Heart Opening Yoga Poses

Heart openers are poses that expand your chest and rib cage to provide postural benefits—especially to those of us who spend our days at the office. Spending long hours working at desks and bent over keyboards makes the spine rounded. Over time, this can cause a condition known as kyphosis which can lead to limited mobility over time. It's important to counteract this posture with heart openers.


Watch Now: 5 Yoga Poses for Better Posture

Many, though not all, of these poses are also backbends. When back-bending, especially for the purpose of heart opening, focus on incorporating the upper and middle parts of the spine, rather than the lower back (lumbar spine). The cervical spine is actually the most flexible part of the spine, while the thoracic spine is the least flexible.

The poses below are grouped in order of difficulty, with the postures most appropriate for beginners up first. The tips are intended to maximize the heart-opening potential of each pose.


Restorative Heart Opener

Restorative Heart Opener

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If you have a prop like a bolster, blanket, or block handy, a restorative heart opener is a wonderful place to start your exploration.

Place the prop so that it will support your back from the bottom of your shoulder blades up when you lie down on it. The legs can be in any position: outstretched, knees bent, goddess pose. You may want another prop to support your head. Stay in this position for several minutes as your back melts over the prop. 


Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakasana)

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Use cat-cow as an exercise to take the opportunity to really feel the difference between spinal extension and flexion. By drawing your heart deep into your chest in the cat position (flexion), you can more fully expand it in the cow position (extension, aka heart opening).

Imagine a string running through your chest at the sternum and extending through your back to the ceiling. In cat, the string pulls the center of your chest up. In cow, the string pulls your sternum down.


Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose

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Sphinx is a good place to learn how to draw your chest through your shoulders, an action that will come in handy in many other poses (like cobra and upward facing dog) and is great for heart opening.

Press strongly into your forearms to extend your spine, making room for your chest to move forward. Roll your shoulders onto your back and keep them moving away from your ears. Draw your palms isometrically back toward your body without actually moving them to puff up your chest.


Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

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In bridge pose, tuck your shoulders under your body then lift your hips to allow your chest to blossom. Drawing your shoulders under before lifting your hips will protect your cervical spine. Your shoulder blades act as a little shelf to support your heart from behind.


Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

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This twist offers a great opportunity to stretch the front of the chest. For the purpose of heart opening, concentrate on keeping both your shoulders on the ground as much as possible. This may cause your knee to come away from the floor, but that's OK. You can even imagine a teacher pressing gently on your shoulders to encourage them to relax.


Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana

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For cobra, roll your shoulders back and keep them away from your ears. On an inhalation, lift your chest off the floor without pressing into your hands. Exhale and bring your forehead to the floor. Repeat this cycle on your next two breaths, inhaling to lift up and exhaling to lower down.

The repetition helps wake up the muscles in your back so that you may be able to lift up a little higher each time you try.


Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

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While not as obvious a heart opener as some poses, warrior II does help create an expansiveness across the chest. A lot of attention usually goes into the legs in this pose and the torso and arms get a bit neglected.

You want to make sure you're not falling into your usual standing posture here, which tends to be rounded forward. Make sure to roll your shoulders down and back to avoid hunching. Reach strongly out through both fingertips to make space across the chest.


Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)

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Extended side angle should be a heart opener, but it takes careful attention on your part to make sure that you're not letting your chest turn down in an effort to place your hand on the floor. It's better to place your forearm on the thigh with palm facing up. Your arm will be at a 90 degree angle. Reach up through your lifted arm to make space.


Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)

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Triangle pose has much of the same action and caveats here as in extended side angle pose, above. Take your hand higher up your front leg or onto a block if that allows more freedom in your chest.

You can also try dropping your lifted arm behind your back and possibly catching hold of your inner thigh. The traction of this bind lets you increase the opening across your chest.


Half Moon Yoga Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)

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In ardha chandrasana, make sure that raising your arm is the result of the opening of your chest toward the ceiling. As you lift your arm, rotate your chest towards the sky with the twist coming from the waist. Rotate your chest fully before you raise your arm.

Try placing the hand of your lifted arm onto your own shoulder for a self-assist to encourage it back before straightening your arm upwards.


Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Mukha Savasana

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Upward facing dog is often the site of major chest collapse when it should be an opportunity for expansion. Use what you learned from sphinx pose, above, to draw your heart through.

When doing sun salutations, there is a tendency to rush through up dog without taking the time to really establish the pose. Resist this urge and take a moment to generously bend your elbows and roll your shoulders back and down before straightening your arms. You can even keep a slight bend in your arms in the final pose if that helps you keep your shoulders back.


Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

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Camel is a nice option for people with tight shoulders for whom wheel pose is difficult. Use blocks under your hands or tuck your toes under if it's hard for you to reach your ankles.

Remember the string that was running through your chest in ​cat-cow stretch? Now imagine it pulling your sternum toward the ceiling. Your head may fall back or you can keep your chin tucked; it doesn't really affect the opening of your chest here.


Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

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Catching hold of your ankles in this prone backbend gives your heart opening some traction. Pull on the ankles with your hands at the same time that you push the feet away from you and feel your front body expand.


Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)

Cow Face Pose - Gomukhasana

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Cow face pose is the perfect place to practice the simultaneous push-pull action that is central to many yoga postures. The bind of the hands behind your back automatically pushes your chest forward. The challenge is to let the upper chest expand but at the same time knit the ribs back in so that you don't do all your back-bending in your lumbar spine. If your hands don't meet behind your back, it's not a big deal. Use a strap to join them.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.