Physiologically, heart-opening yoga poses help to deliver a powerful jolt of energy through your body. In addition, they strengthen your back, as they simultaneously stretch both the front and back bodies. And since most people tend to spend the majority of their time either slouching or slumped over a desk, backbends offer bodies the chance to shake things up a bit.
With regard to physical health, yoga is a good exercise for the whole body. It is especially useful for the body when it comes to building strength and flexibility. However, what many people do not realize is that heart-opening yoga poses can also provide excellent mental health benefits. They can open up the mind, allowing it to focus on positive things once again.
In this respect, it is not hard to see how practicing these heart-opening poses can benefit those with chronic conditions like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Through stretching and opening the chest, they can improve circulation in the body, greatly reducing high blood pressure. By stretching the chest, they can improve lung capacity, which has a positive effect on those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory conditions. Those who suffer from anxiety may also find deep breathing practices to be beneficial, as well as those who suffer from panic attacks. Indeed, heart-opening yoga poses can have a positive impact on virtually every type of physical ailment.
Additionally, those with serious cardiac conditions such as congestive heart failure, heart valve disease, or mitral valve prolapse will find that heart-opening yoga poses can significantly reduce their heart rate and blood pressure, as well as improve heart muscle tone and function. This is because such people often have a low amount of the “adenosine triphosphate,” which is the neurotransmitter that transmits messages between brain cells and muscles. The lower levels of this chemical are believed to be one of the primary causes of such ailments. Deep breathing exercises, coupled with backbone and twists, can help open the arteries and minimize the effects of heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders.
A Much Ado
For those with serious ailments, it is important to stretch the muscles of the lower back, hips, buttocks, and knees. For example, if you have a degenerative disc disease and need to gradually ease into and out of a forward bend (known as the Ship pose), begin by lying on your back with your knees bent, holding onto the top of your head with a palm upward position. As you ease into the pose, use your fingers to support your neck as you slowly bend your elbows, letting your upper body hang freely. As you come to a gentle circular stretch, rotate your trunk and legs so that the trunk and legs are facing forward, allowing the heart to gently ease into the twists.
Another way to open the chest and encourage good breathing is to lift your shoulders high, arching your back in a supported, yet neutral position. Begin in the standard Tadasana (arms folded together) pose, lifting your shoulder blades as high as possible. Hold for three breaths, allowing each breath to feel like a swallow and deepen your breathing. Count five times, pause and then exhale completely as you release the pose.
For optimal benefits, practice the Sun Salutation while lying on the floor. With your palms pressed together and your legs straight, cross your arms over your chest, lifting your shoulders high and arching your back. Count five times, and then exhale deeply. Repeat this pose five times, focusing on letting your rib cage and spine expand and contract as you breathe in and out. If you are unable to reach a higher place to raise your shoulders, you can also help them rise by leaning forward on a sturdy chair.
One final and tremendously powerful heart-opening pose involves your hands, wrists, and fingers. Bring your palms together as if you are trying to touch your heart, and slowly allow them to touch. Firmly hug your elbows and let your fingertips gently interlock. Firmly embrace your hands, and breathe in and out with them as they touch. Count two times, releasing your tension from your entire body.