7 Poses to Help Open Your Heart & Deepen Your Backbend

Many heart-opening postures also happen to be backbends.  Because the low back tends to be the most flexible part of the spine, it’s important to emphasize opening the heart by incorporating the bend into the upper and middle areas of the back.  Repeated crunching in the lumbar region of the spine can result in injury over time.   Below are some poses and pointers to help open your heart, lengthen your spine, and deepen your backbend.  As always, those with injuries and limitations should speak to their doctor before attempting any deep bends.

Open the chest:

1.  Cat/Cow Stretch – Move with the breath and try to visualize extending the spine from the top of the head all the way down to the tailbone.

2.  Bhujangasana (Cobra pose) – Emphasize rolling your shoulders down and firming the shoulder blades against the back in the pose.

3.  Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge pose) – Firm your outer arms, lengthen the tailbone, and tuck your shoulders underneath you to really open the heart here.

·Stretch the arms and shoulders:

4.  Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog pose) – Roll your shoulders back and down before fully moving into this pose.  Emphasize lifting the chest to avoid sinking in the low back.

5.  Dolphin pose – Press the forearms actively into the floor. Firm and widen the shoulder blades away from the spine and down toward the tailbone to accentuate the shoulder stretch.

Deepen the bend and strengthen the back:

6.  Salabhasana (Locust pose) – Clasp the hands behind you and press the scapulas into your back to open the chest and shoulders.  Raise your arms, legs, and upper torso off of the floor to strengthen the spine.

Open the hip flexors and quads to stretch the whole front body:

7.  Anjaneyasana (Low lunge pose) – Lift the chest and draw the tailbone down.  Focus on incorporating the backbend into your upper back and avoid crunching in the lumbar as you reach up with the arms.  

POTD: Pose of the Day Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow or Wheel Pose) with straight legs

This variation of wheel pose with straight legs is a great way to lengthen the spine.  The activation of the legs propels the chest forward, bringing the bend more into the upper back and less in the lumbar.  

1. Begin lying on your back.  Bend your knees, place your feet on the floor with the heels as close as possible to the sitting bones.  Feet should be about hip distance.

2. Bend your arms and place your hands beside your head, palms on the floor with fingertips pointing towards your shoulders.  Your forearms should be almost perpendicular to the floor.

3. Exhale, and press your feet firmly into the ground as your lift your hips and tailbone up off of the floor.   Take a breath or two and then press firmly into the hands, lifting the head up and placing the crown of your head gently onto the floor.  Keep your arms, thighs and inner feet parallel.

4. Take a breath or two, and then lift your head off of the floor as you exhale, straightening the arms.  Firm the outer thighs and turn the upper thighs inward slightly.  Lengthen the tailbone toward the back of the knees as lift the pubis toward the navel.

5. Spread the shoulder blades across the back as you lift up through your chest.  Press evenly through your hands and feet.  Your head can hang, or be lifted slightly to look down at the floor.

6. Slowly straighten the legs as you lengthen through the spine.  Keep the chest lifting and press through the inner arches of the feet.

7. Hold for 5 – 10 breaths, and slowly lower down to release.