5 Yoga Poses That Open Up Your Heart

Sara DiVello, author of Where in the OM Am I?, has five poses to counteract the 'winter hunch' and open up your heart just in time for Valentine's Day.

Yoga Poses That Open Up Your Heart

By the time February rolls around, we're often deep into the trademark "winter hunch," bracing against the chill. We're compounded with hunching over our desks at work, laptops at home, and smart phones pretty much everywhere, which makes even the most upright among us start to feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Of course modern technology isn't the only thing to blame. Slouching is also linked with feeling sad, fearful, powerless, and depressed. It's intuitive — when we feel scared or helpless, we hunch. But slumping isn't just an emotional symptom. "Posture doesn't just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them," Harvard professor Amy Cuddy wrote in the New York Times.

Hunching can also be a subconscious attempt to protect a very tender part of ourselves — our hearts. And yet, it can also have harmful physical effects. Anatomically, the chest muscles can shorten and tighten, while the upper thoracic spine rounds into a chronic slump.

I have five favorite yoga poses to therapeutically counteract winter hunch, stretch the pectorals, and open the heart. They not only change your perspective — literally and figuratively as you start to look up — but also help you feel braver, stronger, and more empowered. As you mobilize the spine and stretch the muscles around your heart, you'll also create capacity for breathing more deeply, and an openness for fresh, new energy to flow in.

Easy and accessible to anyone, these poses are a breeze even if you've never done yoga before. Most importantly, we're going to work the entire 360-degrees around the heart — it's not just a front-body entity.

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Half-Moon Pose

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bring your right hand to your hip. Lift your left arm up and gently bend to the right. You'll feel a nice stretch in your lower back.

Now use your breath to deepen the stretch and release the space around your heart. Focus your attention on the space beside your heart (under your armpit) and use your breath to flower the left ribs gently open and closed with each cycle. This releases the muscles between your ribs. Consciously expand the space between each rib, in line with your heart. Take ten deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

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Eagle Arms

In traditional yoga thought, everyone has seven chakras — or energy centers — in the body. Energy enters through your back, travels through you, and shines out the front. Your fourth chakra is located at the heart.

Standing with feet hip-width apart, bring the arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle, elbows at shoulder height. If this is enough stretch for the upper back, stay here. If you need more, drop the right elbow below the left and intertwine your forearms. The key to releasing the upper back muscles is to keep the elbows lifted, equal height to the shoulders. Your shoulders should be relaxed and as low as possible.

If you need more of a stretch, press the elbows away from you an inch and let the head hang forward. Take ten deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

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Crescent Lunge

The psoas is the deepest muscle of your entire body. It runs up the front of the hip, cuts through the abdominal cavity, and attaches to the lower lumbar spine, then runs up into the thoracic spine, aka the areas below and around your heart.

To stretch this important muscle, stand in a lunge position with your left knee forward and bent. Tuck your tailbone forward to intensify. When you feel steady, lift the arms overhead to create a sensation of lightness and lift. Feeling strong and grounded, stay for 10 deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

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Seated Twist

Sit on the floor with your left leg extended. Bend your right knee and wrap your left arm around it. Let your right hand's fingertips find the floor behind you. Keep the hips facing forward so the mobilization and "awakening" takes place at the heart level. Take 10 breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

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Legs Up the Wall Pose

End with this delightfully restorative pose to open the heart while feeling fully supported and grounded to the earth. Have two bath towels handy — one folded into a square, one folded lengthwise into a log shape.

Place the square-folded towel near the wall and sit on it. Place the log-folded towel behind you so it forms a "T" with the square towel. Lay back and swing your legs up the wall, supporting under the hips with the square towel while the log towel supports the length of your spine and elevates the space between your shoulder blades. Stay in this position as long as you like, breathing slowly and deeply. Extend each exhale for an extra relaxation boost and, if you want, add a mantra such as "Open Heart" with each cycle.

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