3 Tips to Boost the Heart-Opening Power of Yoga Backbends

Article At A Glance

Backbending yoga sequences can be powerful tools for physical and emotional healing. Try these 3 ways to enhance your heart-opening yoga poses. Heart-opening (Backbending) yoga poses can help us build strength and confidence to greet the world with more compassion for ourselves and others.

When it comes to opening the heart space, it’s hard to beat backbends in our yoga practice. Backbends can be subtle or intense. It took 10 years of regular yoga practice before I finally realized the true power of these heart-opening yoga poses. After a strong, teacher-assisted backbend, I burst into tears, then cried for four more hours after the class. 

There was nothing troubling in my life at the time, but after all those years of yoga practice, a dam finally broke. A flood of emotion, memories, and trauma that was hiding in my body burst out. I’m not alone or unique in this kind of experience. It’s common among yoga practitioners.

From tension in the upper body to stress and shame, backbending yoga poses can help us release so much. It’s not just a release, either. Heart-opening yoga poses open us to acceptance as well.  An open heart is a bigger target to welcome in more good and more love. Heart-opening yoga poses can help us build confidence and greet the world with more compassion for ourselves and others.

Teaching Heart-Opening Yoga BackBend Poses

Image depicts a Locust Pose variation. This pose is referred to as a back bend or also as a heart-opening yoga pose.

While the yoga poses themselves are extraordinary tools for physical and emotional healing, there’s a little more to it. It took over 10 years of practice before my intense breakthrough experience. The backbend was nothing new to my body, but the level of trust I felt in the space and my teacher was. It is much easier to open our hearts when we truly feel safe. Find instructors and studios that feel completely accepting and nurturing. If we feel held, we can allow the magic of the heart-opening yoga poses to unfold.

The rest of this heart-opening magic depends upon us as students. A big part of it is simply showing up, consistently showing up for our practice and ourselves. There are three other ways, though, we can really boost the power of the poses and shave some years off waiting for the breakthroughs. 

1. Strengthen Your Core for Deeper Heart-Opening Yoga Poses 

Besides the other great reasons to build core strength, a strong core will help your heart-opening yoga poses. How? First, a strong core is important for the support of the spine. A supported spine is a healthier and more mobile spine. This, in turn, enables deeper backbends and the potential for heart opening. 

A strong core will also build self-esteem and self-confidence. It’s not about six-pack abs either; our core is the center of ourselves. Energetically, the core is our sacral and solar plexus chakras. All the energy in this area relates to knowing and feeling good about ourselves. When we feel confident, we are more willing to be vulnerable, to allow the heart to open. 

One of the many ways to build core strength in yoga is with Plank Pose (Phalakasana) and variations of it. An added bonus of Plank Pose is it leads into our next move to boost heart-opening yoga poses. 

Young attractive woman practicing yoga 's Plank pose- a core strengthening pose that is good preparation for other poses.

How to Practice Plank Pose  

  1. Start in the Standing Forward Bend Pose (Uttanasana). 
  2. Bend your knees enough so that you can ground the hands shoulder-width apart. Make sure the whole hand is grounded.
  3. Exhale to step the feet back until your body is one long line from your heels to your head. Keep the back of your neck long. You should be looking at the floor beneath you.
  4. Make sure your hands are under your shoulders. If your wrists aren’t happy with this pose, come down onto the forearms with the elbows under the shoulders and arms parallel.
  5. Imagine you’re trying to pull your belly button to the spine. This engages the abdominal muscles to support your lower back.
  6. If this version is too much, try coming down onto the knees, ensuring the abdominal muscles are engaged.
  7. Hold for 5 breaths, and work toward longer holds. Do the pose as many times as you like in each practice.

2. Build Strength in Serratus Anterior For Stronger Backbends in Yoga  Serratus anterior muscle with anatomical skeletal ribcage model outline diagram. Labeled educational anatomical upper human body illustration.

These often-ignored muscles around our ribs create a whole lot of support for our chest and shoulders. Weakness in serratus anterior can contribute to tight pectoralis muscles. If the pectoralis muscles are tight, they limit our range of motion through the chest and shoulders, limiting our heart-opening capability. The serratus anterior also plays a major role in lifting our arms overhead. This makes them important for backbend yoga poses like Upward-Facing Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana).

How to Practice Scapula Push-ups in Yoga’s Plank Pose  

  1. Start in Plank Pose, with your hands under your shoulders and your body in one long line from head to feet. If a Plank Pose isn’t available for your body, try lowering the knees to the floor.
  2. Imagine you’re trying to screw your hands into the mat toward the outer edges of the mat. Your hands won’t actually move, but you should feel a strong contraction and steadying of the shoulders. This is serratus anterior engaging. Keep this engagement throughout the whole exercise.
  3. Inhale and allow your sternum and chest to sink toward the floor without bending the elbows. This is scapula retraction or winging.
  4. Exhale and push the sternum and chest back toward the ceiling.  This is scapula protraction. It is pulling the shoulder blades onto the ribcage.
  5. Repeat as many times as you like. It won’t be a big movement; it doesn’t need to be. It’s simply challenging serratus anterior and shoulder stability.

3. Support Your Backbending Yoga Poses by Relaxing Your Diaphragm

The diaphragm functions in breathing illustration and how that can assist with yoga poses especially backbends and heart-opening yoga poses.

The diaphragm is our essential breathing muscle, and it’s often tight or jammed up. When we use the diaphragm to breathe, we can take deeper breaths and expand the chest more. If we breathe with our diaphragm, it allows the accessory breathing muscles, such as sternocleidomastoid and pectoralis major and minor, to relax. This creates more space through the chest and a greater capacity to open our heart space. 

We can release the diaphragm in a couple of different ways. One is to have a bodyworker do it for you. The other is through self-massage tools such as a cane or acupressure balls. As this is a very sensitive and important area, it is best to find a qualified body worker or fascial release practitioner to show you how to do it yourself.

 

Erin Bourne (RYT500, YACEP) is a yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer based in Seventeen Seventy (yes, the real town name) in Australia. She also teaches Pilates and other movement modalities; having come to yoga from an Exercise Science and education background, she is obsessed with learning and sharing about the body and movement. Erin shares her experience and knowledge through regular classes, teacher trainings, online courses, and writing. Her course offerings include 3D Anatomy and Resistance Yoga. Her writing includes the book A Yogi’s Guide to Fascia and numerous print and online published articles. You can find Erin’s creations through her website http://www.erinlbourne.com/

Recent articles

Categories

Upcoming courses

FREE DOWNLOAD!

Yoga for
every body

How to Avoid the Top 3 Pitfalls of Forward Bends

With Julie Gudmedstad

Recent articles

Share

Sorry, You have reached your
monthly limit of views

To access, join us for a free 7-day membership trial to support expanding the Pose Library resources to the yoga community.

Sign up for a FREE 7-day trial