Breathing Life Back In
5 yoga techniques to unlock your chest and process heartbreak. By Vanessa Michielon
Reading time: 5 minutes
Have you ever experienced that sensation of your emotions being confined within your chest, weighing you down following a heartbreak, loss, or significant disappointment in life? The aftermath of a broken heart can leave us feeling emotionally stagnant, disrupting our ability to process our experiences, progress and cultivate genuine relationships where we feel secure enough to be open and vulnerable once again.
In the realm of yoga psychology, the chest, where Anahata Chakra is located, is a symbol of vulnerability and love. When we undergo heartbreak, grief, or loss, this area often tightens as a defensive mechanism, physically manifesting our emotional pain. Some refer to this as “broken heart syndrome” or “emotional guarding”.
Practicing movements, postures and breathing techniques that counteract this bodily attitude by stretching and softening the muscles around our chest can be an effective strategy to alleviate both physical and emotional tension and help us move forward. Below are five asana and pranayama tools you can try to support this process.
Please remember, this practice requires patience and self compassion, so if anything doesn’t feel right you can always skip it or explore different variations until the intensity of the stretch and emotional release is appropriate for you.
1. Kneeling Lunge (Anjaneyasana) With Cactus Arms
This pose helps you stretch your whole front body, from your chest to your hip flexors, and strengthens your back and legs, promoting a sense of openness and confidence.
- ·Start in a kneeling lunge position, one foot forward and the other knee resting on the ground. • Bend your elbows at 90º in line with your shoulders, bringing your forearms parallel to the ground and creating a cactus shape with the arms.
- Gently shift your hips forwards, lift your spine upwards and reach your chest backwards, creating a smooth and balanced arch and evening out the sensations in your upper, middle, and lower back.
- Maintain this pose for 5-10 breaths and, if you wish, use the exhalation as an opportunity to widen the space between your elbows and stretch your pectoral muscles further.
2. Slow Bhastrika Pranayama With Arm Movements
Traditionally, Bhastrika is used to increase energy and mind clarity, as it involves rapid inhalations and exhalations, often synchronised with arm movements. The suggested version below is instead slower and more gentle, in order to both promote a sense of expansion in the heart centre and induce a sense of tranquility and focus. Bhastrika is best practiced on an empty stomach (wait for two hours after a meal) and is not recommended for people who are pregnant, have uncontrolled hypertension, epilepsy, seizures, or severe anxiety.
- Find a comfortable seated position and lightly place your hands on the sides of your ribs.
- Breathe in through the nose allowing your belly, chest, and arms to expand sideways; breathe out through the nose, allowing your lungs to empty and your hands to come back in touch with your chest. Imagine you are mimicking the movement of your chest with your hands, allowing them to float like light feathers.
- You can begin slowly for 10 rounds, then take a break to breathe naturally, observing what you are feeling. If you wish, take two more rounds slightly increasing the amplitude of the movement, the speed and number of repetitions (feeling a bit dizzy is normal, but please slow down or take a break at any point if that becomes uncomfortable).
3. Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Camel Pose is a great option to open your chest, stretch the front of your body and strengthen your back. It can enhance your breathing capacity and invigorate your body, providing an uplifting and empowering effect on your mood.
- Kneel on your mat with knees hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on your lower back, fingers pointing downwards.
- Keeping your thighs perpendicular to the floor, press your hips forward, lengthen your spine, and slowly arch back without collapsing, allowing your head to gently drop if you feel comfortable.
- If you feel strong and stable, you can reach your hands to your heels, maintaining the same intention to lengthen your spine and lift your chest upwards to create space between your upper back and the floor.
- Feel free to stay for 5-10 breaths and slowly release the pose.
4. Melting Heart (Anahatasana)
Melting Heart gently stretches your chest, shoulders and upper back, relieving tension and promoting relaxation by surrendering your heart to gravity.
- From a table top position on your hands and knees, slide one arm forwards keeping the palm facing downwards; the other arm bends becoming a pillow for your head.
- Maintain your hips on top of your knees and stretch your arm to a place that feels comfortable for your head to rest and your spine to arch.
- Maintain stillness for a couple of minutes and allow your chest to soften towards the floor each time you exhale. This will help your armpit area, rib cage and abdomen stretch and allow the tension in your heart to melt.
- To make this pose more gentle, feel free to bend the elbow of your extended arm and allow it to move slightly sideways to relieve some of the pressure at the top of your shoulders.
5. Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Supported Fish Pose expands your chest, especially the space between your collar bones, counteracting the effects of slouching and contracting in your front body. It can also promote deep relaxation in your abdominal area and help you breathe more fully and deeply.
- Sit on your mat with a yoga block or bolster behind you, positioned landscape mode.
- Slowly lower yourself on your prop, aligning it with the back of your rib cage, roughly around the bottom of your shoulder blades. Make sure your head and neck feel comfortable and if needed use a block to support them.
- Extend your legs or bend your knees placing the soles of your feet together in Butterfly position, whichever is more comfortable.
- Allow your arms to drop alongside your body or stretch them towards the back of your mat to create a V shape until you feel a gentle opening in your front body, making sure the backbend feels of an appropriate intensity. If you feel comfortable, you can hold this stretch for 5-10 minutes releasing the weight of your body fully and settling into a slow and easeful breathing pattern.
Vanessa Michielon is a yoga and dance lecturer in higher education and founder of the Transformative Movement Method, empowering people of all walks of life to embrace yoga, Pilates and dance in order to improve physical health and achieve a balanced state of mind. Connect on Instagram @vanessamichielon