Does the thought of "opening your heart" tighten your chest even further and shallow your breath? It's definitely not as easy as it seems. Blocks can come from mental challenges or physical limitations, sometimes we just don't have the emotional space and/or the strength or mobility in our core, legs, or shoulders to open up big.
For Valentine's Day (and any day), here are 9 gentle heart opening poses that can be put together in a sequence or can each be done individually or in any combination. The important thing is to take time for a little self love. These calm poses give us space to heal, capacity to feel love for ourselves and others, and a pathway to overcome grief and loss.
There's no need to focus on performing the "right" sequence or the "correct" pose. Attune to your body and the sensations each asana reveals. Deepen your breath and try to remain centered. If something doesn't feel right, listen to your body to modify or skip the pose. Sometimes we push ourselves to do things because we feel like we "have" to or are "expected" to. Be patient and listen to yourself - your body will tell you what it needs.
Child's Pose (Balasana)
Sit on your heels, place your toes together and separate your knees as wide as feels comfortable. You can put a blanket over your mat if your knees need padding. Extend your arms out in front of you, and allow your forehead to rest on the ground or a yoga prop, and and sink your hips toward your heels. Take three deep breaths by inhaling through your nose and releasing fully through your mouth. Use the breath to soothe yourself, and stay in this pose until you feel ready to release.
2. Shoulder Stretch with Twist
Lie on your belly and extend your arms wide in line with your shoulder, palms facing down. Rest your right cheek on the mat and place your left palm on the floor in front of your chest. Press down as you roll onto your right side. You can stay here breathing, or lift your left leg and bend the knee as you twist your upper body upwards. Bring your left foot to the outside of your right leg and place the sole on the ground. Reflect on where you feel tight or spacious, and direct your breath towards that area of your body. Hold for at least 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3. Sphinx with Brahamari Breath
Come back to the center with your palms, forearms, and elbows parallel on the ground in front of you. Align your elbows with your shoulders, press your palms into the mat and lift your chest. Press the tops of your feet into the ground and lengthen your spine. Release your shoulders away from your ears and relax your face muscles. On an inhalation, feel the space between your shoulder blades. On an exhale, release a gentle humming sound with your lips closed. Allow yourself to feel the vibration in your chest and the space it fills. Repeat as many times it feels good.
4. Low Lunge Variation (Anjaneyasana)
From tabletop, move into a Low Lunge with one foot forward and the other knee on the floor (pad the knee if needed). Stretch your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. Cross your arms in front of your torso so that the arm on the side of forward foot is under the other arm. Bend your elbows, lift them up, and bring your palms together. Draw your shoulders down and away from the ears. Not feeling eagle arms? Wrap yourself in a big hug instead. Listen to your body with your own breath and hone in on the sensation on your upper back. Notice the fullness of your breath. Hold for at least 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
5. Extended Puppy Pose
Start in tabletop with your hips above your knees and your shoulders over your wrists. Rest the tops of your feet on the ground and keep them hip-width apart. Walk your hands out in front of you as you exhale and slowly rest your forehead to the mat or a yoga prop. Allow your chest to release toward the floor or rest it on a yoga prop. Feel the extension from your fingertips to your spine. Hug in your front ribs to protect your lower back while your hips reach up and back. As you deepen into the stretch, you will free up space in tight muscles. Hold for at least 5 breaths.
6. Lion's Breath
Find a comfortable seated position. Place your hands on your knees and inhale through your nose. As you exhale, open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue toward your chin, and make a “ha” sound. Repeat at least three times. This is a great self-regulation tool to release tension and anger, and build confidence to speak up.
7. Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
Sit on the floor or on top of a pad/blanket/block and spread your legs in a V as wide as you can without compromising your form. Your back should be straight up, not hunched over and your pelvis tilted forward slightly. Bend at your hips, walk your upper body forward as far as you can without curving your back. Relax and breathe (as you breathe in, lengthen your back a little bit. As you breathe out, try to go deeper into the pose).
8. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Lie on your back and extend your arms wide in line with your shoulder. Lift both knees to your chest and slowly drop them to one side. Turn your head slightly right to look over the other shoulder. Keep both shoulders on the mat. Close your eyes and allow your body to release. Stay here for 5-8 breaths. Inhale, come back to center, and repeat on the other side.
9. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Lie down on your mat and let your feet release slightly wider than hip distance. Relax your arms at your sides, palms facing the sky. (Your arms can also be wide, whatever your body needs to relax fully into the ground). You can place one hand on your heart, one on your belly to settle your energy. Relax your jaw and allow your body to breath naturally. Take this time to feel your breathing flowing freely and easily while your body supports you. Stay for 5-20 minutes (or longer).