February 14 is arguably one of the most romantic days of the year. On Valentine’s Day we express love and like to significant others through gifts and flowers. This year I am reminded that it is important to not only show love to others, but to show love to ourselves. So, this Valentine’s Day I encourage each and every one of you to love yourselves a little extra, because you deserve it.
Personally, my favorite way to practice self-love is through yoga asana—heart-opening poses specifically, which not only strengthen the muscles while opening the chest and heart, but also encourage detoxification. The most important thing to remember when practicing heart-openers is to practice with an open heart and accept the love around you, not simply go through the motions. Below are some of my favorite heart-opening poses to incorporate into my practice when I am in need of a little extra self-love and a reminder to open up to the love all around me.
Extended Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Begin in tadasana, mountain pose with feet parallel, hip-width apart, grounded into the earth. Let your arms hang loose by your sides. Engage the legs—hugging muscles to bones and lifting the knee caps. From here, inhale and lift arms overhead, clasp the hands together, leaving index fingers pointing upward. (Option to interlace fingers overhead, palms to the ceiling.) Exhale, slowly dip arms back into a gentle standing back bend without dropping the head back, lifting the chest and creating space for the heart to open and accept love. Breathe and hold for 2–6 breaths. To release: exhale and release the arms to your sides. Repeat 2–3 times.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Lower yourself to your belly. Place your chin on the floor, palms flat on the floor under the shoulders and press your legs together. Notice your closeness to the earth, take in its love and acceptance. Engage by pulling the knee caps up the legs, squeezing the thighs and buttocks, engaging the pelvis, and pressing the pubic bone into the ground. Without using the arms, inhale love and lift the head and chest off of the floor, keeping the neck in line with the spine. With elbows at your sides, press down into the palms and use the arms to lift up even higher. Drop the shoulders down the back and press the chest and heart forward and upward. Keep the legs, buttocks, and pelvis strong. Keep pressing the pubic bone down into the floor. Breathe and hold for 2–6 breaths. To release: exhale and slowly lower the chest and head to the floor. Turn the head to one side and rest, rock the hips from side to side to release any tension in the low back.
Crescent/Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Start in downward facing dog. Inhale, lift the right leg high, toes facing the ground. Exhale, step your right foot forward between the hands. Align right knee over right ankle. Lower left knee to the floor. Inhale, reach arms overhead, chest and head reaching upward. Face palms toward one another—clasping hands together is an option—and soften the shoulders down. Draw tailbone down towards the earth, lengthening the lower back and engaging the core muscles. From here, lift the chest and gaze to the sky, opening the heart and accepting love from the space above you. Breathe and hold for 2–6 breaths. To release: place hands down on the mat and step back to down dog. Repeat on the other side.
Reserve Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
From Warrior II pose (with the right knee bent), bring the left hand down to rest on the left leg (or back toward the right side of your waist). Inhale the right arm up towards the sky, reach the fingers away from each other. Gaze up to the sky, opening the chest and heart, taking in love from the space around you once again. Keep the right knee bent, pressing into the feet with the legs strong. Sink the hips down toward the floor and relax the shoulders. Breathe and hold for 2–6 breaths. To release: inhale arms parallel to the floor coming back into Warrior II. Repeat on other side.
Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent, feet on the floor. Inhale, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide hands, palms down, underneath the buttocks. Then rest the buttocks on the backs of your hands (without lifting them off your hands as you perform this pose). Be sure to tuck forearms and elbows up close to the sides of your torso. Inhale, press your forearms and elbows firmly against the floor. Next, press shoulder blades together, actively strengthening the upper back and opening the heart to the sky, enjoying the love swirling around you. Inhale, lift the upper torso, chest, heart, head away from the floor. Then release your head back onto the floor, still lifting the chest and opening the heart further. Depending on how high you arch your back and lift your chest, rest either the back of your head or the crown of the head on the floor. Avoid crunching your neck by keeping little to no weight on your head. Keep knees bent or straighten legs out onto the floor. If straightening the legs, keep your thighs active, and press through the heels. (Option to bring the legs into a criss-cross seat.) Breathe and hold for 2–6 breaths. To release: exhale and lower your torso and head back to the floor, relax.
From here, prepare for savasana, feeling open and worthy after stabilizing and grounding your foundation, and opening the heart, taking in love from the earth and space, and strengthening core awareness.
Until next time,