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Yoga opens the body. We work systematically in Bikram and Vinyasa flow practice to release and open our muscles, tendons, joints, bones, and skin.

We cultivate flexibility in the physical body because that is the best way to develop mental, spiritual and emotional openness. As we learn to push beyond our boundaries in the studio we manifest the possibilities of pushing through our boundaries in the world around us. Remember, yoga means “unity”. As we become freer and stronger physically our mind and spirit naturally participate in this process.

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Camel Pose

Postures like camel pose are especially powerful as they open the front side of our body where our heart and other vital organs are. They can bring up feelings of anxiety and vulnerability, because we are used to protecting these fragile parts of ourselves. But as we open within the safe confines of the yoga studio we are able to release our fears and explore the freedom that comes with openness.

Wheel posture is another great heart-opening pose. If you’ve not done it before, Yoga Journal has step-by-step instructions on how to safely add it to your practice.

Beginners, Start Here: Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

1. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet placed hip-width apart, palms face down by the hips. Lift your chin up toward the ceiling so that your throat is open.

2. Firmly press your palms and feet into your mat and engage your core and quadriceps to lift the hips without squeezing your butt. Lengthen the tailbone toward the knees.

3. To open your shoulders, clasp the hands underneath the pelvis and press them into mat as you keep your shoulders grounded.

4. Take 5-10 deep breaths here and then lower back down to the mat; let your knees roll in toward one another and press your low back into the mat to release it.

More Experienced? Try Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)

Precautions: If you have any neck, back, or wrist issues, this pose may aggravate them, so work in Bridge Pose instead. Avoid this pose if you have heart problems, high or low blood pressure, or are suffering from a headache.

1. Starting in the same position with your knees bent, place your hands next to your head on the mat, with your fingertips facing toward your shoulders.

2. Plug your shoulder blades down your back to open your chest, and reach your tailbone through your knees.

3. Press down all four corners of the feet and palms, then take a deep breath and inhale to the crown of your head while lifting your hips. Barely graze the head on the mat, leaving the weight in your hands and feet. Hug your elbows in toward your head to keep aligned, without letting them fling out to the side as you come up.

4. On an exhale, lift your chest toward the wall you are looking at and straighten your arms as much as you can. Do not squeeze your butt — use the engagement of your core and your quads to lift you up.

5. Hug your knees in toward the midline so they stay stacked over your ankles, and keep your feet parallel (allowing them to turn outward puts pressure on your sacrum).

6. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then slowly release down back to the mat, vertebra by vertebra, tucking your chin into your chest.

How has yoga helped open your heart? Share in the comments.

photo credit: Camel pose via photopin (license)