The heart is the theme of the month—whether your focus is celebrating loved ones or keeping your physical heart healthy and strong. (Don’t forget: February is American Heart Month. Stop in any Pharmaca store and talk with a practitioner about natural ways to support heart health.)
In yoga there is an entire category of poses referred to as “heart openers.” These poses are designed specifically to open up the muscles in the chest and shoulder areas. Practicing heart openers is especially important for office workers who tend to round shoulders forward, which can build tension over time. We’ll start with an easy, gentle heart opener that anyone can practice: Bridge Pose.
Alias: setu bandha sarvangasana (“setu” = bridge, “bandha” = lock, “sarva” = all, “anga” = limb, “asana” = pose)
Why Bridge Pose?
Build strength in the legs while stretching through the chest and shoulders! Bridge pose benefits include:
- Stretching through the chest, shoulders, neck and hip flexors
- Building strength in the legs and core
- Fostering a feeling of openness and tranquility
Getting into the posture:
- Lay down on the floor with your belly facing up, arms at your sides and palms planted on the ground close to your body.
- Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart
- Walk heels closer to your glutes until they brush against your fingertips.
- Exhale and begin to gently lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Keep your neck long and gentle (avoid pressing too firmly into the ground).
- Inhale, press through the palms. Exhale, tone your belly.
- Engage your glutes without clenching too tightly.
- Focus on rooting both feet into the ground and keeping knees parallel.
- Stay in the pose for 15-45 seconds. Close your eyes and breathe into the space opening across your chest.
- Think about someone or something you love, or try visualizing your heart opening up.
- To exit the pose, exhale and slowly lower your hips to the floor.
- Practice this pose after long days at the office or in the car, or at any time you feel the need to open up through the chest and shoulders.
Tips for success:
- Engage your lower belly to help support the spine.
- Use your glutes without clenching them too tightly.
- Focus on pressing down through the feet and arms gently. Enter the pose at the speed and to the extent that feels right in your body.
- Block: Place a block under your sacrum (that triangle above your tailbone) so that your lower back and hips feel well-supported. Breathe and close your eyes.
- Clasped Hands: After you lift your hips, clasp your hands behind your back with fingers interlaced. Press down through the arms as you stay in the pose, lengthening your spine.
- Raised Leg: When you feel strong and supported in the position, move your right foot halfway toward the left. Shift your weight to the right foot and draw your left knee up toward the ceiling. To finish the variation, extend your left leg long to the ceiling. Exit the pose and repeat on the other side.
Contraindications (i.e., things to keep in mind):
- Spine/back pain: Exit the pose if it irritates your lower back.
- Neck or shoulder injury: Opt for the modified version with the block and check with your physician before trying the full pose.
Natalie Sober is a yoga enthusiast who is inspired to share her knowledge. Natalie completed her first RYT-200 hour yoga teacher training course in Telkot, Nepal, in the Sanatan style of yoga before obtaining her second RYT-200 hour certification in the Power Vinyasa style. She also happens to be a member of Pharmaca’s marketing department.
*Please consult your physician before beginning this series or any exercise program. As always, your body is the best teacher so listen to the cues it gives regarding whether or not a pose is a good idea.