Hunching, slouching, shortness of breath. Backache, neckache, headache.
These are some symptoms that most people may have felt from the daily toil coming from life. They could have been stressed from work. Harbour anxiety about the future. Or felt alone, depressed and had low esteem. A lack of movement generally aggravated the whole situation.
How then could you reverse the bad effects of the fast-paced high-stress modern lifestyle?
Benefits of Heart Openers
Heart Openers, as the name implies, activate the heart chakra. It is where all your emotions are managed and how you emotionally react to the outside world. Heart openers cleanse the old emotions – the bad energies that run on loops around your mind – and open up for new nourishing ones.
Apart from the emotional aspects of heart-opening poses, the poses have physical and mental benefits too. They help to expand the chest, stretch your back and strengthen your upper torso – all of which aid in your breathing. And with better breathing, comes less anxiety, more calmness, more compassion, and an altogether better grasp of the current situation.
Opening the chest and activating the muscles also promote better posture. Good posture reinforces better breathing which is a positive feedback loop to better health. It boosts self-confidence as well.
Five Poses of Heart Opening
Heart Opener poses are, by nature, backbends. They activate the muscles on the back of your body while stretching the muscles on the front – for instance, your chest, shoulders, and abdomen.
As with all activities, too much of one action is not recommended. Practise heart-opening poses aka backbends with their counterposes aka forward bends, to strengthen and stretch the front and back.
Listed in ascending order based on ease of doing it:
(1) Cow Pose | Bitilasana
This versatile pose is usually offered in beginner classes to promote flexibility of the back and open the chest during warmups. Cat pose, Bidalasana, is its counterpose.
Begin on a tabletop position. As you inhale, gaze up and arch your back. This is a cow pose. To counter, exhale and reverse the pose – gaze at navel and arch back up – to cat pose. Repeat as many times as you like.
(2) Bridge Pose | Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
The assisted bridge pose adds a nice touch at the end of a yoga class and preempts you to a state of unwinding. Adding a block underneath the pelvis promotes even deeper relaxation.
Begin in a supine position. Flex knees with heels close to butt, fingers grazing the heels. As you inhale, lift your pelvis and press onto your heels and shoulders. You could choose to prop a yoga block underneath your pelvis or interlace the fingers underneath your back. Keep breathing to feel the stretch and its calming effects.
Counter pose: Wind Release Pose | Pawanmuktasana
Hug your knees close to your chest like a ball to counter this pose.
(3) Cobra Pose | Bhujangasana
The Cobra pose is a gentle warmup pose that is so important it is included in the sun salutation. The pose primarily uses the back to stretch the chest but tones the arms as well.
Lie in a prone position. Bring the palms close to the body, underneath the shoulders. As you inhale, push on the palms and use the back to arch the body up. Preferably gazing at the top if you can. Remember to pull your shoulders back and away from the ears to maximise the chest opening. Keep breathing as you hold on to this pose.
For those looking for a challenge, try the upwards facing dog, urdhva mukha svanasana.
Counter pose: Downwards Facing Dog | Aldo Mukha Svanasana
From the cobra or upwards facing dog, inhale, press onto your palms and lift the hips. Try to keep the heels on the mat by bringing them closer to your arms, and make sure the legs are straight. Keep breathing and gaze at your navel. Hold onto this pose for as long as you held the previous pose.
(4) Half-Wheel Pose | Ardha Chakrasana
A standing backbend that you could do anywhere. It stretches the whole body and is great at lengthening the spine and improving the posture. For those new to this pose you could practise with a wall first.
Stand with feet close together. As you inhale, flex the arms overhead and arch the back. Gaze between the thumbs and hold onto this pose while breathing.
Counter pose: Forward Bend | Uttanasana
From the previous pose, inhale and slowly raise to the centre. At your next inhalation, take a deep exhalation and flex forward, hinging from the hips to try and touch the mat while keeping the legs straight. If you cannot, hold onto the shin or knees.
(5) Camel’s Pose | Ustrasana
A level up from the previous four poses and a pose that will usually require you to warm up with the same four poses before attempting. Your head will be relaxed and hanging by the neck as you arch to place the hands on the feet. If you cannot, start by placing your hands on the hips and gazing as far back as you could while mobilising your quadriceps, glutes and back muscles. Then work your way down with blocks as your flexibility and strength improve.
Stand with your knees hip-width apart on the mat. As you inhale, lift the sternum and pull the shoulders back. At the next inhalation, place the palms on the heels while lifting the chest. Keep breathing and hold onto this pose for 3 – 5 breaths.
Counter pose: Child’s pose | Balasana
Exit Camel’s pose by slowly rolling your back up and sitting back to the child’s pose.