Yoga For the Heart | 4 Stretches to Reconnect
Happy Valentines Day, yogis!
As you celebrate the love in your life today, don’t forget to extend a little love back to yourself as well. In a world of commutes, desk jobs, and constant errands – the chest area tends to carry a lot of tension. As we go throughout our days, we tend to round our backs which creates a closing sensation in our heart region. In a way, this is a protective mechanism. We guard our hearts from getting hurt, we try to curl up in little balls and hope for a painless encounter. There are definitely times when we need to protect ourselves from the world we live in. But we cannot do it from a place of fear. If you close yourself off in this way, you will protect yourself from a lot of harm but you won’t be able to accept the love that is being offered to you. So it’s important to find ways to rid ourselves of fear-driving protection and develop a sense of discernment so that we can stay open to life’s goodness and still be smart about the possibly harmful situations.
So when you are in your yoga class and you notice that poses such as the ones below make you feel vulnerable and exposed – just remember, you are doing something good for yourself. The more you are able to create space in the heart center, the more you will be able to let go of fear and embrace love.
The following poses are a yin-style sequence which allows for time to get into your joints and release tight connective tissue that surrounds the joints in your upper body. Practiced regularly, you will find that your body and mind feel more confident and open to love.
1. Reclined Heart Opener (5 min)
I love this pose because it starts out really intense but as you begin to slow your breath and still your mind, your body just melts into the shape of the pose. Set yourself up with a block under the upper back (I line it up horizontally at the tips of the shoulder blades). If letting your head drop all the way to the ground is too much, just bring a prop under your head like I did. You may notice you can remove it as your body begins to open up.
Feel free to fine-tune this for you. You may need to adjust the blocks’ height and position just based on your anatomy.
2. Puppy Pose (4 min)
Begin in tabletop and walk your hands forward (keeping your hips high) until you feel like you’ve reached a stopping point. If it’s too much on your body to drop your head all the way to the ground, bring a block under your forehead. If you are looking for more sensation, bend your elbows to connect your palms and maybe even drop the thumbs down to the base of the neck.
3. Pec Minor Stretch (1-2 min each side)
This is not a classic yin pose, but it is a stretch that I recently learned and it is a wonderful release for the pectoralis minor. In Chinese medicine, this particular area of sensation is associated with the heart meridian lines. In these energetic channels, we tend to hold a lot of our fear and anxiety. So be prepared to feel something and know that it’s okay to ease yourself into the sensation. Just stay curious, positive, and committed to creating space within you. Breathe in love. Breathe out fear.
Begin on your stomach. Bring your left arm out to the side like half of the letter T. Start to bend the left elbow until the arm is at about 90 degrees. Then walk your fingers forward about 3 inches to create a slight angle. Bend your right elbow and bring your hand down to the ground (like a kickstand on your right side). Bend your right knee so the foot points up to the sky.
Now, rest the head on the ground or a prop (gaze to the right) and begin to press into your right hand and roll onto (or towards) the left side body.
If you are able, set the foot down behind the left leg. Continue to use your right hand to hold you in place and do your best to breath through the whatever shows up.
Make sure to do both sides!
4. Bound Twist (4-5 min each side)
I love this twist because it’s a little different than your typical reclined twist. You begin on your stomach and work your way into the spinal rotation. When working on opening your heart I find that flipping my perspective is often just the fresh start that I need to rid myself of anxiety and release stress.
Begin on your right side (arm stretched forward and legs stacked). Take your top leg and stretch it out in front of you (about 90 degrees). This may be plenty for your body. You can just stay here and rest, possibly rolling the back of your head off your arm and onto the floor. If you would like to add another element, lift your head and reach your left arm back as you bend the other knee and grab for the foot. Lay your head back down on the arm and slowly allow your left shoulder and back of the head to begin to drop toward the floor.
Go into the other side when you are ready.
Counterpose (2-3 min)
After opening your heart, it’s important to give yourself a moment to notice the energetic shift in the body and mind. Come into a counterpose (such as child’s pose) and observe the sensation and the space you’ve created with your practice.
Pranayama (5 rounds)
Complete your sequence with a few rounds of 3-part breath. Find a comfortable seat. Rest one hand on your belly and one on your heart. Begin to breathe in and out through the nose and circulating the breath in this pattern:
Belly -> Ribs -> Chest
Meditation (5 min)
Take a few minutes to sit in a simple seat and settle into the release you created with your practice. Maybe repeating a mantra to yourself or a prayer. Allow this the moment to be where your practice comes full circle. Yoga is meant to bring us to a place where we can quiet the stressors of life and embrace who we are on the inside. It’s the gift of the practice!
Hope you all have a lovely Valentines day!
If you have questions or requests, feel free to leave a comment below.