The benefits of yoga chest openers are both physical and psychological. Chest openers, also called heart openers or back bends, counteract the all-too-familiar postures of hunching over a computer or steering wheel. By lifting your heart, moving your shoulders back and lengthening the front and back of your body, you decrease back pain and shoulder tightness, and improve your spirits.
Opening the chest helps to tone the spine and increase the breathing capacity of the lungs. It relieves tightness in the back and shoulders. Men and women will both benefit from increased blood circulation and stimulation of the thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands.
In yoga philosophy, the body has many energy centers, or wheels, called chakras. One of the important ones is the heart chakra, or anahata chakra. Anahata translates from Sanskrit as “unstruck,” meaning the heart hearkens back to its full, intact nature before it was hurt by anything or anybody. The opening of the chest symbolizes opening the heart, growing in compassion and connection to others and thus decreasing isolation and depression.
A well-balanced yoga practice sequence includes back bends such as cobra, locust and bow pose, which are done from the starting point of lying on the belly and then lifting the chest and legs in various fashions. Camel pose is an intense back bend done from the knees, where you start in a kneeling position then reach back and hold your feet. Wheel pose, called upward-facing bow in some yoga traditions, is usually approached from the floor. You start on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, hands close to your ears with your elbows pointing up. By pressing into your hands and feet and straightening your arms and legs, you lift the rest of the body in a huge arch.
A Restorative Chest Opener
Chest opening can be simple and relaxing. One easy chest opener requires only a blanket and enough space to lie on the floor. After rolling the blanket into a long, narrow log, put it under your spine so it supports your back and head and lets your chest gently open. Spend a few minutes in the pose to combat a stressful day at the computer.
- Light on Yoga; B.K.S. Iyengar
- Gaiam Life: Beat the Blues with Heart-Opening Yoga
- Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self; Anodea Judith