14 Heart Opening Yoga Poses

Heart openers expand your chest and rib cage, making them more receptive and free. When you have a rounded back and your chest collapses, it's a posture of meekness and submission. Opening your heart does the exact opposite, telegraphing confidence and authority. Spending long hours working at desks, bent over keyboards makes the spine rounded, which causes back pain. It's important to counteract this posture with heart openers.

Many, though not all, of these poses are also backbends. When back-bending, especially for the purpose of heart opening, focus on incorporating the upper and middle parts of the spine, which are often underutilized because the low back tends to be more flexible.

The poses below are grouped in order of difficulty, with the postures most appropriate for beginners up first. The tips are intended to maximize the heart-opening potential of each pose.

1
Restorative Heart Opener

Restorative Pose
Ben Goldstein

If you have a prop like a bolster, blanket, or block handy, a restorative heart opener is a wonderful place to start your exploration. Place the prop so that it will support your back from the bottom of your shoulder blades up when you lie down on it. The legs can be in any position: outstretched, knees bent, goddess pose. You may want another prop to support your head.

Stay in this position for several minutes as your back melts over the prop. If you don't own have official yoga props, we have some idea on how to hack it with items you probably have around the house.

2
Cat-Cow Stretch - Chakravakasana

Cat cow stretch
Ben Goldstein

Use cat-cow as an exercise, in contrast, taking the opportunity to really feel the difference between spinal extension and flexion. By drawing your heart deep into your chest in the cat position (flexion), you can more fully expand it in the cow position (extension, aka heart opening).

Imagine a string running through your chest at the sternum and extending through your back to the ceiling. In cat, the string pulls the center of your chest up. In cow, the string pulls your sternum down.

3
Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose
Ben Goldstein

Sphinx is a good place to learn how to draw your chest through your shoulders, an action that will come in handy in many other poses (like cobra and upward facing dog) and is great for heart opening.

Press strongly into your forearms to extend your spine, making room for your chest to move forward. Roll your shoulders onto your back and keep them moving away from your ears. Draw your palms isometrically back toward your body without actually moving them to puff up your chest.

4
Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Bridge pose
Ben Goldstein

In bridge pose, tuck your shoulders under your body after you have lifted your hips to allow your chest to blossom. Your shoulder blades act as a little shelf to support your heart from behind.

5
Supine Spinal Twist - Supta Matsyendrasana

Supine Spinal Twist
Ben Goldstein

This twist offers a great opportunity to stretch the front of the chest. For the purpose of heart opening, concentrate on keeping both your shoulders on the ground as much as possible. This may cause your knee to come away from the floor, but that's ok. You can even imagine a teacher pressing gently on your shoulders to encourage them to relax.

6
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana

Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
Ben Goldstein

For cobra, roll your shoulders back and keep them away from your ears. On an inhalation, lift your chest off the floor without pressing into your hands. Exhale and bring your forehead to the floor. Repeat this cycle on your next two breaths, inhaling to lift up and exhaling to lower down.

This repetition helps wake up the muscles in your back so that you may be able to lift up a little higher each time you try.

7
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II
Ben Goldstein

While not as obvious a heart opener as some poses, warrior II does help create an expansiveness across the chest. A lot of attention usually goes into the legs in this pose and the torso and arms get a bit neglected.

You want to make sure you're not falling into your usual standing posture here, which tends to be rounded forward. Make sure to roll your shoulders down and back to avoid hunching. Reach strongly out through both fingertips to make space across the chest.

8
Extended Side Angle Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana

Extended Side Angle Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana
Ben Goldstein

Extended side angle should be a heart opener, but it takes careful attention on your part to make sure that you're not letting your chest turn down in an effort to place your hand on the floor. It's better to take your forearm across the front knee if that allows you to turn your chest toward the ceiling. Reach up through your lifted arm to make space.

9
Triangle Pose - Utthita Trikonasana

Triangle Pose - Utthita Trikonasana
Ben Goldstein

Triangle pose has much of the same action and caveats here as in extended side angle pose, above. Take your hand higher up your front leg or onto a block if that allows more freedom in your chest.

You can also try dropping your lifted arm behind your back and possibly catching hold of your inner thigh. The traction of this bind lets you increase the opening across your chest.

10
Half Moon Yoga Pose - Ardha Chandrasana

Half Moon Yoga Pose - Ardha Chandrasana
Ben Goldstein

In ardha chandrasana, make sure that raising your arm is the result of the opening of your chest toward the ceiling. It's easy just to lift your arm but keep your chest angled toward the floor. Rotate your chest fully before you raise your arm.

Try placing the hand of your lifted arm onto your own shoulder for a self-assist to encourage it back before straightening your arm upwards.

11
Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Upward facing dog
Ben Goldstein

Upward facing dog is often the site of major chest collapse when it should be an opportunity for expansion. Use what you learned from sphinx pose, above, to draw your heart through.

When doing sun salutations, there is a tendency to rush through up dog without taking the time to really establish the pose. Resist this urge and take a moment to generously bend your elbows and roll your shoulders back and down before straightening your arms. You can even keep a slight bend in your arms in the final pose if that helps you keep your shoulders back.

12
Camel Pose - Ustrasana

Camel pose
Ben Goldstein

Camel is a nice option for people with tight shoulders for whom wheel pose (see below) is difficult. Use blocks under your hands or tuck your toes under if it's hard for you to reach your ankles.

Remember the string that was running through your chest in cat-cow stretch? Now imagine it pulling your sternum toward the ceiling. Your head may fall back or your can keep your chin tucked; it doesn't really affect the opening of your chest here.

13
Bow Pose - Dhanurasana

Bow pose
Ben Goldstein

Catching hold of your ankles in this prone backbend gives your heart opening some traction. Pull on the ankles with your hands at the same time that you push the feet away from you and feel your front body expand.

14
Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana

Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana
Ben Goldstein

Cow face pose is the perfect place to practice the simultaneous push-pull action that is central to many yoga postures. The bind of the hands behind your back automatically pushes your chest forward. The challenge is to let the upper chest expand but at the same time knit the ribs back in so that you don't do all your back-bending in your lumbar spine.

If your hands don't meet behind your back, it's not a big deal. Use a strap to join them.

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