You can do this same action in other poses, like Chair Pose, Crescent Lunge, and many others.

If you can get the action as described above, THAT’S what it should feel like in any backbend you do. Whether it be Cobra, Upward Dog, Dancer’s Pose, Camel, Wheel…any backbend you do should be using those upper and middle back muscles in the same way to open the heart center.

You’ll notice that by practicing this action diligently, your posture will improve, your breathing will improve, and so will your attitude. These heart opening poses are known for boosting our moods and energy levels, so be ready to shine this week.

B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most well-known yogis in the world, said, “If you keep your armpits open, you won’t get depressed.” When he refers to armpits, he is talking about the area where your arm connects to your torso. If you stop and think about it, the posture of a typical depressed person is head hanging, chin drooping, and shoulders rounded forward…this closes off the heart completely. Try that posture yourself and see how you feel. Then try rolling your shoulders up and back and lifting your head. Feel the difference?

One thing to note. Since these poses can be very energizing, it is best not to do too many right before bedtime. If you’re practicing in the evening, make sure to counter them with forward-folding poses to even out your energy.

Hope to see you in class this week!



Categories Yoga

2 thoughts on “Open your Heart

  1. Great post. I love that Iyengar quote. I laughed when I read it in his book but at the same time it’s so true. The other thing that I found immensely helpful with backbends (especially wheel, camel, and cobra) for taking pressure off of my lower back and forcing me to engage my mid and upper back is tucking my tailbone under. However, it might be one of those things that everyone knows and it just took me forever to catch on.


  2. Good tip about tucking the tailbone…I forgot about that one! I have the very same problem, so I know exactly what you’re referring to. 🙂


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