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Heart Opening Yoga

Tiptoe fish pose – one of my fave heart openers.

All photos by Larry Stanley Photography.

It’s that time of year again… yes, Valentine’s Day is upon us. I have mixed feelings about this holiday — warm memories of getting Valentines in grade school, delicious chocolates, dinner dates are now layered with an adult skepticism. Is there any pure love remaining beneath all the commercialism?

The short answer is yes, if we’re willing to open our own hearts and see it. Like anything else, we can use this event as a catalyst for good — that choice is ours.

On our Cowgirl Yoga retreats, I talk a lot about having an open heart around the horses. One of my 2021 goals is to deepen my horse coaching skills, so I’ve enrolled in a certification program.

Something that keeps coming up in the curriculum is the concept of emotional incongruity. Humans are masters at masking our emotions, especially if we perceive them to be “bad” or “weak” (e.g. anger, shame). Think of how often you say “I’m fine” when you’re really not. That does not compute for horses, who are the masters of being attuned to emotion and energy. They teach us that whatever comes up, we should be honest about it. This alignment breeds trust with both horses and humans.

An open heart is a vulnerable, yet powerful thing to have.

Lifting your heart in a wide-open yoga pose is a very different feeling than protecting your heart with arms crossed in front of your chest. It’s freeing and a bit scary – kind of like flying, or galloping on a horse. Yet more grounded.

Take the risk, and you’ll be rewarded with purer emotion, compassion and forgiveness. Being honest with your emotions is an incredibly healthy way of being — so lead with your beating heart! (And not just for Valentine’s, but it’s a great time to start.)

Read on for a few of my favorite heart opening yoga poses. Keep in mind that some of them are deeper backbends, so be sure to warm up properly before practicing those. As always, use your best yogi judgement.

Cat-Cow

Cow pose
Cat pose

One of the best-ever back releases and gentle heart openers is Cat-Cow. You can’t do cow without cat, or vice versa. (It’s like peanut butter without jelly — just wrong!) I like to inhale as I drop my belly and lift my heart in cow, and exhale as I arch my spine in cat. Repeat as many times as feels good before moving on.

Puppy Dog Pose

Say hello to Downward Dog’s little brother. Make sure your hips line up over your knees, and keep your belly button pulled in towards your spine (i.e. don’t dump your belly). Visualize your heart melting as you reach forward and release your forehead to the floor. Hold for 10 deep breaths, and then take Child’s Pose.

Cobra Pose

You can keep it simple and stay low. Or, if your back allows, make it fancy by lifting higher (notice how my elbows are soft vs. straight) and bending your knees. Lift your gaze without straining your neck. Hold for 5 deep breaths, then take Child’s Pose.

Low Lunge

Any variation of Low Lunge is beneficial. You can take your arms overhead and lean back, or interlace your fingers over your front thigh. The important thing is to lift your chest — your heart.

Bound Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is a great “home base” for heart opening. Make sure your hip opener is stable before you bind. Use the leverage of your shin moving back to gently pull your arms — and open your chest wide.

Supported Fish Pose

I’ve tried many variations of this, and my favorite is still the one block version (placed sideways just underneath the shoulder blades). Hold the block to the bottom of your shoulder blades before you lay down – don’t try to lay down on the block.

If your head doesn’t reach the floor, be sure to put a blanket under it to bridge the gap. Hold for 10 deep breaths. Push off your elbows and bring your chin towards your chest to come out of the pose.

Bridge Pose

Push off the floor and lift your heart to the sky! You can keep your arms straight, or interlace your fingers to go deeper. Hold for 5-10 breaths and then slowly lower down.

Dancer Pose

If you follow along with me on social media, you’ll know that dancer pose is my favorite to take everywhere. I suggest you do the same. It’s a heart opener that feels and looks beautiful.

I hope this flow will help you open your heart (and mind) during this season of love. If you’d like to open your heart to new experiences this year, we’d love to see you in Montana on retreat.

Love, Healing, and Namaste.

Whipped this up while humming Madonna’s “Open Your Heart,” in my unicorn pants! 

P.S. ~ One of my other goals this year is to incorporate Ayurveda into my life. Living Ayurveda is one of the more accessible ways to do this. The book is a beautiful gift to yourself (Valentine’s or otherwise!). If you want to truly commit to some Ayurvedic lifestyle changes, do yourself a favor and schedule a consultation with Claire via her website Vidya Living.

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