20 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. Click through for full instructions.


Yoga Heart Openers: Restorative Pose
Restorative Heart Opener. Debra McClinton/Taxi/Getty Images

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.



Yogs Heart Openers - Cat-Cow stretch
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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Sphinx Pose
Sphinx Pose. Ann Pizer

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, see below) 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.



Yoga Heart Openers - Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose. Ann Pizer

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.



How to Do a Supine Spinal Twist - Supta Matsyendrasana
Supine Spinal Twist - Supta Matsyendrasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga Heart Openers - Warrior II
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Extended Side Angle Pose
Extended Side Angle Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Triangle Pose - Trikonasana
Triangle Pose - Trikonasana. Ann Pizer

Much 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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana
Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga Heart Openers: Camel Pose - Ustrasana
Camel Pose - Ustrasana. Ann Pizer

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.


Locust Pose - Shalabasana

Yoga Heart Openers: Locust Pose - Shalabasana
Locust Pose - Shalabasana. Ann Pizer

To get the most chest expansion out of this pose, clasp your hands behind your back in preparation. When you lift your chest off the floor, draw your interlaced fingers toward the back of your mat as your straighten your arms. As always, roll your shoulders down and back.

If you have a friend handy, ask them to assist you by standing on your feet. That counterweight allows you to really blossom the heart.


Yoga Heart Openers: Bow Pose - Dhanurasana
Bow Pose - Dhanurasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Yoga heart Openers: Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana
Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana. Ann Pizer

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.



Reverse Namaste
Reverse Namaste. Phil Payne Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Reverse namaste has pretty much the same effect as the bind in cow face, described above. The gentle pressure of the hands on the back of your heart reminds you to open up. You can use this position in a number of poses, including pyramid and warrior III.



Yoga Heart Openers: Fish Pose - Matsyasana
Fish Pose - Matsyasana. Ann Pizer

Fish pose is often done as a counter position to shoulderstand. It's a case of flexion (isolated in the upper spine in shoudlerstand) followed by an extension (in fish), just like in cat - cow stretch.

A lot of times people think the priority of this pose is to have the crown of your head on the floor. Burt there's no point in have your crown down if your chest is flat. It feels really nice to puff up your chest as much as possible (supported by your shoulder blades on your back) and then just let the head hang back, maybe touching the floor but maybe not.



Yoga Heart Openers: Bound Extended Side Angle
Bound Extended Side Angle Pose - Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana. Ann Pizer

We talked about extended side angle pose above. If you can bind your arms behind your back in this pose, you will find that it gives you some resistance into which you can deepen the rotation of your chest toward the ceiling. Roll your top shoulder back and down as much as you can to make this possible.



Yoga Heart Openers: Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana
Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana. Ann Pizer

Try thinking of wheel as a heart opener instead of a back bend. Letting your chest move through your arms makes a lot of space, which can help if you feel like this pose compresses your low back. If you have tight shoulders, it's ok to separate your hands a little wider that your shoulders. As always, keep your feet parallel and knees in line with your feet.



Yoga Heart Openers: One-Legged King Pigeon - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
One-Legged King Pigeon - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. Ann Pizer

Full pigeon has a lot going on, including hip opening, quad stretching, and deep back-bending. If you can do all that, you'll also be getting an amazing heart opener.

If you're not quite there yet, you can still practice this pose by looping a strap over your back foot. Bend your knee and hold the strap in both hands. Puff up your chest as you work your hands down the strap toward your foot.


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