13 Heart-opening Yoga Poses to Relieve the Anahata Chakra
By practicing heart-opening yoga poses every day, you can improve your posture, stretch and lengthen your spine, and relieve blockages around the heart chakra.
Heart-opening yoga poses or chest openers are exactly what they sound like, and if you’ve ever attended a professional yoga class or even referred to YouTube tutorials, you have surely heard the term! They involve stretching the chest area to relieve the physical and metaphorical blockages around the heart. Many of these poses involve backbends (like your classic cat-cow pose) or melting the heart (think child’s pose), and they range from easy-peasy resting poses to more intense, advanced-level stretches.
In essence, these yoga poses are targeted at the Anahata chakra, also known as the heart chakra, and aim to relieve it from the exhaustion of daily life. More spiritually, expert yogis and traditionalists believe the region to be the center of love, compassion, empathy, purity, kindness, and forgiveness. Let us explore the benefits of heart openers, and why we need to incorporate them into our daily workout routine.
5 Benefits of Heart-opening Yoga Poses
1. Help Correct Your Posture
If we look at yoga heart openers from a strictly physical perspective, then the aim is to counterbalance the effects of slouching or having a static posture in one’s day-to-day life. A sedentary lifestyle consisting of poor posture, excessive screen time, lack of exercise, stress, etc. can cause much musculoskeletal discomfort, pain in the neck and shoulders, and even severe spinal disorders (1). Chest opening poses, especially the ones that involve backbends and shoulder stretches swoop in as a savior in such cases, liberate your muscles, and provide immense relief.
2. Clear the Heart Chakra
Daily stressors have a metaphorical “oxidative” effect on our heart chakra, making us feel tired, numb, apathetic, sluggish, and all in all, blocked up! In some severe cases, it can cause feelings of cynicism, defensiveness, envy, loneliness, lack of trust, or even emptiness. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that people who practice heart chakra yoga poses experience relief from such feelings or lack thereof. With regular practice and periodical advancements, people are even able to broaden their perspective, experience a sense of freedom, and embody virtues such as empathy.
3. Support Deep Breathing
Studies have shown that standing yoga poses with chest opening movements have a positive effect on one’s breathing capacity. Such asanas support one’s lung capacity for drawing and holding air before exhalation (2), (3). This is the reason why many people feel fresh and elevated right after a heart-opening pose. And, regular practitioners will agree that if they do one such pose, they crave practicing more of them!
4. Energize the Body And Mind
Like any other physical movement, these poses in yoga also have a considerable effect on blood circulation. Adding to that, studies speculate that chest openers positively impact the vagal tone of one’s body. These factors thereby result in energizing the body, improving one’s physical capabilities, and making one feel more active (2). Moreover, considering that these heart-opening poses improve one’s posture, they have a positive effect on one’s confidence and subjective energy (4), (5).
5. Enhance Mood
Numerous studies have proven the commendable benefits of yoga poses for mood and emotional well-being, and heart-opening poses are no exception. These poses effectively alleviate anxiety, reduce sluggishness, and make one feel more at ease and peace. Regular practitioners of heart chakra yoga would all agree on its impact on mood enhancement, and you can try it yourself to get to this verdict!
Having said so, one can incorporate heart-openers in their daily yoga practice through numerous poses — ranging from effortless to more challenging and advanced poses.
Read on to see some of the best and most common yoga poses to open up your heart and calm your inhibitions.
13 Heart Opening Yoga Poses to Clear Blockages in the Chest Area
1. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
A common pose lying at the “heart” of every vinyasa flow, the cobra pose can be considered a quintessential example of what a heart-opener looks and feels like. The best part—almost anyone can do it! To perfect this pose, start by lying flat on your belly and keep your feet hip-distance apart. While the tendency here is to curl up on the feet, the correct way is to press all your ten toes firmly into the mat. Then, place your arms shoulder-width apart on the mat, press firmly to lift your chest, and curve your back and neck in a smooth arch.
2. Upward-facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
In this pose, you find yourself balancing only on the tips of your feet and the palms while lifting the rest of your body from the yoga mat. One significant difference—unlike how many people practice the cobra pose, in an upward-facing dog, your palms are placed right underneath your shoulders at a 90° angle. Getting to this pose requires some practice, and can be achieved by regularly incorporating vinyasa circuits in your workout routine.
3. Cat-Cow Pose (Bitilasana)
The humble cat-cow pose is a simple, albeit supremely beneficial pose for various reasons. To do this, you need to start with the table-top yoga pose, ensuring that your wrists are directly underneath the shoulders and knees are directly underneath the hips. Then, without bending your elbows, inhale deeply and curve your back in a way that pushes your belly low and lifts your chin and glutes upwards.
4. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Perfect for people who sit for long hours and get only little physical movement daily, this pose can counteract the negative effects by stimulating almost all parts of the body. Hence, there’s no wonder that this pose resembles something called a “superhero” pose, that you may have practiced outside your yoga class. To do this, start by lying flat on the mat, with your feet hip-width apart and arms resting at the sides of your body. Then, lift your limbs together and balance your body on the belly to open up your heart.
5. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Coming to a more intermediate yoga movement, we speak about the dhanurasana, literally translated as “bow pose”. Similar to the locust pose, you involve all parts of your body to do this lucrative, chest-opening stretch. When in the locust pose, start by catching hold of your ankles with your hands. You’ll notice that your knees bend towards your glutes in the process—don’t resist it. Once you feel a little stable, lift your chest and chin upwards, as well as your feet, so your entire body is balanced on your belly. Hold for a couple of breaths before you let go.
6. Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujanganasana)
Another simple heat-opener to the list. The sphinx pose is a highly recommended one as it empowers you without exhausting your resources or coming off as too difficult. Many people confuse this pose for a cobra pose, however, there’s a difference. In this one, you support the pose by placing your hands—up to the elbows on the mat. This way, you’ll notice that you’re able to lift a little taller, from your diaphragm, and can arch the whole spine instead of just the upper back.
7. Extended Child’s Pose (Balasana)
If you were expecting heart-openers to consist of only advanced and difficult poses, then here’s a pleasant surprise for you! The humble extended child’s pose, which is indeed a resting posture, works wonders in opening your heart chakra. This one feels good in the back too, without arching it for a change! For this, start with a table-top pose and extend your knees as wide as the mat, without moving the feet. Then, melt your heart onto the ground, while tracing your arms forward onto the mat. Doing this right after a challenging sequence is indeed the most sublime experience!
8. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
Not just a heart-opener, the classic setu bandhasana is also a hip-opening yoga pose that helps with enhancing balance, mobility, and strength. It is one of those challenging, yet doable poses that you start by first lying on your back, with your hands parallel to your body. Fold your knees in a way that your feet are directly underneath them, placed firmly on the mat. Inhale and pull your belly button in while lifting your lower back, glutes, and thighs up in the air. You can support this pose by clasping your hands or placing them straight, right underneath your back. One can count on this pose to not just relieve tension from their heart space, but also relieve fatigue from the back and hips.
9. Reverse Warrior Pose (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
For some practitioners, a reverse warrior pose is a deep, palliating stretch that they look forward to. While opening up the heart chakra, this yoga pose also melts away stressors from your obliques, limbs, back, and side body. All you need to do is lift your forward-extending arm in the warrior pose up towards the sky in a circular motion. Simultaneously, bring the hind arm to touch the shin of your hind leg. This helps tone your body, thereby strengthening your hips, obliques, limbs, and side body.
10. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
A quintessential heart-opening yoga pose that involves a backbend and lengthens the spine, the camel pose makes an excellent addition to the workout routine of an intermediate-level yogi. A study published on ResearchGate speculates that such spine extension and chest-opening poses benefit a singer’s vocal and overall physical health (6). To achieve this pose, start on your knees parallel placed on the mat. Clasp your hands at the base of the spine; then slowly and carefully bend backward, till you get hold of your ankles in your respective hands. Ensure you take moderate to deep breaths to stabilize your body in the pose.
11. Reverse Table-top Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana)
An excellent heart exercise and a great way to jazz up your regular table-top pose, the reverse table-top pose is something yogis of all levels should give a try. To do this, start in a simple seated position with your knees folded in front of you, and your back straight. Extend both your arms backward, keep them parallel, and press your palms firmly onto the mat. Likewise, press your feet firmly onto the mat and lift your chest, abs, glutes, and thighs in the air. Hold for about 5 breaths before you release the pose.
12. Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
This pose is an incredible heart chakra exercise for people who sit at their desks for long hours and could use some spinal relief without exhausting the body too much. Hence, this is a common cool-down pose, especially for yin yoga routines. To do this, start by laying flat on the mat, on your back. Keep your forearms parallel, but slightly underneath your backs for support (think bridge pose). Then, gently lift your chest and lower your head onto the floor. Be careful not to crunch your neck or add too much weight onto your head; you need to leverage energy and balance from your core.
13. Crescent Lunge with Cactus Arms (Anjaneyasana)
This is a common pose in vinyasa yoga flows and stimulates almost your entire body when you practice this — a perfect heart-opener! Start from a downward dog pose, lift one leg high into the sky, and place your foot forward by tracing your front body (without touching it) with your knee. Find your balance, and carefully lift yourself in that position, ensuring that the back foot is balancing on the toes. Once stable, open up your arms on both sides with the elbows bent at a 90° angle. Bend your back behind slightly, and rejuvenate in the release of stressors.
Who Should Avoid Chest Opening Yoga?
While there are no proven downsides to heart-opening yoga poses, there are certain conditions when people should avoid pushing themselves too hard in this pose.
1. Absolute Beginners in Yoga: A complete yoga novice may lack the flexibility and stability of an intermediate or advanced-level yogi. Hence, jumping head first into a heart chakra pose, such as an upward-facing dog or reverse table-top yoga pose may not be a wise decision. However, not all chest openers are bad for them. An easy extended child’s pose, cobra pose, or sphinx pose, maybe a good place to start.
2. People with Mild Or Severe Back Pain: Most quintessential heart-opening yoga poses involve backbends, be it a simple sphinx pose to a more challenging fish pose or locust pose. This is a bad idea for people with severe back pains, and in some cases, even minor soreness at the back. On such days, you can avoid intense heart openers and stick to simple stretches and front-facing yoga poses, so that you don’t exacerbate the pain.
3. People with Pain in the Rotator Cuff: Some heart chakra exercises such as bridge pose, camel pose, upward-facing dog, etc. also impact the shoulder muscles. However, if you happen to have any pain in the rotator cuff area, it is best to refrain from such poses and consult a physiotherapist before committing to an intense workout routine.
4. People Experiencing Body Sensitivity: While your body may physically be flexible or strong enough to be able to do a heart-opener pose, not all days are the same. And heart-opening yoga poses, even if they are simple, can be quite expansive. Hence, it is advisable to avoid intensive heart-opening exercises, especially ones such as crescent lunge with cactus arms, reverse table-top pose, etc.
In our day-to-day lives, we grossly overlook the stressors we carry in our upper body and around the heart center. Be it a sedentary lifestyle, sluggishness, numbness, emotional unrest, poor air quality, etc., all these factors cause blockages around the heart, which is why heart-opening yoga poses are of monumental importance in our daily fitness routine. These exercises rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul like nothing else! They enhance the function of your lungs, which enables you to breathe fresh air deeply and hold on to it. With every exhale in these poses, you relieve a massive block of stressors from your heart, which leaves you feeling lighter and more refreshed.