What is heart opening yoga?

By Pip Scammell on February 16th, 2024

February brings with it an abundance of heart imagery, so we asked yoga practitioner Pip Scammell to share her thoughts on the heart opening postures in yoga that everyone can benefit from.

Back bends

Backbends are traditionally associated with heart opening as they tend to ignite a sense of freedom, liberation and divinity. They are a radiant expression of your heart’s energy, one of courage, compassion and joy. We have to be able to open our heart to possibility in order to create a future that we most desire and the present moment is the access point. So, focus your attention on your body and breath and when you notice your mind goes elsewhere, bring it back. 

Backbends are also a perfect invitation to explore your relationship with vulnerability. Vulnerability is a natural experience so can we change our inner narrative to one of curiosity and explore how it feels to be human? We can use our physical practice as a safe space and an invitation to explore the feeling of vulnerability, gain insight and work through resolutions. 

Contrary to popular belief we need to prepare the body for backbends in more ways than just the traditional chest opening postures. For ease I will separate the body into 3 different compartments and give you a brief outline of what needs to be prepared and why. I will include some fantastic standing postures when focusing on backbends. I will then share some of my favourite backbends and a few tips for closing postures and relaxation. You want to create an even distribution of sensation across your whole spine during backbends, rather than concentration in your lower spine, these prep poses will help facilitate the muscular quality of engagement and length that are ideal for backbends.

Legs

Tight quads and hip flexors are often the primary resistance in backbends so it is desirable to create some engagement in those particular muscles whilst lengthening them. Poses such as lizard lunge quad stretch and reformed anjaneyasana (low lunge) are perfect poses that help create this muscular quality. Activating our hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings) is also important so locust and bridge work perfectly for this.

Spine and core

It’s important to mobilise your spine in all directions even when focusing on backbends so a simple low lunge twist is perfect for this. We need to engage our abdominals slightly in backbends so a nice warm up pose for this is navasana (boat pose). 

Shoulders and arms

We need to prepare our shoulders for backbends when our arms are overhead and also when they go behind us. Side bends are excellent preparation poses for arm overhead backbends. They create length in the muscles that restrict your arms from reaching overhead. Think of it like the stitching at the bottom part of your shirt being too tight so when you lift your arms overhead, they can’t easily reach. A perfect pose for arm behind backbend prep is locust with hands interlaced behind. 

It’s really important to develop strength in our backbends so make sure you include as many locust, cobra and sphinx as you can, a perfect place for this is adding into sun salutations. Standing poses that I like to include in a backbend focused class are reverse warrior, half moon chapasana and warrior 2 with garudasana (cross one arm over the other and press the palms together) arms. 

Now is your opportunity to focus on those backbends, I love wild thing, natarajasana (dancer’s pose), ustrasana, (camel pose) dhanurasasa (bow pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose). 

To close take child’s pose or down dog to neutralise the spine into its natural state and then do a couple of forward folds and twists. Then take a nice long savasana, radiant rest, this is where all the movement, breath work and connection seeps in and we can make a blueprint for our nervous system. Enjoy

Website: www.maitriyogawithpip.com

Instagram: @maitriyogawithpip

Pip Scammell

Pip has completed her 500 hour yoga alliance accredited teacher training, specialising in vinyasa yoga but also includes hatha, meditation, breath-work, guided relaxation & yoga nidra. Pip has also undertaken a trauma informed yoga and somatic practices course for adults and is an accredited children’s yoga teacher with a specialist focus on trauma.

All articles by Pip Scammell

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