Yoga Poses for the Heart
From the Desk of Katrina Sukola, Yoga Teacher… With paper hearts hanging in store windows, it’s a subtle reminder that February is heart awareness month. This Valentines, practice self-love – and heart opening yoga poses. Heart, or chest opening poses are especially beneficial for people who spend a lot of time at a computer, where the chest and shoulders tend to collapse, causing the shoulders to round forward. By practicing chest openers you can improve your posture, increase the breathing capacity of the lungs, and decrease shoulder tightness. Lift your spirits by lifting your heart and try these heart opening poses:
Locust Pose: This simple backbend strengthens the spine and chest and improves spinal flexibility.
- Begin by lying on your stomach with your forehead on your mat.
- Interlace your fingers behind your back, bringing your interlaced hands to rest on your sacrum with your elbows bent. Beginners can bring their arms alongside the body with the palms pressing down into the floor.
- On an inhale, draw your torso up, off the floor as you straighten your arms up and away from you (or continue to press them into the floor if doing the beginners variation). Reach your chest up and forward, while pressing the tops of your feet into the floor. Stay in the pose for 2-3 full breathes.
- On an exhale, lower turning one cheek to your mat.
- Repeat the pose, this time simultaneously lifting your legs off the floor, keeping them straight while lifting your torso away from the mat. Lower on an exhale, turning the opposite cheek to your mat.
Ustrasana: This heart opening pose is also known as camel pose. Sometimes for those who are not open to love, self love or external, have difficulty getting into this pose because it can make you feel vulnerable. If you focus the energy in this pose toward a love for yourself it may become easier. The pose in general helps to relieve tension and stress. Learn more about getting into camel’s pose.
Supported Back Bend: Sometimes a gentle, restorative back bend can do wonders to open the chest and abdomen. You will need props such as blankets, pillows, towels, yoga blocks, books, or any combination of these.
- Find a space on the floor where you can stretch out comfortably.
- Lie over a rolled blanket, placing the roll crosswise under the thoracic spine (under the shoulder blades) and resting the arms in an open position, with the palms facing up. If you use a larger roll, you can place a blanket under your head for support and relieve any tension in the neck and shoulders. Play with the height of the props you use to find a variation of the pose where you feel an opening in your chest and can rest easily for a few minutes in the pose.
- Keep the legs extended on the mat or bend the knees with the feet together, so the knees fall open to the sides.
- Allow all the muscles of your chest to soften and broaden. Each inhalation gently expands the front rib cage and upper abdomen.
- Stay in the pose for at least two minutes.
- When you're ready to come out of the pose, gently roll to your right side and carefully push your torso up into a seated position.
Practice breathing in each position, a few times a week if not every day. You'll be rewarded with deep relaxation, improved breath awareness and an opened heart space.
Katrina Sukola, Yoga Teacher
Katrina has had a lifelong relationship with movement. Dancing from a young age, including ballet and later studying other styles including flamenco and aerial dance. In 2001, she began exploring different styles of yoga such as Vinyasa, Restorative and Anusara yoga. Katrina completed her 200-hour certification with YogaWorks in 2010, training with master yoga teacher Natasha Rizopoulos. Her teaching is strongly influenced by this method, combining Ashtanga’s focus on connecting movement with breath and Iyengar’s attention to precise alignment. Other influences include her teachers Jillian Pransky, Barbara Benagh and Daniel Orlansky.
In both individual and small group settings, students will experience thoughtfully sequenced classes, cultivating body and mental awareness, and finding balance between effort and ease. Katrina teaches yoga for students to increase strength and flexibility while reducing stress and tension, creating calm in both the body and mind. Through continuous practice, Katrina has experienced the powerful mental and physical benefits of yoga, both on and off the mat. Katrina teaches yoga throughout the Boston area and is a member of the dance company Round the Corner Movers. She continues learning and sharing this ancient practice of moving, breathing, and overall well-being.