21-Day Meditation Challenge Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 8

Practice 2: Open the Heart

10 min - Practice


We explore a simple asana practice to help create the open space for the breath and heart during meditation.
What You'll Need: Mat, Square Bolster, Block (2)

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Jul 01, 2017
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Hey yogis, this practice is going to be a chest, upper body, shoulder opener to help prepare you for meditation. So you need two blocks, one medium height and one tall, and if this is not comfortable for you, all you have to do is notch them down one level and it makes it a little bit easier. If it feels like it's too much in your upper back, just flip them down one. We're going to start reclining and as you lie back, you want to make sure that the first block hits your shoulder blades, shouldn't be mid or lower back, shoulder blades, flat with your blades. And then the second block is simply going to support your head.

You can straighten your legs out and release your arms out to the sides and simply close your eyes. And then have a moment to allow your upper body to really sink into the block and the more you do this, the more the block opens your chest for you. So helpful to have this space created when you go to sit in meditation so that your chest feels open, you're able to breathe easily and you keep your spine aligned. So start to notice your breathing, rhythm of your natural breath process. And then I want you to begin to deepen your breath.

So go right ahead and close the mouth, breathe through the nose and start Ujjayi Pranayama. So breathing very slowly, try to make the breath five seconds for inhalation and five seconds for exhalation. And the more you breathe here, the deeper you breathe, the more opening you'll create in your chest and upper back. So let's stay three more rounds of breath. Breathing all the way down to the belly with inhale.

And then gently contracting the navel towards the spine with exhale. One more breath. I'm going to have a stay just a little bit longer to go deeper into the chest and shoulders. So you're going to start by bringing your legs all the way together and flexing your feet. Firm your thighs by lifting your kneecaps and press your thigh bones down.

So the legs are nice and active now. Open your tailbone away from your waist, so instead of being relaxed, you create a little more space in your lower back and you engage your belly. This supports your lumbar spine. And then you're going to inhale and reach your arms above your chest. Palms face each other, outer arms hug in and the arms are firm.

And then you're going to exhale and take the arms all the way over your head. Don't let the elbows bend. Hug those outer arms in, keep the palms facing each other. And as you're breathing deeply, let the arms get heavier and heavier and heavier coming towards the floor. One last thing here, keep the legs strong and the tail lengthening.

I want you to tuck your ribs a little bit down towards the pelvis. You'll notice when I don't tuck my ribs, my arms are lower towards the floor. And when I do tuck the ribs, the arms lift a little bit. That's okay. I'm utilizing the rib cage and I'm getting a little deeper into the shoulders, chest and upper back.

Now stay two more rounds of breath, really, really deep breathing. One more breath, keep reaching with the arms, letting that block open you. Now moving with the breath, you're going to inhale the arms back up above your chest. And then you're going to exhale and release the arms down to your sides. To come up, I want you to bend your knees and place your feet on the floor.

Engage your belly and lift your head up. It's a slightly awkward transition, but using your abdominal muscles and your hands out to the side, you're simply going to pick yourself up off of your blocks. And then we'll get rid of the blocks. You don't need them. So you're just going to shove them out of the way.

And I want you to have a bolster. So come up and sit onto something, anything that's comfortable for you. And as you come up to sit, take Sukhasana. You're going to cross your shins or your calves right in the center and wriggle your feet out until your feet kind of sync up with your knees, flexing your feet. This is not a regular crossed leg shape where you're a little bit more pretzel like, you're kind of stacking your shins.

So again, keep the feet flexed. And I want us to sit really tall. No sinking, no slouching. So from the grounding down, I want you to lift up all sides of the spine elongate. Now we're going to move into the shoulders.

So rotate your palms open away from your midline. And as you inhale, reach up. Come towards shoulders with arms. If your shoulders are a little tighter, they might be, the arms might be more forward or wider, but we're coming in and drawing back and breathing from your sitting bones, the base of your pelvis grounding. Go up, up, up tall.

Breathing as you do this, tuck your ribs back just as you did a few moments ago on the blocks. Take a few more breaths here. This is called Utthita Hastasana. Keep breathing and lifting the spine tall, relaxing your shoulders so you don't over harden around the neck. And then see if you could take your arms a little bit further back, a little more towards your ears without your ribs coming out.

And then again, even taller. Let's do two more breaths. Another fantastic way to open your chest and your shoulders to prepare you for meditation. One more big inhale, up, up, up. Keep the length, but as you exhale, I want you to circle wide like you're trying to reach the sides of the room, but then sweep back behind yourself.

Interlace your fingers. Keep your chin parallel to the floor. And then inhale, roll your shoulders back. And as you exhale, lift your arms gently away from your lower spine. And breathe.

This one can be intense. Deep inhalations. Deep exhalations. Every so often, try lifting your arms a little bit higher. So you increase that movement, which is increasing the opening of your chest.

Let's do two more breaths. One more time, a little higher if you could. Some bodies might be able to squeeze the palms together. That takes it even deeper. And then we're going to release.

Exhale, release your arms down. To be very symmetrical, I want you to change the crossing of your legs. So just lean back and switch so that your other shin is in front. And once again, the feet sync up with the knees, and I want you to flex your feet. Now a different shoulder opener.

This time, turn the palms away from you. And inhale, reach up, creating length. But then I want you to exhale, keep that length, and reach the arms out to the sides, T-shaped arms. We're going to move the muscle to the bone so the biceps and the triceps feel really firm and get wide here. Wide through your chest, keep breathing, the collarbones are wide, and then wide through the back body so the shoulder blades are reaching.

Take another big breath here, big inhale. And then you're going to exhale your left arm on top of your right arm and intertwine. So now the palms are coming towards each other if possible. I want you to inhale, lift your chest up, and then exhale gently, pull the shoulder blades down away from your ears. Keep breathing deeply.

Every exhale, gently but firmly, pull the shoulders down away from the ears. Slightly push your forearms forward, kind of away from your chest for added stretch, and take one more breath. Use your eagle arms, Garudasana arms. Exhale here completely, and then we'll balance it out by doing the other side. So inhale, go wide apart, reach the arms away from center, and then exhale right on top of left, and same thing, intertwine, and if possible, palms come together.

Chest goes up, breathing in, shoulders pull down, breathing out. And then several breaths here. Keep lifting along the inside, and gently but firmly drawing the shoulders down away from your ears. So you feel a good release through the trapezius, the upper shoulder region, the neck. Gently angle the forearms away from your face for a little bit more added stretch.

Let's do two more breaths. One more breath. Stay as you exhale, and then we'll unwind. We'll go back out to the T-shaped arms, big inhale, and exhale, release. One last stretch here.

I want you to lean back onto your hands, and you might start initially on your fingertips, and roll your shoulders back away from the center line of your chest. Then begin to lift the chest up like your shoulder blades are moving up and in towards your heart. Breathing here, if it feels like you could go a little bit deeper, release your palms down onto the floor. And then a few more breaths, like those shoulder blades are almost like a buoy to open your chest. Keep lifting your chest to the ceiling and breathing.

And if it's comfortable for you, in stages, you can begin to release your head back. If it goes all the way back, then just release it there and take three more complete cycles of breath. Continue to widen through your chest, to push the blades up and in towards the heart, and to fill that space with your breath. One more round, engage the belly as you exhale, inhale, come all the way up, leading with your chest, exhale once you land. And now your whole chest, shoulders, upper body is nice and warm and open, and you should feel prepared to sit.

Namaste. Thank you.


Simon ?
1 person likes this.
I loved the upper body focus on this. Feeling really open in the shoulders now. Thank you for sharing.
Debra D
2 people like this.
This is great Nikki. I have already meditated this morning but now I am about to work at my desk for hours. My shoulders and chest thank you 😊
1 person likes this.
surprised how powerful this was - especially with the pose in the position shown above on the title page - the instructions to tuck tailbone under and ribs down was spot on - thanks v much
still a great practice!
Erica L
1 person likes this.
I'm finding I'm having trouble getting my arms over my head because my triceps and biceps are tight where they meet my shoulder. Will this open up naturally over time, or is there some pose or video I can watch that may help me get more flexible in this area? Is creating an issue in quite a few poses I'm trying to get into. Thx!
Nikki Estrada
Erica L yes this can change over time. You need to work on mobility in that area with poses like down dog or non weight bearing. I love to do shoulder openers with a strap for this but there are many shoulder mobility practices you can do. Search up some shoulder practices on YogaAnytime! 

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