Heart Opening Education

Heart-Opening Education



There is a great deal to learn with regard to heart-opening postures. Of course, negotiating the execution and being aware of the anatomy involved in various heart-opening poses are some of the initial considerations. There is also, however, a psychological aspect that must be contemplated so that a solid foundation may be cultivated. The psychological aspect comes from how the nervous system contributes to the experience within our physical bodies when we are exploring heart openers. What’s important overall is to remain open to gathering a broad spectrum of information and continuing to be a student. Today we’ll dive into some of the physical techniques and psychological aspects of heart opening that Matt teaches in order to maximize our potential for greater expansion.

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In the full class, Matt explains the balance we need for an expansive yet strong backbend. By “balance,” he means finding the “sweet spot” on the spectrum between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. Why is this relevant?  

First, we must understand the difference. The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with the ability to “rest and digest,” which implies an ability to surrender. In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system is associated with “fight or flight,” preparing the body for activity. Both systems are necessary, offering us what we need when it’s appropriate to soften and when it’s appropriate to gather energy. These two ends aptly describe heart-opening postures. There’s a strength required from the back body, while the opposite is true for the front body—length and flexibility are essential here.




In regard to the skeletal system, one of the goals of heart-opening postures is to develop increased opening between each vertebra, or more specifically, opening at the front by moving the spinal column forward, allowing for the intervertebral discs to slide forward.

As for which muscles to strengthen, some of the primary ones we’re looking at are the rhomboids and the middle and upper fibers of the trapezius. Actively engaging these muscles will contribute to bringing the shoulder blades towards the spine (retraction).

In terms of stretching, in heart-opening postures we are generally stretching the pectoralis major and minor muscles, the rectus abdominis, and the anterior deltoid muscles.  

Part of the appropriate patterning in our bodies throughout a heart-opening yoga practice is to intentionally train the activation of the muscles we’re strengthening so that the front body automatically responds with the stretch.  

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Locust Pose Variation

In the video, Matt delves right into an important action, shoulder elevation, that takes place before the retraction of the scapulae. This allows for more space and increased range in the retraction. The clasp of the hands and lift of the heart effectively strengthen the previously mentioned muscles in the back body. Matt also demonstrates how to use a strap to maximize the benefits of stretch and strength in this posture.

3-Part Cobra Pose Variations

If we’re really interested in learning how to isolate the various sensations we experience in a heart-opening posture, then this foundational pose is an absolute must! Matt offers 2 variations (1 without any props and 1 with a bolster).

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Both literally and figuratively, we need to be willing to expand. This means accepting new information, even if we think it contradicts what we’ve always done in our yoga practice. It also means exploring and applying the techniques that support our body’s unique capacity to transform and potentially go deeper in heart-opening postures.  

When we consider the impact this can have on our nervous system, we can more fully understand the benefits to our physical and emotional body. Consider how empowering it will be to surrender not only to the vigor and strength of a heart opener but also to expansion in our breath because we are relaxed enough to find more stretch and length in the front body. 

Building the confidence to execute strong, safe heart-opening postures takes time, through patience, practice, and education.

Register for Matt’s upcoming 2-hour online Freedom of the Heart workshop, where you’ll become a master of your own body in heart-opening postures.

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Anatomy of the Heart Immersion 

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