We talk about heart openers all the time with postures like camel, bridge or wheel, even crescent pose with arms lifted or upward facing dog.

They all expand the chest, but for some these postures can be downright scary and difficult. 

While not  necessarily physically challenging, they can make us vulnerable, which can be hard.

Think about how you sit or stand when you’re upset or sad…. Head down, arms crossed, shoulders folded in, everything tight around us. It’s a form of protection. If we’re closed off, no one can hurt us. We don’t even have to think about it. Our bodies just go there intuitively.

Of course, the great irony here, the same body that think it’s helping us by getting into this position, is also making it harder to breathe. If everything around our chest is tight, we end up taking short shallow breaths instead of the long nourishing breaths that help us cope.

By doing heart opening postures, we essentially peel off that protection, allowing ourselves to be exposed, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. But, by doing so, we can then can strength to move forward because it’s only when you allow yourself to feel that you can move past the fear and the upset can we get stronger and more confident.

In the past two days, I’ve done two classes with two teachers, both of whom directed our attention repeatedly to opening the heart. I can tell you that I, for one, needed this.

I actually had physical pain when trying to open my heart because in the past few months I’ve allowed it to be so closed off. I’ve created a cement wall around my heart – barbed wire and all – and opening it again is not easy. But, I have actually noticed a physical and emotional difference by doing the postures and by really focusing on the heart throughout the asana practice.

By opening the heart, not only are we inviting in more oxygen, more blood, but we’re opening the chakra and allowing energy that was once trapped to flow more freely.

It’s important, when you do heart openers, to both do counterposes, and to protect the back. Make sure your tailbone is tucked under so it’s just the upper back that is curving and listen to your body at all times. Stop if there is pain. And, after doing a heart opener like bridge, allow your body to recover with child’s pose or paschimotanasa.

I’m not implying this is easy. It can be both physically and emotionally challenge. There’s a risk that emotions that have been tucked away are now able to come to the surface. Once again, though, it’s all part of the journey we call life.