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So often around Valentine’s Day, we head to a yoga class and are hit with a “heart-focused” flow. These sequences are often centered around heart-opening backbends. While backbends are lovely, a heart-focused class that only deals with backbending is lacking dimension.
The heart space is a container; it has a front, sides, and a back. It’s important that we give the whole container the attention it deserves. We want to be sure that our heart has space not only to be open, but to expand, reach, contract, and have the boundaries it needs—and we need—to thrive.
The heart space often feels like the center of our vulnerability. It’s our connection to others and to our most authentic self. Emotionally, it holds and protects the things about ourselves we cherish most—the things we hope to share with others and the things we want to protect most. The heart space requires care and holistic attention so we can do our best to give what we have, while also holding on to what we need for ourselves.
This flow is a wonderful warm up for a longer practice, and great for first thing in the morning. It’s dynamic, breath motivated, and moves our heart space in all directions.
A 3D heart-opening sequence
Begin in a comfortable seat, using a little cushion under the hips. Interlace your fingers and lay them over the center of your chest. If touch isn’t comfortable, feel free to hover your hands over your body. Close your eyes, imagine your heart energy filling your hands. Breathe.
Seated Cat–Cow Variation
On an exhale, flip your palms away from your body and extend your arms out in front of you. Round your upper back for a seated Cat Pose. On an inhale, reach your arms over head, palms facing the sky. Lift your chest and arch your back for seated Cow Pose. Take 5 rounds of Cat–Cow, moving your body with the breath.
Extend your left leg out to the side, keep your right leg bent with your heel toward your body. Bring your left hand to your right knee and, on an inhale, twist to the right. As you exhale, turn your chest back to center and reach your right arm over head for a side bend to the left. The hand on your right knee is your anchor. Take 5 rounds of twist to side bend, moving with your breath.
Tabletop Chest Opener
Come into Tabletop with your knees below your hips and wrists below your shoulders. On an inhale, twist your torso to the right and extend your right arm toward the sky. As you exhale, circle your extended hand up and over to reach toward the opposite corner of the mat for a side bend. Take 5 breaths, inhaling to reach up and exhaling on the side bend.
Flip Grip Cat–Cow
Come back to Tabletop. Turn your hands outward and rotate your arms until your fingers are facing your body or the outer edges of the mat. Take 5 rounds of Cat–Cow, moving your body with the breath.
For this movement, from the Awakening Yoga System, stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider. Hinge at your hips to bring yourself into a forward bend. Hold your elbows with your hands and sway your upper body side to side for a few breaths. Then release your arms and inhale to inflate yourself to standing. Exhale to deflate yourself back to your forward bend. There is no “right” here. Allow your body to sway and wiggle. Think of yourself as one of those wacky, wavy, inflatable, arm-flailing tube people.
From your forward-folded position, place your hands on your mat. Step your right leg back and lower your knee to come into Low Lunge. To engage your hamstrings and and find leg strength, imagine keeping your left foot glued in place while trying to scrape it toward the back of the mat. Inhale as you reach your arms overhead. As you exhale, pull your elbows toward your hips, squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your heart toward the sky. Take 5 breaths, inhaling to reach up and exhaling as you lower your arms.
Low Lunge with a heart twist
From your lunge, inhale and gather both your hands to your heart. Exhale, extend your left arm back and twist to the left. Inhale. On an exhale, come back to center. Inhale, keeping your hands at heart center. Exhale as you twist the opposite way. Draw stability from the ground up, encouraging your hips to do their best to stay square and stable. Allow your base to support the effort required to find space through your heart space.
Thread the Needle
Return to Tabletop. Holding yourself up with your left arm, thread your right arm under your body, reaching to the left. Lower your body toward the ground and allow your hips to soften toward your feet. Stay here for several breaths. Return to Tabletop and repeat on the opposite side.
Return to a comfortable seated position. Inhale and open your arms wide. Exhale, crossing your left arm over your right, to give yourself a hug. Hold yourself with love as you breathe for 3 rounds of breath. With an inhale, open your arms wide. Exhale, hugging yourself with the right arm on top. Hold for 3 breaths. Inhale to open your arms wide, exhale to release your hands down to your thighs.
Supported Heart Opener variation
Roll a blanket into a skinny burrito shape. Lay the blanket across your mat near one end. Sit in the middle of your mat and lie back over the blanket, adjusting so that it is just under your shoulder blades. Grab your elbows or your forearms with your hands and extend them up to frame your head. Breathe.