The Best 16 Heart Opening Yoga Poses • Yoga Basics
Heart opening yoga poses are not only physically beneficial, but they also have the incredible ability to create a profound shift in our emotional well-being. By practicing these poses, we can release tension, let go of negativity, and invite a wave of positivity into our lives. Incorporate one or more of these chest opening asanas to experience the transformative power they hold to access deeper states of love, compassion, and inner peace.
Benefits of heart opening yoga poses
Heart opening poses open up the chest and stretches the muscles in the upper body, allowing for increased circulation, improved posture, and a greater sense of inner peace. They have the power to ignite a sense of inspiration, uplift our spirits, and bring a profound sense of joy into our lives. Integrating one or more chest opening yoga poses into your yoga practice can bring numerous benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, including the following:
Many of us spend significant amounts of time sitting at desks or hunching over electronic devices, leading to rounded shoulders and a collapsed chest. These poor postural habits can cause muscle imbalances and discomfort. By regularly practicing heart opening poses, we can counteract these effects by strengthening the muscles of the upper back and opening the front of the body. This results in a more upright and aligned posture, reducing strain on the neck, shoulders, and spine.
Heart opening yoga poses gently stretch and strengthen the muscles in our chest, shoulders, and back, opening up space for our lungs to expand fully. This increased lung capacity allows for a greater intake of oxygen and promotes cardiovascular health by improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure. The deep breathing techniques used during chest opening yoga poses also help to calm the nervous system and reduce stress, which are both beneficial for maintaining a healthy heart.
When we practice heart opening yoga poses, we are encouraged to stand tall, lift our chest, and expand our ribcage. This posture not only improves our physical appearance, but also has a positive impact on our self-confidence. By opening our chest, we create a sense of inner strength and courage, allowing us to face challenges with a greater sense of self-assurance.
Enhanced emotional well-being
Releasing the tension, tightness and stress that we tend to hold in our chest and shoulders helps to release stored emotions and break through emotional blockages, and create space for positivity and joy. As we open our hearts physically, we also open ourselves emotionally, allowing for greater self-acceptance, love, and compassion. By activating the heart center, we can achieve greater emotional balance while reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and sadness.
Strengthened back muscles
Heart opening yoga poses specifically target the muscles of the back, including the erector spinae, rhomboids, and trapezius. These poses help to strengthen, tone and balance these muscles, improving posture and stability. A strong back not only supports proper alignment but also reduces the risk of back pain and injuries.
Improved sleep and inner peace
Slow deep breaths combined with heart opening poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for promoting relaxation and reducing stress. By stimulating this “rest and renew” system, these poses counteract the effects of our fast-paced and often hectic lifestyles, bringing about a sense of calm and tranquility. As a result, practitioners often report a decrease in anxiety levels, an increase in overall inner peace, and improved sleep.
Self-love, compassion and kindness
The heart chakra is often associated with love, compassion, and connection. Heart opening yoga poses can help us tap into these qualities, not only towards ourselves but also towards others. When we practice chest opening poses we send a message to our brain that we also feel safe to open ourselves up to love, compassion, kindness, empathy, and self-acceptance.
Increased energy and vitality
Back bends open up the chest and increase the flow of oxygen to the heart and lungs. This increased oxygenation can lead to a significant boost in energy levels and overall vitality. Heart opening poses also compress the low back and kidneys, promoting increased prana and blood flow to the kidneys. This can help to improve kidney function and detoxification, further contributing to increased energy levels.
The best heart opening poses
The best heart opening poses include a range of movements that target different areas of the spine. The key to heart opening is to focus on the upper and middle parts of the spine—thoracic and cervical—rather than solely on the lumbar spine, which can prevent overextension and injury.
These poses not only stretch and strengthen the muscles around the chest but also encourage proper alignment and increased mobility in the spine, which collectively contribute to a more open chest region. Practice these poses with attention to form and breath to maximize their heart-opening potential.
Below is a comprehensive list of heart opening poses, including why and how they effectively open the heart. Click on the name of each asana to read step-by-step instructions on how to properly perform the pose as well as benefits, modifications and precautions.
- Fish Pose (Matsyasana): It is recommended to use props to support the upper back and encourage the chest to passively relax, open, and expand. This pose not only stretches the chest, shoulders, and neck but also stimulates the thymus gland, and the throat and heart chakras, boosting the immune system, promoting emotional healing, and encouraging self-expression.
- Extended Puppy Dog Pose (Utthita Svanasana): This beginner friendly asana lengthens and realigns the spine and gently stretches the upper back, arms, and shoulders, creating space for the heart to gently expand and open. As you breathe and relax into this pose, let your chest sink towards the ground, allowing every drop of tension or tightness to melt away.
- Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana): This beginner-friendly backbend teaches you to draw your chest through your arms and shoulders, opening up the front body and creating space in the chest, heart and lungs. As you press your forearms down and pull your heart forward and upwards, feel love and compassion blossoming in your heart center.
- Lion (Simhasana): By arching the back, opening the mouth wide and sticking out the tongue, this pose helps release tension in the face, throat, and shoulders, promoting a sense of emotional release. As you exhale forcefully through the mouth and roar like a lion in this asana, imagine letting go of any negative or stagnant energy or emotions residing in your heart.
- Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana): This gentle twist not only stretches the back and hips but also opens the chest and shoulders. This twist brings a sense of release and openness to the heart by wringing out any stagnant energy, negative emotions, stress, or tension that may be stored in the chest. As you breathe deeply in this asana, imagine twisting away any heaviness or burdens in your heart, creating space for love, joy, and compassion to flow freely.
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana): This beginner level pose strengthens the muscles of the back, stretches the front of the body, and stimulates the heart and lungs. By lifting the chest off the ground and arching the back, Cobra Pose opens the front of the body and encourages deep breathing, which can help release any emotional or energetic blockages in the heart center.
- Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II): This standing pose may not be an obvious choice for heart opening, but when grounding through the feet and extending the arms out wide, Warrior II encourages the chest to open and expand. As you reach through your fingertips, feel the energy of a proud, brave warrior flowing through your chest, empowering you to face any challenges with a strong, open, and courageous spirit.
- Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): This pose not only strengthens the legs and core but also opens up the chest, promoting a sense of expansion and vulnerability. To maintain an open heart in this pose, it’s crucial to keep your chest from turning downwards. Focus on lengthening the spine and reaching the sternum towards the sky as you take several deep breaths to release any resistance or tension in your side body.
- Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana): The geometric shape of a triangle symbolizes stability, strength, and balance. This strong foundation helps to open our chest, inviting a sense of spaciousness and freedom into our hearts. Lean your torso back over the legs and reach long through both arms to avoid collapsing and encourage your heart center to lift and open.
- Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana): This pose not only strengthens the legs and core, but it also encourages a deep opening of the heart. As you balance on one leg and rotate your chest towards the ceiling, you are required to engage your core and find stability, all while opening up your chest and expanding your heart space.
- Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): Up Dog is a powerful heart opener that strengthens the arms, shoulders, and spine while simultaneously stretching and opening the chest and lungs. This pose helps to counteract the effects of slouching or hunching over, promoting better posture and a sense of confidence.
- Camel Pose (Ustrasana): This deep backbend stretches and strengthens the entire front body, allowing for a deep opening of the heart. Use yoga blocks under the hands to actively lift and stretch the chest towards the sky, while engaging the thighs and hips to create a grounded stability to support the opening of the heart. Take several slow breaths feeling the expansion of your chest with each inhale and the release of any emotional blockages with each exhale. Use the imagery of a string pulling your sternum towards the ceiling to help deepen the opening in your chest.
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana): This is another deep backbend that opens the chest as well as strengthens the glutes, back muscles, legs, and arms. By reaching back to pull on the ankles and kicking the feet towards the sky, Bow Pose creates a strong opening in the front body, increase flexibility in the spine, as well as improves digestion, relieve fatigue, and promoting detoxification.
- Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana): By interlacing the fingers behind the back, this intermediate level pose stretches the shoulders and opens the chest, promoting better posture and an increased sense of openness in the torso. It also helps to relieve tension in the upper body and improve flexibility in the shoulders.
- Snake (Sarpasana): As you lift your torso off the ground in this belly down backbend, the entire front of the body, including the chest, shoulders, and abdomen, is stretched and opened. Snake pose strengthens the muscles in the back, glues and core, improving circulation, increasing vitality, and promoting a sense of emotional openness and vulnerability.
- One Handed Tiger (Eka Hasta Vyaghrasana): This pose not only opens the chest but also strengthens the core and improves balance, focus and concentration. This groundedness, strength and stability in this asana encourages you to let go of fear and trust in your own inner power. As you kick one foot up and back, feel the courage and confidence of a tiger to shine your love and light out into the world.
Work to mindfully incorporate these poses into your yoga sequences, while respecting your body’s current abilities and limitations. Consult with a yoga instructor if needed to ensure that you are practicing safely and effectively. If you find it challenging to maintain proper alignment or if you feel any discomfort, don’t hesitate to use props such as blocks, bolsters, or blankets. The path to an open heart starts with a single pose, and every breath is an opportunity to expand not just your chest, but your life’s potential.
Heart opening poses can bring up emotions and vulnerability. Be kind to yourself during your practice, accepting where you are without judgment. Cultivate self-compassion and allow any emotions that arise to flow through you, using your breath as a tool to release and let go.