5 Heart-Opening Yoga Poses To Help You Start The New Year Strong
With the new year around the corner, we are eagerly setting our goals, making plans, and imagining how we will radically transform in 2017. While the mind quickly jumps into creation mode, mapping out three-month, six-month, and annual goals, it's important to prepare the body for these dynamic changes as well.
Heart-opening postures can be a radical way to give you the confidence and energy you need to propel you forward in your successes. Don't believe there's any correlation? Let's try an experiment.
Close your eyes and visualize a time when you were feeling strong, proud, confident, and almost fearless. Notice how you see yourself, your posture, and your stance in your body.
Now, with eyes still closed, visualize a time when you felt weak, fearful, loaded with anxiety and uncertainty. How do you see your posture changing with these feelings you are embodying?
Now, you get the idea of the heart openers! So, as we get ready to leap into the new year achieving these incredible, positive changes for ourselves, let's shift the physical body in that direction as well.
Here are my top five heart openers to give you confidence and leave you fearless for your year ahead.
1. Warrior lunge (anjaneyasana variation)
Let the warrior in you shine, with a focus on the arms in this variation of traditional Anjaneyasana pose. Emanating strength and boosting self-esteem, this posture can be held from a high or low lunge position. For photo's sake, I'll reference the "how to" part in this paragraph coming from a high lunge, with the back knee lifted.
From a high lunge, see that your heels line up with each corresponding hip bone, for a proper spacing between your feet for balance. Lift up from the breastbone, elevating your heart and extend energy out through your fingertips to the sky.
Cactus the arms in a 90-degree-angle form—or, for the sports fanatics out there, create goal-post arms—and engage the space between your shoulder blades, strengthening your upper back while allowing a greater opening of your heart space area. Keep the abdominal muscles engaged as you lengthen up the front of the body, protecting your low back as you ease into this position for the next few breaths.
Hold 5 to 10 breaths on each side.
2. Bowed half-moon pose (ardha chandrasana chapasana)
This posture not only feels incredible for opening the shoulders, back, and chest, but it leaves me feeling as graceful as an Olympic ice skater when I add it to my practice. There are a lot of "combined" elements and postures you'll hear me reference in this setup, in hopes that it will help you to assimilate with other more familiar pastures as you try something new.
First things first: Let's start this party out from a half-moon position. From there, bend your top leg knee, and find your foot (here's where body awareness, not just flexibility, come into play). Like in a bow posture, grab the top of your foot to secure your grip, keep your gaze shifted down toward the floor as you lift your chest open and kick energy into your foot and behind you. You may need to shift your bottom hand for stability as your weight moves more to the front side of your body, like a bow, instead of stacked, like in a traditional half-moon posture.
Pro tip: If reaching your foot is too much of a stretch (pun intended), use a strap! Props are there as tools for you to learn and use.
Hold 5 to 10 breaths each side.
3. Archer pose (warrior 2 variation)
This posture makes me feel strong, like a warrior, and confident in my actions. When we're feeling more confident in ourselves, we tend to stand up taller, be more openhearted, and allow ourselves to physically and mentally be open in more ways to what life brings us. And, as we step into a new year of possibility, we could all use an extra dose of self-love and confidence for our incredible journey of opportunity that lies ahead!
From a warrior 2 stance, with your front heel aligning with your back foot arch and arms extended and level, make a fist with your back hand and draw it across your chest like you're drawing an arrow into a bow. Once your fist is in front of its corresponding shoulder, pause, soften, and breathe. There is a constant engagement in the upper back; keep the chest and collarbones broad and open.
Hold 5 to 10 breaths each side.
4. Wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana)
I know what some of you may be thinking: "This posture looks great, but I'm not a 10-year-old gymnast, and no way I can get into that thing without breaking my low back in two pieces."
Fear not, there are options! Place the hands near your shoulders, with your fingertips facing in toward you. Let the palms lay flat on the ground, pressing down through the hands and the feet. Lift up to the crown of the head. Check the positioning of the elbows, that they are stacked over the wrists. Stay here, or continue to lift the heart up and back, pressing into the hands, getting the head off the ground. Two important things to note once you're up in wheel: Keep your gaze directly behind you, not looking up or down, and keep the low back free and safe by putting the effort into your upper, thoracic spine area instead.
Pro tip: Place block between the thighs to squeeze if you find your knees bowing out to the side when you are elevated in the posture. It actively reminds you to use your inner thighs to assist you with the lift.
Hold 5 to 10 breaths, repeating 1 to 3 times as desired.
5. Fish pose (atsyasana)
It took me years to fully understand how to get into fish pose properly. But once I did, I fell in love. This posture opens not only your heart but your throat as well. It's a double chakra bang for your buck and offers loads of opportunity for full, heartfelt expression.
From a supine position, place your hands underneath your glutes or farther down the back of your upper thighs. Lift up to the crown of your head so it's touching the ground behind you, creating an arch in the upper back area. Use the support of your forearms to continue to elevate your breastbone, creating an evenly curved arc in the mid- to upper-back area. Breathe with your eyes closed, focusing the space in the center of your heart getting greater and lighter and free.
Pro tip: You can raise the legs 45 degrees for additional core or add Lion's Breath to the posture.
Hold 10 to 30 breaths, as desired.