Practicing heart opener

heart opener

Practicing heart opener over blocks.

Recently my yoga theme was for the desk jockey, a person who sits at a desk.

One of the poses we practiced in the sequence was the heart opener over the blocks, aka supported fish pose (pictured to the left).

So many of my students love this pose. They love how it makes them feel. I love it as well.

This pose reverses the negative effects of our poor posture when we sit at a desk, pound away on a keyboard, sit in the car or on public transportation during our long commutes, look at our smart phone or tablet, etc.

The heart opener is a baby backbend and puts our body into extension (we are usually in flexion–think hunched over computer back).

We open our chest, spread shoulder blades, open the collarbones and take stress out of the low back. Having the block behind our shoulder blades reminds us where backbends should come from, behind our heart center, not the low back or the neck.

The muscles, ligaments, veins, etc. are tight in the neck, chest, shoulders, upper back because of our sitting culture. This pose helps to stretch these tight/overactive muscles, making them longer and more supple.

Many people have asked me how to do the heart opener, whether they can’t be a student of mine because they live elsewhere or they are a student of mine and they want to do it at home or share with a friend/family member.

So here are the details of how to do the heart opener over the blocks or a rolled mat or blanket/towel.

Heart opener over blocks:

blocks set up

Heart opener block set up.

  • Set your blocks up at least 6 inches apart. My blocks set up to the left are about 7 1/2 inches apart. The block that supports the lower tips of my shoulder blades is on its lowest height. The second block to support my head is on the medium height.
  • Locate the lower tips of your shoulder blades. See a drawing of the upper back to give you guidance on where the lower tips of your shoulder blades are. The lower tips of your shoulder blades are a little below your arm pits, where a regular bra strap would go on your back.
  • You will sit in front of the blocks with the knees bent, feet on the mat. You will lie over the first block. The lower edge of the block is where the lower tips of your shoulder blades will rest. The upper part of your shoulder blades will not be on the block. I repeat: The lower edge of the block is where the lower tips of your shoulder blades will rest. The upper part of your shoulder blades will not be on the block. (I have to regularly repeat this as many will have the bottom block too high.) The second block is for your head. You may decide that the block for your head will go up a height or down a height.
  • Once you are set up on the blocks you can decide if you keep the knees bent, feet on the mat or extend your legs out long. If you have any discomfort in the low back bend your knees and keep your feet on the mat.
  • I like to hold this pose for five minutes. If that feels too long, hold it as long as is comfortable for you.
  • To come out of this pose, if the legs are extended out long, bend your knees, bring your feet to the mat. Roll over to your side in the fetal position. Press yourself up to seated, bringing your head up last. Take a few rounds of breath to check in and see how you feel.

Heart opener over rolled mat or blanket/towel:

roll

Blanket roll set up.

  • Roll your mat or a towel or a blanket. If you use your yoga mat, you will roll it up about half way.
  • You will sit in front of the roll with the knees bent, feet on the mat. Lower yourself down to the roll, lower tips of the shoulder blades resting on the roll. The upper part of your shoulder blades will not be on the roll. If you have the roll in the right spot your arms can easily be above the roll. If you feel like your head and neck need some support you can use a towel or blanket to support the head.
  • Again, once you are set up on the roll you can decide if you keep the knees bent, feet on the mat or extend the legs out long. If you feel any discomfort in the low back when extending the legs then bend the knees, feet on the mat.
  • I like to hold this pose for five minutes. If that feels too long, hold it as long as is comfortable for you.
  • To come out of this pose, if the legs are extended out long, bend your knees, bring your feet to the mat. Roll over to your side in the fetal position. Press yourself up to seated, bringing your head up last. Take a few rounds of breath to check in and see how you feel.

There are times where you might not be able to find that spot, the spot where you feel the maximum benefits of this pose. Make slight adjustments (up or down) to find that spot if it doesn’t quite feel right.

As stated above there are many benefits to practicing the heart opener. And it just feels really good, too. After my students practice the heart opener I watch as they come out and take a seat. I like to look at their faces. The majority of them look like they just got up from a nap.

I’ve written about this pose before and the benefits for our bodies.

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