If you’re familiar with my teaching, then you know that I love heart opening yoga poses. Not only do they feel incredible, but heart openers also have the ability to work into the heart chakra, which is the seat of unconditional love, acceptance, joy, and compassion.
Heart openers in yoga are otherwise known as backbends, which are postures that open the frontline of the body, and strengthen the backline of the body while lifting the heart over the head. You can learn more about backbends from me in my Heart Medicine series, or from my numerous posts on backbends like this one on advanced backbend yoga poses.
Incorporating more backbends into your yoga practice will help you to build strength in your hamstrings, glutes, back body, and shoulders. Plus, backbends will also help you to cultivate flexibility in the chest, shoulders, hip flexors, and quadriceps.
This post will provide you with a round up of heart opening yoga poses that you can add to your routine today, in order to exercise your mind, body, and heart.
6 Heart Opening Yoga Poses
Heart opening poses are often found towards the end of a yoga practice, because they require the entire body to be warmed up, open, and strong. However, there are some backbends that can be woven into the beginning of your yoga class safely.
If at any point you don’t feel warm enough to try any of the poses below, I’d like to suggest that you do a few rounds of Sun Salutations first. Or, try one of my shorter warm classes online. Most importantly, listen to your body, and know that you can always try again when your body is ready.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana) is one of my favorite backbends, and a great shape to visit when you’re working on opening your heart chakra. This posture is suitable for beginners, so long as you understand the activations and modifications so that you can enter into the shape safely. I love this posture, because there are variations that are accessible for beginners, as well as variations that are challenging for advanced yogis.
To get into Camel Pose, start kneeling with your knees as wide as your hips, and your toes tucked underneath you. Right away squeeze your glutes to tuck your pelvis underneath you like Cat Pose, and place your hands to your low back, bend your elbows back behind you.
From here, take an inhale and lift from your sternum (your breastbone) to lift your chest and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, press your hips forward with your hands while maintaining the lift of your chest. Continue to move with the breath, finding length with the inhales, and depth in the backbend with the exhales.
Eventually, your hands can reach back for your heels. Keep squeezing the glutes and inner thighs to support the low back. If you feel pinching in the low back by reaching for the heels, then keep the hands on your low back, instead. Gaze up, or look back behind you to open your throat. Remember to breathe.
Bridge Pose (setu bandha sarvangasana) is an incredible backbend that helps to build strength in the back body, including the glutes and hamstrings. This pose is accessible to all level yogis, even beginners! And is also a wonderful shape to help prep more advanced yogis for Wheel Pose down the line.
To enter Bridge Pose, start lying flat on your back with your knees bent, and your feet planted under your knees. Reach your hands towards your heels until your fingertips graze your heels, and plant firmly into your feet keeping your hands at your side palms facing down.
Inhale to Bridge Pose by lifting your hips skyward, squeezing your glutes and inner thighs, while keeping your feet and knees at hips width distance. Exhale to draw your shoulders further underneath you, taking weight off of your neck.
Keep breathing. Eventually, you can interlace your hands underneath your low back, as you drive the hips skyward. For more, lift your right leg, and lower it. Then lift your left leg, and lower it.
High Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose has several variations in yoga, and today I’m going to share High Cobra Pose, because I find this to be a perfect beginner to intermediate shape when you’re starting to deepen your backbend practice.
To enter High Cobra Pose, start lying on your stomach with your feet wider than your hips, and your hands tented to the outer edges of your yoga mat well in front of your shoulders. The wider your feet and hands are, the more accessible the backbend will be. If you want a deeper backbend, walk your feet and hands in closer to the midline of the body.
Inhale to High Cobra by pressing deeply into the tops of the feet to start to lift the head and chest. Once the legs are active, press into the fingertips to lift the chest (and maybe the belly) off of the mat. As you exhale, continue to spike your public bone into the mat to maintain length in your spine.
Stay here and breathe, or keep breathing and work on straightening the arms. The straighter the arms become, the deeper the backbed. When you bend your elbows, you’re still practicing heart opening yoga, it will just be less intense. Wherever you land, continue to breathe.
Puppy Pose has got to be my favorite backbend of all. Although, I think I’m saying that about all of them, aren’t I? Oops. But seriously, Puppy Pose is the perfect shape for new yogis to get comfortable opening their heart in a grounded and controlled way. Plus, it offers more intense variations for advanced practitioners to explore.
To enter Puppy Pose, start in a Table Top on your hands and knees. Take an inhale here to find length in your spine, and as you exhale melt into Puppy Pose by walking your hands forward and lowering your chest towards the mat.
Continue to breathe here, allowing your shoulder blades to press the heart towards the mat, letting the weight of the chest open the shoulders. If you want less sensations, walk your hands out super wide, or place a block underneath your chest to catch you. Rest your forehead or your chin down, and breathe.
Locus Pose is an accessible shape for beginner to intermediate yogis. Of course with the proper modifications (like using a strap instead of interlacing your hands), it’s an accessible shape to just about everyone. This is the perfect pose to prepare you for Bow Pose which you can learn from this backbend yoga post.
To enter Locus Pose, start on your belly with your feet as wide as your hips, and your hands reaching back behind you with your forehead resting down. Inhale to Locus Pose by lifting your feet and arms off of the mat. Exhale to squeeze your glutes, soften your jaw, and lower your eyebrows as you lift your gaze.
Wheel Pose will be our grand finale, because this is one of those more advanced heart openers that definitely needs a warm up before. Typically, you’ll find Wheel Pose at the end of a class, because it requires a full class to prepare the body for this big shape.
To enter Wheel Pose, start in the same position that you did for Bridge Pose- lying flat on your back, bend your knees, plant your feet at hips width distance. Place your hands by your ears, so your fingers point down towards your shoulders and heels, and your elbows bend skyward.
Inhale to Wheel Pose by pressing into your feet and hands evenly, and lifting your hips skyward. Work your arms towards straight to lift and open the chest. Exhale to squeeze the glutes, helping to shoot the hip bones skyward. Gaze anywhere that’s comfortable for the neck. Keep breathing.
There you have it my friends, you’re ready to incorporate more heart openers into your yoga practice today. I can’t wait to hear how you feel after!