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Practice These 8 Heart Opening Yoga Poses to Crack Open Your Center

By Nomad Yoga

Within the asana repertoire, there are so many heart opening yoga poses. And for valid reasons! While heart opening may feel vulnerable, it offers countless benefits.

The first of which is that it makes us vulnerable! According to Brené Brown, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” And heart opening yoga poses literally stretch open our heart center to peel away any barriers or layers that may have built up in this literal and metaphoric space.

Physiologically, heart opening yoga poses are invigorating and help to give us a jolt of energy. They also strengthen the back body as they simultaneously stretch the front body. And since we tend to spend most of our time slumped over slouching, backbends offer our bodies the opportunity to shake things up.

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Heart opening can range from mild to extreme, but there are heart opening yoga poses for everyone to work with—no matter how strong or flexible you may or may not be.

Use These 8 Heart Opening Yoga Poses to Peel Open Your Heart and Dive Into Vulnerability:

Explore your vulnerability and open your heart both literally and figuratively with these eight backbends.

Ready to jump headfirst into your heart opening? Practice Open Heart

1. Standing Backbend (Anuvittasana)

This gentle heart opening yoga pose allows you to determine how deeply you’d like to move into the backbend.

To Practice:

  • Start standing in mountain pose with your feet grounded firmly
  • Elongate your spine by reaching your tailbone and the crown of your head in opposite directions
  • Three-dimensionally tighten around your waistline as if squeezing a corset around your torso
  • Either draw your hands to support your lower back, to rest on your hips or at your heart, or stretch them up overhead
  • Root down firmly into your feet and slowly lean your torso back as you draw your shoulder blades toward each other
  • Press your hips forward in space to counterbalance the weight of your chest reaching back
  • Hold for a few deep breaths before using the strength of your core to rise back up to stand

2. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Most practitioners either love or hate this heart opening yoga pose, so decide for yourself if you’d like to include it in your heart opening practice.

To Practice:

  • Start kneeling on your knees
  • Elongate your spine by reaching your tailbone and the crown of your head in opposite directions
  • Three-dimensionally tighten around your waistline as if squeezing a corset around your torso
  • Place your hands on your sacrum with your fingers pointing up or down to support your lower back
  • Root down firmly into your knees and slowly lean your torso back as you draw your shoulder blades and elbows toward each other
  • Press your hips forward in space to counterbalance the weight of your chest reaching back
  • Expand your heart center toward the top of your mat
  • Option to stay as you are or release your hands to blocks framing out your feet or to rest them onto your heels
  • Option to tuck your chin to your chest or, if it feels okay for your neck, relax your head back
  • Hold for a few deep breaths and then bend your knees deeply to sit onto your heels

3. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

Bridge is a versatile pose that can be used for heart opening or lower body strengthening. This variation works to expand and open your chest.

To Practice:

  • Start lying down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor roughly hip-distance apart
  • Relax your arms by your sides with your palms facing up
  • Press your heels firmly into the mat and energetically slide your feet both toward each other and apart from each other to activate your pelvic girdle
  • “Corset” your waistline and hug your shoulder blades toward each other
  • Press evenly into your shoulders and your feet to lift your hips off the floor
  • Lift your rib cage and chest off the mat as you “puff up” your heart
  • Either stay as you are or wiggle one shoulder underneath at a time to hug your shoulder blades together and interlace your fingers behind your back
  • You may wish to experiment by resting your sacrum into your hands and lifting one leg at a time toward the sky
  • Play with any variations that you like for a few deep breaths before slowly rolling down onto your back

4. Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana)

This heart opening yoga pose also doubles as a balancing posture to give you more bang for your buck.

To Practice:

  • Start standing in mountain pose with your feet roughly hip-distance apart
  • Focus your eyes onto one, nonmoving point in front of you and keep your gaze locked as you balance
  • Draw your hands to your hips
  • Pour your weight into your left leg and rise to the ball of your right foot
  • When you feel steady, lift your right foot off the floor and bend your knee to draw your heel toward your seat
  • Reach your right arm out toward the right with your palm facing the sky as if you’re holding a tray
  • Stretch your left arm up overhead toward the sky
  • Swing your right arm behind your back to catch hold of the big toe side of your right foot, ankle, or calf
  • As you inhale, lengthen your whole back body and ground down firmly into your standing leg
  • As you exhale, kick your right foot into your hand and press back out against your foot with equal and opposite energy
  • Stretch your left arm forward to serve as a counterbalance of weight as you reach your right leg back behind you
  • Allow your torso to naturally tilt forward toward the floor but keep your chest lifted
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other to expand and open your chest toward the top of your mat
  • Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly releasing and switching sides

Struggle with balance? Practice Yoga for Better Balance

5. Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)

Wild thing makes you feel both vulnerable and powerful simultaneously. This playful heart opening pose requires both a lot of strength and a lot of mobility.

To Practice:

  • Start in downward facing dog
  • Sweep your right leg toward the sky, bend your knee deeply, and open your hip to stack your right hip over your left
  • Slowly and mindfully release the ball of your right foot down to the floor behind your left knee
  • Pivot your left toes to face toward the back of your mat 
  • Shift your weight into your left hand and root down firmly into the floor to lift your hips toward the sky 
  • Spiral your torso and chest to face the ceiling as you sweep your right arm overhead 
  • Ground down into the mat to lift your hips and chest even higher as you peel open your heart
  • Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly unwinding and switching sides

6. One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana)

This deep heart opening yoga pose requires a lot of mobility in the spine as well as the hips.

To Practice:

  • Start in downward facing dog
  • Draw your right knee forward behind your right wrist and slide your ankle toward your left wrist
  • Tiptoe your left foot back to release your hips onto props or the floor
  • Release your fingertips on other side of your hips
  • Ground down against the floor to lift and lengthen your spine
  • Bend deeply into your left knee and reach your left arm behind you to catch hold of either a strap or your foot
  • Spiral your left elbow to face up toward the sky as you expand your heart center forward in space
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hug in firmly around your belly
  • Option to stay as you are or reach your right arm up overhead and bend your elbow to catch hold of your left foot with your hand
  • Kick your foot into your hands and draw back against the foot with your hands with equal and opposite energy
  • Expand your heart forward and hug your elbows toward each other
  • Either lengthen the back of your neck or, if it feels comfortable for your neck, relax your head back
  • Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly releasing and switching sides

Need some more help? Use this One-Legged King Pigeon Video Tutorial

7. Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)

This classic heart opening yoga pose requires both strength and mobility, particularly in the shoulders, to be able to find its “opening” qualities.

To Practice:

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor roughly hip-distance apart
  • Reach your arms overhead and release your palms to the floor above your shoulders with your fingers pointing toward your toes
  • Hug your elbows and your shoulder blades toward each other
  • Three-dimensionally “corset” your waistline
  • Root down equally into your hands and your feet to lift your hips, rib cage, chest, and head off the floor
  • Expand your chest forward and hug your legs into the midline
  • You may wish to experiment with walking your arms and legs closer toward each other or straightening your legs or lifting one leg at a time
  • Play around with this heart opening shape for a few deep breaths before slowly tucking your chin to your chest and lowering down to the floor

8. Two-Limbed Inverted Staff Pose (Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana)

This deep wheel pose variation creates even more heart opening so you can deeply crack open this physical and metaphysical space within you.

To Practice:

  • Start in wheel pose as instructed above
  • Slowly and mindfully bend your elbows to lower the crown of your head to the floor
  • Bend deeply into one elbow at a time to release your forearms to the floor
  • Hug your elbows toward each other and interlace your fingers
  • Root down against your forearms to lift your head off the floor
  • Press your chest forward as you squeeze your shoulder blades together
  • Hold for a few deep breaths before pressing back up into wheel pose to then lower down to the floor

Struggling with deeper backbends? Learn how to Transition Toward Advanced Backbends

Explore and Embrace Your Vulnerability With These Heart Opening Yoga Poses

While heart opening can be challenging and even scary sometimes, it offers a plethora of benefits for both the body and the mind.

Play with these eight fun heart opening yoga poses or explore other postures that you like to crack open your heart center, expand your vulnerability, and let love in. Your body and your mind will thank you for the extra love.

Need some more heart opening? Practice this Loving Kindness Metta Meditation for Deep Connection

Craving More Heart Opening?

Woman yoga teacher practicing the yoga backbend king pigeon pose on a black yoga mat in front of a gray couch

Practice Open Heart with Leah Sugerman to explore lots of backbends and peel open your heart center!

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