What are the benefits of heart opening yoga poses?
I build websites and often work several hours in a row hunkered down over my computer by day.
By night, I later catch myself stooped over my phone or laptop with my neck curved forward.
Spending to much time with rounded shoulders and a hunched spine eventually leads to sharp pains between my shoulder blades and tightness in my whole back.
I try to be aware of my thoughts and postures but deadlines and life in general can get me tightly wound, with ideas and to-dos in my head. I often get stuck in my own creations or ruminations and forget to look up, stretch it out and breath deeply. My busy, self absorbed thoughts get expressed in my physical posture – bent forward and slumped over the keyboard.
To make matters worse, the correlation between what we think and how we feel goes both directions.
Mind-body effects of our posture
Our physical posture also effects our thoughts, feelings, the image we have of ourselves, and the subsequent responses we receive from others. Our nervous system gets feedback from our muscles, bones, lungs and viscera. We have millions of receptors in our muscles, tendons and joints sending a steady stream of messages to our brain and nervous system about the way we carry and move our bodies. When we’re hunched over, these signals are translated by our brain to mean that we are less confident and carrying emotional or spiritual wounds in our hearts.
Typically the posture of someone who is less confident, timid, fearful or possibly depressed looks like me at work!
Additionally, strength training can shorten, tighten and dehydrate these back and chest muscles which can cause poor posture, which can in-turn, inhibit breath function. So lifting weights, stacking wood or shoveling snow to blow off steam and loosen up may not be the best treatment plan.
The hunchback treatment
In yoga we learn about chakras or energy centers in our bodies. The heart chakra, Anahata, is in the center of the chakra system. In Ayurvedic science it is considered the governor of physical, mental, and emotional activities and experiences of the individual. Anahata Chakra holds the emotional functions of love, confidence, trust, as well as deep connection and compassion for other people, animals and the environment. Illness centered on this chakra take the form of hypertension, circulatory problems, heart disease, breathing difficulties, upper backaches and a weak immune system. When this chakra is out of balance you may experience vulnerability, loss of confidence, anxiety, emotional distress, and dependency.
All of these symptoms are reasons to practice heart opening poses.
Several yoga postures, especially chest opening or back bending postures, wonderfully compensate for the forward compressive forces of long hours sitting at my desk.
A hunched stance compresses the lungs, making it harder to breath. Chest openers help provide more room for lung expansion as you breathe. Deeper breaths mean more oxygen enters the body, which delivers more energy to your extremities and can help reduce stress. A paper published in the “Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences” in 2009 concluded that breath work can relieve much of the suffering related to an overstressed body.
Chest openers can also combat a case of the blues and improve your mood. When you roll your shoulders down and back and lift your chest, you automatically look more confident and radiant.
These expansive postures can help you to breeze through cold season with fewer sniffles and coughs as well. In addition to eating well and getting enough sleep, a few chest openers in your daily yoga practice will encourage clear, healthy breathing and boost your immune system.
Heart opening postures awaken the thoracic spine, soften the rib cage, stretch the pectoralis muscles on the chest and strengthen the posterior shoulder stabilising muscles (middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscles). With controlled, deep diaphramatic breathing you add a purifying and calming effect on your mental state. The combination of these efforts in just a few minutes can transform us physiologically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. These are the synergistic tools of therapeutic yoga.
Recommended chest openers include cobra, upward facing dog, cow, fish, wheel, bow and camel.
Treat yourself and experience the benefits in person. Join a heart opening yoga class near you.
Benefits of Yoga Chest Openers
- tones and loosens the spine
- increase the breathing capacity of the lungs
- relieves tightness in the back and shoulders
- increases blood circulation and stimulation of the thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands
- boost immune system
- increases your capacity for love, confidence, trust, compassion and connections to people and your environment