The backbend poses in yoga are all designed to open the chest, release the shoulders, and uplift energy levels. There is nothing quite like the feeling one gets after completing an intense backbend sequence. But if you don't have time to fit in a 90 minute yoga session you can start off with this simple chest opener. It only takes a couple of minutes (even though my description of it is quite long and detailed). It's a great way to start the day and can be repeated whenever you feel the need to lift your energy and open your heart!
Stand with your feet parallel, about hip distance apart.
Stand up tall with your hands by your sides and get a sense of your shoulders being positioned directly above your hips, and your hips directly above your ankles.
Press the feet down and lift the legs up, allowing the tail bone to extend down towards the floor. Draw the navel back towards the spine and lift up through the crown of the head. Feel yourself growing taller!
(This is called Tadasana - mountain pose - the most basic of the yoga standing poses)
Now take your hands behind your back and interlock your fingers, keeping the arms long and elbows straight. The hands should be resting on the buttocks at the base of the spine with the thumbs close to your body.
Roll the shoulders back and down towards the hands and lengthen the arms downwards.
Draw the shoulder blades together and into the back of the body. Lift the sternum up towards the chin, without throwing the chest forward.
Keep the navel drawing back towards the spine, front thighs moving towards the back thighs, feet pressing down.
Look up slightly, keeping the neck relaxed and throat soft.
Now inhale and lift the arms away from the back, keeping the arms extended.
Feel the broadness across the front of the chest. As the ribcage expands allow the breath to fill the chest cavity, creating space around the heart and lungs. Hold for about 30 seconds, breathing normally.
On an exhalation, release the arms back down towards the back.
Now change the interlock of the fingers so that the other thumb is closest to you (this may feel like the 'unnatural' grip of the fingers). Repeat the life of the arms to open the chest again.
Do you feel a lift in your energy, a space around your heart, a feeling of lightness?
You may well find you spend the rest of your day feeling more generous and open-hearted!
p.s. this is even more beneficial when practiced outdoors :-)