One of my favorite themes to focus on while practicing yoga is opening my heart. Previously I shared with you my love of energizing vinyasa sequence based on Warrior variations–poses that build up both physical and mental strength. But even the most courageous among us might sometimes experience the need to nurture our hearts–more like gentle water than like fire. In fact, the more fiery among us (ahem, including yours truly) may benefit more from opening our hearts for healing, since we so often close up rather than show our vulnerabilities.
Heart opening poses also tend to open the hips and pelvis as well. In yoga, the heart chakra, which governs your emotions, is closely connected to the root chakra, which is connected to your sense of belonging and security. By opening your hips and pelvis, you are strengthening your stability–the right to feel secure, love and be loved.
1. Chair pose twist (Utkatasana)
After a few sun salutations, or directly from Mountain pose (tadasana), bend your knees and pull your hips back so that your weight is on your heels (Chair pose). Put your hands together in prayer and twist to your right side, hooking your left elbow over your right knee or thigh. Make sure to keep your chest open, shoulders down and neck long.
2. Revolved Triangle (parivrtta trikonasana)
From that chair twist, exhale and step your left foot behind you, toes slightly open, for a revolved triangle pose.
3. Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana)
From revolved triangle, slowly raise your torso up to standing. Place your hands behind your back in prayer pose. Exhale and bend your back slowly, from head, neck, shoulders, upper back, then finally lower back. Breathe deeply here.
As you exhale, bend forward onto your front leg.
4. Forward bend – sweep
From Intense Side Stretch, slowly come up to standing. Pivot your feet until your hips are square and your toes are both pointing forward. Rest your hands on your pelvic bone to support your lower back, and exhale and gently bend backwards.
Breathing calmly, raise your torso back up, then float over your legs into a forward bend. Here, shift your weight between your hips and legs, and sway your torso gently from side to side. You may also shake your head yes and no–whatever gets you feeling loose.
5. Lizard Pose Variations
Slide your feet apart a little bit wider, then pivot your torso to one side so that hips are square and one leg is in front. Step your front foot to the outside edge of your mat, slightly pointing outwards. Slide down into a low lunge, with your forearms resting on the floor (Lizard).
After five deep breaths, come up onto your finger tips, opening your chest up and forward. Rock your hips side to side; gently roll your head around in clockwise, then counterclockwise circles–loosening your self up.
6. Pigeon Pose
(I switched sides here for the pictures – I’m more flexible on this side! But continue on from lizard.) From the low lunge, come down onto your sitz bones, one leg folded in front of you and the other leg straight back for Pigeon pose. Do what you need to do here to let go of the things in your heart–bend forward over your front knee, bend backward and reach toward the sky, or pick up your back foot for a King Pigeon Pose (shown below).
7. Splits (Hanumanasana)
From Pigeon, unfold your front leg and extend your back leg behind you, coming onto splits. Here you can either put your hands in prayer in front of you, by your sides (if you’re not completely reaching the ground), or in prayer pointing toward the ceiling, head thrown back and gazing upward.
To get out of splits, swing your back leg to the front so that both legs are together; first, repeat the sequence on the other side. Then lie down slowly on your back for Happy Baby or Savasana. In Savasana, you may also put your right on your heart, and left hand on your belly, listening to your heart.
Come into lotus pose for final meditation. My favorite mudra for your heart is the Lotus Mudra. Put the heels of your palms together over your heart, just the thumbs and pinkies touching, the other fingers extended–your hands should resemble a blooming lotus flower. The lotus, the most sacred flower in Buddhism, blooms in the mud–and so our beauty is revealed in struggles and darkness. Breathe deeply into your heart chakra, and use whatever affirmation that your heart needs right now.
Also in Yoga: How to Do a Moon Salutation
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling