Opening the heart can feel like a daunting feeling, do you feel emotionally open? Have shudders moved down your spine when the yoga teacher mentions backbends?! I can remember being indifferent and quite fearful of practicing backbends... and that exactly what they all make us feel! Within our wonderful society, somewhere along the way we fell into the routines of 9-5 jobs, rushing around, living for convenience and having disposable relationships, whether with partners or friendships. We forgot about the essence of life, every single moment of enjoyment and joy we can feel, and our bodies and minds being truly open. When we feel as though we are stuck in a rut, we are overwhelmed, we feel anxious, we are fatigued and are out of touch with our emotions the body responds with all sorts of discomforts, upper back and lower back often show up loudly, then the shoulders and knees start piping up!
I'm here to show you postures that can help you open the front of the body but also build strength within the back of the body, very often we avoid working with an area of the body that feels uncomfortable but sometimes that area is uncomfortable because we haven't given it any care and attention for days, weeks, months or even years. Its okay if these postures feel a little uncomfortable, take your time, find your pace and modify to suit your body. I promise with the care and attention you'll be giving yourself to try these postures, maybe just one really resonates (personally supported Fish pose will always be my go to!) you will soon feel a lot more freedom within yourself, physically and emotionally.
SUPPORTED FISH POSE - MATSYASANA
A delicious supported posture that really does work into the heart space, sometimes it can feel quite invasive, uncomfortable and may just highlight every discomfort in your shoulders, chest and upper back but this is a good thing! It's just showing you how you may have been carrying yourself, head down, shoulder slumped and an achey all over feeling. Its time to find that length and integrity again that will have you walking taller in no time!
The height of your props can be adjusted to your personal needs, the lower the more subtle the posture. Remember to allow ourselves to open the body organically we need to really move away from anything that feels forced!
Lay the props so they support underneath the upper back, a bolster or two large pillows laid lengthways is perfect.
Gently guide the spine onto the props avoiding the lower back, so the chest is elevated and the pelvis resting on the floor. Adjust yourself so you feel as though can relax here!
The legs can be bent (even these can be supported) straight or in a butterfly position
Allow the arms to rest by the side of the body, relax the head and slowly settle in.
Stay here for 10 breaths or 10 minutes, feel the body relaxing and opening onto the props. You will notice a big difference in your breathing capacity after this pose!
RECLINED TWIST - SUPTA MATSYENDRASANA
Twisting postures are lovely at creating space within the whole length of the spine and this one in particular is wonderful to practice for a long period of time. We can use pillows and props to support the legs if we don't want to grip with the hand, it stretches the lower back, the outer hips, glutes, chest and shoulders. It's a well rounded posture that you may be very familiar with, I think I teach it in almost every class!
Lying on your back gently hug both knees into the belly and chest.
Take a few breaths here as you let the spine and lower back rest towards the mat.
Release the left foot down to the mat and straighten the leg, foot relaxed.
Hold onto the right knee with the left hand and extend the right arm out to the side of the body.
Take an inhale, as you exhale guide the right knee over the body towards the left hand side of the mat you will begin to roll onto the left outer thigh.
Adjust or support the legs here, you can release the left hand and soften the weight of the legs and please remember you don't need to be forceful here to get the knee on the floor.
As the spine and tension held within the hips begin to release you will find more depth within the pose over time.
Repeat the other side.
WARRIOR II - VIRABHADRASANA II
A standing posture that not only opens the arms but you'll feel your whole body working! Silently embracing the words 'HERE I AM!' you will gain strength to walk tall in your life, you will feel fierce to work through any challenges that come your way and you will find resilience to carry through your week.
Start from a standing position facing the right hand side (long) edge of the mat, step the feet wide about 3 quarters of the length of the mat.
Turn the left toes to face the front edge of the mat and the right toes will stay facing the side edge.
Slowly begin the bend into the left knee and align the knee over the ankle, adjust the stance so the left thigh is parallel to the ceiling (its deep!).
Inhale and lift the arms and reach them outwards, hands inline with the shoulders. Relax the shoulders but stay strong in the arms.
The right leg extends and the inside edge of the foot presses down, find an even stability in both feet and press the feet down.
Find your focus on the middle finger on the left hand, or even better close your eyes!
Focus on that beautiful breath of yours, let the sound be smooth and deep.
5-10 breaths, giving the posture your full commitment and presence.
Repeat the other side.
DANCER POSE - NATARAJASANA
This pose took me a few years to enjoy and now it's one of my favourites! Dancers pose works with a one pointed focus as we explore a balance, we take our time to move into the posture and we can enjoy a lovely backbend to open the body. A heart opener and a posture that is held strong and stable highlights an inner commitment, compassion and patience.
Starting from standing bring the feet hip distance.
Bend the right leg and grab onto the right ankle or foot with the right hand (or strap).
Once you have found the balance gently press the inner thighs together.
Kick the right foot back into the hand, keeping the chest open and without leaning forwards. This can actually be the first variation of the pose, to stretch the thigh and strengthen the back and legs.
If you feel you want to explore deeper, keep kicking the right foot back, and then UP!
As you kick the foot back extend the left arm forwards, lifting the heart.
Breathe in to lengthen the spine, breath out to slowly reach the chest forwards.
Find a counterbalance with the right foot and the left hand.
Breathe and enjoy! If you fall out of it, get back in it and try again (this is probably the most important lessons this posture will teach you, commitment, compassion and patience remember).
Repeat the other side.
PUPPY POSE - UTTANA SHISHOSANA
Puppy pose, also known as melting heart within a Yin practice is a deep shoulder opener and can create space within the upper back, a place we often hold a lot of tension and discomfort. This posture from the aspect of Yin works with the Stomach, Spleen, Bladder, Lung and Heart meridian lines, all connected to the emotional body.
Starting in a table top position with the wrists under the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips, walk the hands forwards towards the front edge of the mat. A few inches is enough to start with.
Slowly bow the chest towards the floor between straight arms, softening the elbows down to the mat.
Acknowledge sensations that appear here as they may be many! Be mindful is the breath is compromised, and if it is gently take time to release a little out of the posture.
Stay here for 5-10 long deep breaths and allow the ribcage and upper back to expand.
If you feel compression within the lower back or even in the joint of the shoulder start the pose with the hands not so far away.
You will find the first two postures are passive, the second two active and the last one a bit of both! Why not explore practicing all 5 within a sequenced flow or enjoy 2 at a time. I would love to hear your thoughts on which postures you love, and also which ones you dont!
Enjoy your practice and the process of opening your heart!