If you’re here reading this today, know that you’re here for a reason. No matter where you are in your own personal journey with sadness, depression, or anxiety, things will get better. Even taking a simple action like visiting a website is a huge step towards freedom from what can be a very crippling thing to live with.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.
Today I’m here to show you some simple, but very effective yoga poses to open the chest and side body.
During periods of sadness and anxiety our natural tendency is to round the shoulders forward (consciously or unconsciously) to protect our fragile hearts. From a physical perspective, this rounding creates shortened & tight chest muscles, lengthened & tight back muscles, and prevents the diaphragm from fully expanding down or out, which in turn prevents us from taking a full, deep breath.
On an energetic level, this constant rounding forward closes off the free flow of energy in and out of the heart chakra, also known as Anahata. When one chakra is unbalanced it often creates imbalances in the others, especially the neighboring chakras of the throat (Vishuddha) and abdomen (Manipura). The goal is to encourage energetic movement by creating physical movement. We will work with both manipura and vishuddha later in the month when we work on different types of mantra and breathing (pranayama).
The poses I have for you today are great for opening up the chest and side body, which will help ease tight muscles that are preventing us from breathing deeply.
Feel free to work any of these poses as long as feels comfortable for you. Likewise, if staying for the suggested amount of breaths feels painful or uncomfortable to you, I encourage you to ease out of the pose. At that point you may choose to move on, rest in child’s pose, or possibly choose to come back to it later.
Before beginning, I suggest your scroll through and read everything and have a look at the pictures, especially if you do not have an established yoga practice or are completely new to yoga. If you have never taken a class you can still do these poses! These are very gentle and you can always skip any of them if you have injuries. Don’t forget to grab 2 pillows and a foam roller, or just 3 pillows for our supported final savasana.
Let’s get started.
- Begin seated. If crossing your legs as shown is painful or inaccessible, you can cross only your happy knee or keep both legs straight.
- Sit up tall, closing the eyes if possible and breathe as deeply as you can.
- Notice how your body feels. Notice any areas of pain or tension or if the breath is constricted or shallow. Only notice. This is a judgement free zone.
- When you’re ready, reach one hand up and over, using the other for support as shown in the picture for Seated Side Bend.
- Notice my top shoulder is rolled back, creating space in the ribcage and intercostal muscles. If your shoulder won’t roll back and open like that, don’t stress, just do the best you can.
- Take 4 breaths, as deep as you can. Switch sides and repeat.
- After completing the Seated Side Bend on the second side move on to Seated Spinal Twist.
- The key for this pose is to keep the belly engaged to support the spine and to sit up as straight as possible.
- Ease into the twist slowly, possibly starting with a shallow twist and twisting a bit more with each exhalation.
- Make sure to pull your back shoulder back as far as you can to create further opening in the side body.
- Again, take 4 breaths here, as deep as you can, then switch sides and repeat.
- Before moving on to Cat-Cow, return to seated briefly and see how you’re feeling. Honor any emotions that may arise during this sequence by letting them come up, breathing them out, and letting them flow out of you as easily as an exhale.
- Moving on to Cat-Cow, come onto all fours. Wrists under shoulders or just a bit forward of the shoulders. Knees under hips at hip distance apart. If it is uncomfortable on feet or ankles to have the tops of the feet down (as shown), tuck the toes under.
- As you inhale, scoop the chest forward, lifting the sternum (breastbone) up and out, pulling the shoulder blades back slightly towards the spine. Let the belly drop towards the ground, keeping the belly muscles softly engaged.
- Let the head gently tilt back if it feels ok on your neck.
- As you exhale round through the spine, pulling the belly in and looking back towards your feet.
- Pull the chin into your chest as much as possible.
- Continue to flow through these poses, breathing with each movement. Inhale: Cow Pose. Exhale: Cat Pose.
- Roll through these for about 8 rounds of breath, feeling free to stop anywhere and breathe there if it feels like a good stretch.
- You may also wish to sway the hips side to side or come back to child’s pose – that’s ok too. Move as your body wishes.
- If you are ready to move on, slide your palms about 1 hand width forward, tuck your toes under, and lift your seat back to Downward Facing Dog.
- I have my knees bent in the first photo to show the modification. If you can touch your heels to the floor, go for it, but it is not required. If your hamstrings or low back is tight, keep the knees as bent as you need them to be.
- Stay in down dog for as long as necessary, finding whatever movement you like.
- When ready, lift one leg up and let the hip open as the leg falls back. I have a lot of space to open with this pose. If you cannot twist open your hips as much as shown, no worries. This pose will help to further open the side body muscles and the obliques.
- Make sure to keep the belly engaged as you open and do not ignore any pain coming from your SI joints. Back off with the top leg if you have pain in the SI joints.
- Stay as long as you like in 3-legged down dog, or about 4-5 breaths, finding whatever movement feels good.
- Slowly roll the top hip closed and return the foot to the floor.
- Repeat on second side. Rest if you like.
- We have 2 options for this next pose.
- A lot of students have trouble with this pose even when I’m there to demo in person so I have 2 options for you, hoping that it will make sense.
- As pictured below, this chest opener can be done on the floor, which makes it more relaxing, but can also be more intense.
- Also, if done on the floor, it allows for greater twisting of the spine/hips and more opening.
- Below I am showing how this can be done standing, which is not as intense, and you will get less of a stretch/rotation in the spine & hips.
- Start by standing or laying face down/towards the wall.
- Take 1 arm out to the side, either bending it into a half cactus arm as shown, or keep the arm coming straight out from the shoulder. With the arm coming straight out it can be less intense in the chest and shoulder, but possibly more intense in the elbow. Play with it and see how it feels, adjusting for any injuries you may have.
- Very slowly start to turn the chest open slightly, either laying down or standing. If you have healthy shoulders and elbows, start by rolling the hips open first and slowly open the chest.
- As mentioned above, this can be very intense so move slowly.
- Stick with 1 side for 8-12 breaths, or whatever is comfortable for you.
- To come out, roll the hips over first, then the chest, again, move very slowly.
- Carefully bring the arm down to your side and allow for any gentle movement as needed.
- Repeat on the second side.
- We’re almost done. You’re doing amazing. Remember to rest in child’s pose, savasana, or on your side with legs pulled in to your chest as often as needed.
- When you’re ready to move on, lay on your belly and slide your forearms onto the floor. You should have your upper arms extending from the shoulders to the elbows as straight as possible.
- Let the forearms extend naturally from the elbow joint. Press the tops of the feet down into the floor.
- Pull the shoulder blades back towards the spine gently but firmly, and pull the chin and neck back a bit so the neck is a natural extension from the spine.
- If this feels like enough, stay here for 3-4 breaths and then relax all the way down to the floor, turning 1 cheek to the mat to rest. Rest for about 3 breaths and repeat.
- If you have no low back pain or injuries you may wish to move on to Full Sphinx pose. This creates a bit more compression in the lower back and is not recommended if you have low back pain or injuries.
- Again, in full sphinx, stay for 3-4 breaths, relax down to the mat for 3 breaths, and repeat.
- If you wish to try full sphinx, but have never before, start by engagaing the lower belly to support the back.
- Then, simply press your hands into the floor and lift the elbows. The full version creates more of a stretch in the abdomen, but requires more lower belly engagement and strength in the chest and arms.
- As a bonus, or perhaps instead of sphinx, go for a modified locust pose.
- Clasp hands together as shown and pull them towards your feet.
- Lifting up through the chest, keep looking slightly downward/ahead so the neck does not get scrunched trying to look upward.
- Stay for 3 breaths and rest with arms by your side.
- This pose will further open the chest.
- Here we are at final Savasana. Amazing job sticking it out this far!
- Pull your pillows and/or foam roller over to you.
- Lay 1 pillow horizontally as shown. Lay another pillow on top vertically, as shown.
- Pull that top pillow down to meet your low back/bum.
- The bottom (horizontal) pillow will be under your shoulder blades as you lay back. This may take some fidgeting until you get it right – no worries.
- Position the foam roller or 3rd pillow under your knees to take the pressure off your low back, hips, knees, and ankles. If you do not have a foam roller or third pillow you can use a rolled up blanket or towel, or for no fuss, just bring the soles of the feet to the floor, spread them out past hip distance, and let the knees fall into each other. This will also take the pressure off the low back.
- Lay here for as long as you like, but probably not more than 15 minutes. 8-10 minutes is perfect. I like to turn on a timer because I tend to fall asleep.
- Let your arms open out to the side as shown. This is key. We want external rotation at the shoulder to facilitate the chest opening and allow for maximum space for the diaphragm.
- To exit, roll very slowly over on to one side, rolling off the roller and pillows.
- Before you sit up, stay on your side for a few breaths coming back to your present surroundings.
- Sit up slowly, close your eyes, and say thank you to your body for doing this work, and thank you to yourself for being willing to work on things that can sometimes be uncomfortable.
That’s all for today. Again, thank you so much for taking this time for you. When we heal ourselves we heal the world. When we have patience and compassion for ourselves, we have patience and compassion for others. This is some of the most important work we will ever do! You matter. ♥
Next Wednesday I’ll be sharing a meditation visualization audio via SoundCloud (I hope!), a super simple pranayama technique, and a mantra that you can use as is or tailor to your desires. I hope you’ll join me.
I love feedback! Feel free to leave a comment below, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find me on Instagram. If you are on Insta and you’d like to share your favorite pose from this post I’d love to see it! Use the hashtag #awesomenotanxious and I’ll find you. Many Blessings for a relaxing practice and a very blessed week.