When we enter the world, our minds and bodies are blank canvases. As we grow, we learn what love is, how to love and what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. But when we’re confronted with hardships or challenges, opening our heart to others can be increasingly difficult.
Oftentimes, when we roll out our yoga mat, we’re searching for a sense of release. We may want our practice to navigate us through an emotionally trying time or help us relax from a busy day at work. And when we’re lying in our final savasana, we want to feel that release pouring through every inch of our body. How can we take our practice to new heights and achieve that feeling of contentment when we close our practice? (Read more in Forget Happy: 'Be Content' Instead.)
Especially if emotional tension is present, yoga can help cultivate both self-love and love for others through chest-opening postures that open the heart chakra. Next time you’re in yoga class or practicing at home, set an intention to open your heart. The benefits of heart-opening asanas go far beyond the physical. By practicing these five postures, you’ll notice increased resiliency, elevated consciousness and mental clarity so you can invite more love into your life.
As one of the most frequently practiced postures in yoga, downward-facing dog pose has exceptional heart benefits and stretches the back and spine.
Start in bharmanasana (table top), ensuring your hands are in line with your shoulders. Keep your knees directly below your hips. Push off your mat so that you’re in an upside down "V" position. Keep your hands and feet widely spread and firmly pressed into the mat. Take five deep belly breaths or a simhasana (lion’s breath) for a more invigorating release and feel the love rush in.
One of the most common standing postures, virabhadrasana encourages us to confront self-ignorance (avidya). It also helps prepare us for heart-opening backbends.
From adho mukha svanasana, bring your right foot forward next to the right hand. Pivot your left foot and drop the left heel on to the floor with the toes turned out about 45 degrees from the heel. Bend your right knee directly over your right ankle and square your hips. Raise your arms, palms facing each other, and take a slight backbend to open the chest. Repeat on the left side. Don’t forget to breathe.
Ustrasana is a wonderful posture for both new and experienced yogis. When in this posture, our heart becomes the highest point of our bodies. Our heart also enables us to reflect on our current state and see life more positively.
With your legs hip-width apart, kneel on the floor and press your shins into the mat. Rest your hands on the back of your hips while slowly lifting the chest towards the sky. Hold while taking five deep breaths and return to balasana (child’s pose). (Learn how Conscious Breathing Will Boost Your Yoga Practice.)
These simple and slow heart-opening asanas help calm the mind and body while opening the chest. They are often paired for a gentle vinyasa.
Start in table top, being aware that your hands should be in line with your shoulders and your knees placed below your hips. On your next inhale, allow your abdomen to drop, creating a small curve in your spine. As you exhale, pull your abdomen inwards allowing the spine to arch like a cat. Your drishti (gaze) should be towards your mat.
How does it feel as you pull your navel towards your spine while lifting the heart chakra? Repeat the sequence for at least five deep breaths.
More advanced heart-opening yoga poses, such as dhanurasana, trigger feelings of contentment and encourage internal balance and harmony.
Lie on your belly with your hands alongside your torso, palms up. Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close as you can to your buttocks. Reach back with your hands and firmly grasp your ankles. Inhale. Lift your heels away from your buttocks and your thighs away from the floor, pulling your torso and head off the floor. Be mindful of keeping your body in the correct alignment. If you’re new to this posture, your flexibility will increase in time. Breathe deeply and hold.
Feel the Love
After practicing this series of asanas, do you feel more open to give and accept love? Resting in our final savasana, we are in our most vulnerable state: we’ve shed our fears and we’ve opened our heart. By incorporating these and other heart-opening asanas into our lives, we’ll be more able to attract and accept healthy, genuine love. (Read on in Love Versus Fear.)