A few years ago, I used to hate the idea of opening my heart space—because, to me, that meant bending my back.
Growing up, I struggled a lot with lower back pain and the thought alone of bending my back in any new way was terrifying. I did everything I could to avoid more pain. And backbends were a huge no-no (in my mind). Since then, I’ve learned that there are healthy and safe ways to bend our backs without pain—and it’s actually extremely beneficial and can alleviate pain.
However, that still doesn’t make backbends accessible to everyone. And I intimately understand why some people choose not to do them or physically can’t do them at all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still open our hearts. And actually, I truly believe we all need to be opening our heart space—especially during these devastating, confusing, and heartbreaking times we’re going through right now.
But how the heck do we open our hearts without bending our backs? (Especially when most of the narratives around heart-openers are all about bending the back.)
Good news: there are many ways!
Here are seven ways we can show our heart space some love without having to do a backbend:
1. Open up the side of the heart.
Do: Standing Half Moon pose or Ardha Chandrasana.
Do: Compass pose or Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana
Both of these poses are tough. But, damn, they feel good (even if you can’t get there fully—which, honestly, I’ve never been able to fully do Compass pose). Nevertheless, they are both great poses that awaken the chest, shoulders, and torso, allowing for more space around the heart (while also opening the hips and the hamstrings).
2. Open up the back of the heart.
Do: Rabbit pose or Sasangasana
Do: Cat pose or Marjaryasana
Both of these poses require rounding the spine (spinal flexion), allowing for the shoulder blades to pull apart and expose the back of the heart. Oftentimes, we forget that the back of the heart needs some love, too! (And it’s just as important as opening the front of our hearts.)
3. Twist through the heart space.
Do: Supine Twist or Jathara Parivartanasana
Do: Lord of the Fishes pose or Ardha Matsyendrasana
Does anyone else love twists as much as I do? Give me all of them, please! Twists are a beautiful way to open the chest and stimulate the heart chakra (while also helping with detoxification, back pain, spinal mobility, and much more).
4. Expand the ribcage with pranayama
Do: Heart-focused breathwork
Great news: not all heart-openers require any movement at all (or super physically challenging and confusing yoga poses like the ones explained above…). We have the power to open our hearts with our breath. More specifically, if we do heart-focused breathing while focusing on expanding the rib cage, we create more space in the heart.
5. Selfless acts of service or Seva
Do: Pick up litter
Do: Cook your friend a nice meal
This one is pretty straightforward (and these are just two examples out of endless possibilities). Helping anyone in any way, without the expectation of getting anything in return, is a fantastic way to open our hearts.
6. Practice Maitri
Do: Loving-kindness meditation
Maitri, or unconditional friendliness (and love) toward ourselves, is arguably the most important of them all. It’s not quick or easy or done physically, but doing a loving-kindness meditation is a great way to begin to develop this unconditional love and compassion for ourselves (and others).
7. Connect with the Mama Earth
Do: Walk barefoot
Do: Take a forest bath
Do absolutely anything outside (without your phone or any other technology), and I promise, you will feel your heart swell, awaken, and expand. For me, this is the quickest and easiest way to open my heart, get grounded, and feel into the core of all that we are—and that’s love.