After experiencing the emotion-releasing/triggering powers of chest-openers firsthand on my third day of yoga teacher training, I’ve developed an odd fascination for chest-opener asanas and stretches.

Ustrasana is my choice of chest-opener because with every practice the pose becomes noticeably more steady, stable and more comfortable to hold as the chest and hips open. It’s also quite a tough asana to be comfortable breathing in, which helps with practicing breathing with the upper chest for other backbending asanas such as Urdhva Dhanurasana.


– Stretches neck, chest, abdomen, thighs, hip flexors (psoas), groin, ankles
– Strengthens back muscles, gluteal muscles, triceps
– Massages and stimulates abdominal organs
– Stimulates the Manipura (navel region) and Anahatha (heart region) chakras


Avoid this pose if you experience at least one of the following:

– Lower back (herniation) and neck injuries
– Knee injuries or stiffness
– High or low blood pressure
– Pregnancy
– Internal organ surgery
– Migraine
– Insomnia

In terms of muscular joint actions



Upper Limbs

Lower Limbs

Concentric Contraction

To extend spine:
– Spinal extensors
however, most of the action of extension is caused by gravity

To stabilise shoulder joint and prevent head of humerus protracting:
– Rotator cuff

To downwardly elevate, adduct and elevate scapula:
– Rhomboids
– Levator scapulae

To extend and adduct shoulder joint:
– Tripceps brachii
– Teres major
– Posterior deltoid

To extend elbow:
– Triceps brachii

To extend, adduct and internally rotate hip:
– Hamstrings
– Adductor magnus
– Gluteus maximus

Eccentric Contraction

To prevent lumbar spine from over-mobilising:
– Psoas minor
– Abdominal muscles


To resist hip extension and knee flexion:
– Rectus femoris

To resist knee flexion:
– Articularis genu
– Vastii

Passive Lengthening

– Psoas major

– Pectoralis major and minor
– Biceps brachii
– Coracobrachialis




– To bring pelvis forward to align with knees: come into the pose with knees touching to a wall. Work on bringing your hips to touch the wall by engaging your adductor magnus (inner thighs) and grounding your knees and toes into your mat. Making sure not to engage the glutes too much to avoid over mobilising lumbar spine. The lumbar spine is very flexible and if over mobilised, the vertebrae can come to touch and clip a nerve.
– Always stretch beforehand: 3 rounds of Surya Namasakara A/Cat-Cow/Knees-chest-chin with your hands extended in front of you

– Gaby
Illustration source: Marc Johns