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Gentle heart

A gentle and mindful heart-opening vinyasa flow. By Isabel Lankester

Enjoy this simple vinyasa flow to gently coax open your heart. Here we learn how to keep steady engagement through the core as we expand into extension of the spine. During the practice we shall visit some commonly used yoga poses that all gently open up the thoracic spine. Remember to move mindfully, make sure you are practicing on a flat, firm surface and listen to those inner cues. Heart openers often look subtle but can feel quite intense, especially if you are a beginner, so take your time on the mat today. Option to use a strap if your shoulders are feeling a little tight.

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1. Ardha Uttanasana (Half-Way Lift)

Begin in standing at the top of the mat (samasthiti, image not shown) hands at your heart, eyes closed. Take a deep breath, inhale and reach your arms upwards to urdhva hastasana (upwards salute, image not shown), exhale as you forward fold to Uttanasana (standing forward bend, not shown). Start to inhale towards a half way lift of the spine (Ardha Uttanasana, shown above). Feel your navel draw upwards towards the spine, there is an extension forward of the chest as you lean back into your heels.

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2. Interlace Hands Behind Back

Exhale again to a forward fold, rag doll, soften at your knees and allow your hands to dangle just off the ground. Close your eyes and imagine your spine really hanging off your body as you release the back of your neck. Option to use a strap here as you remain in your forward fold but start to interlace your hands behind your back (see image above). Option to heel toe the feet a little wider as you encourage the hands to fall towards the back of the head. Notice a drawing forwards and down of the heart as your scapula press together. Hold for a few breaths before releasing the hands (and strap) bending the knees and lifting the arms overhead into chair pose (Utkatasana, image below).


3. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

Notice your back switch on as you engage your front abdominals and lift up through the chest. See if you can close the front ribs in to prevent pinching into the lower spine. Maintain this pose for two to three breaths.

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4. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Now start to step back into plank, exhale lower the knees, chest and chin before rising up into a baby cobra (bhujangasana, image above). Press into the front of your feet and lengthen into your crown, feel the shoulders and head press back and down. Exhale start to draw back into downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana, image not shown) where you can walk out your legs by bending your knees. This will also drive awareness into the soles of the feet and stretch out your spine.

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5. Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (Three-Legged Downward-Facing Dog)

When you’re ready, find stillness in your down dog and lift your right leg up and back, bend the right knee and stack the hip, turn your gaze to look underneath your right arm (tri pada adho mukha svanasana, image above). As you pause here, feel into the length of the spine from your right knee into your fingertips. In this variation, welcome a slight twist of the shoulders but try not to collapse into the left elbow. Release the leg into down dog and roll the spine forward to plank. Exhale lower the knees, chest and chin before rising up into a baby cobra again. Take a full inhale towards your lower back before rising again into your down dog. Repeat as you inhale lift your left leg up and back, stacking the hip and yawning open through the left hip joint. Release the leg into down dog and roll the spine forward to plank. Exhale lower the knees, chest and chin before rising up into a baby cobra. Take a full inhale towards your lower back before rising back up into your downward facing dog.

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6. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)

Start to slide the right knee to the right wrist into pigeon pose from down dog (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, image above). Keep the chest lifted in this pose, breathing slowly into the back body. You can intensify the pose by lifting up onto your fingertips or placing your hands on blocks. Take a least five breaths here, drawing up into the crown of your head before lowering downwards towards the floor. You can hold onto your elbows or stretch the hands forwards to lay your chest onto your front leg. Allow the breath to soften here, study the back of your body as you release the arch of your lower back. After a few breaths repeat this pigeon pose on the left leg from down dog.

From down dog make your way to the top of your mat, remain in a forward fold, inhale to Ardha Uttanasana, a half way lift before releasing the spine completely in Uttanasana for a deep forward fold. Inhale, press into your feet and raise your arms overhead, looking towards your thumbs in Urdhva Hastasana (upwards salute, not shown). Exhale bring the hands back to your heart, begin to settle your breathing.

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7. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog)

Inhale and reach your arms upwards to Urdhva Hastasana, exhale as you forward fold to Uttanasana. Start to inhale towards a half way lift of the spine (Ardha Uttanasana).

Feel your navel draw upwards towards the spine, exhale and step back to plank before lowering down the knees, chest and chin before rising up into a baby cobra, or upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, image above). In upward-facing dog, draw your hips forward, pressing down through your hands and smiling through the collar bones to open your chest.

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8.. Camatkarasana (Wild Thing)

Exhale draw upwards to a downward-facing dog. Lift your right leg up and bend the right knee (tri pada adho mukha svanasana) — option to either stay here or begin to drop your right leg behind you into wild thing (Camatkarasana, image above). Really extend through your right fingertips and imagine creating space between your right hand and right heel. Here we shall stretch the chest, heart, upper abdomen and neck in a single-handed heart opener to find the real peak of this flow!

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9. Balasana (Child's Pose)

Hold a few breaths before returning to either down dog or rest for a moment in child’s pose (Balasana, image above). Both options are counter poses for wild thing. When your breath has returned back to a state of calm, repeat this pose on your left leg from your downward-facing dog.

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10. Side Stretch

After repeating wild thing on the left side step into seated from your down dog. Come into kneeling, reach your right hand out to the side of your mat and lift your left arm up and across your head to lengthen out the side body (side stretch, image above). Take a moment to feel into your waist and side of the neck before repeating on the left side. (If you find kneeling uncomfortable, option to sit in Sukhasana crossed-legged position (image not shown). After lengthening out your side body, find your most comfortable seat. Close your eyes, allow your hands to rest by your body as you send your awareness into your spine. Notice what you have awakened in this flow, from the back of your body all the way round to the front.

Watch the mini sequence below, brought to you in partnership with Isabel Lankester Yoga

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