We don’t usually take life lessons from Jon Bon Jovi, but he was onto some yogic philosophy with his song “It’s My Life”—where he sings that the key to happiness is a heart “like an open highway.” Studies show that sudden emotional stress can release hormones that prevent the heart from pumping normally. Even watching a sad movie can reduce arterial blood flow, according to a study reported recently in the journal Heart.
“The heart is a vulnerable space,” says Kimberly Wilson, author of Hip, Tranquil Chick: A Guide to Life On and Off the Yoga Mat. “Heart-openers and backbends help expand the heart center and help you exude confidence and grace.” Backbends open the chest and lungs to ease breathing, reduce stress, release tension held in your tissues, and improve your posture. So the next time you need to kick the bad-day blues, try this sequence of heart-openers from Wilson’s book.
1. Begin in Child’s pose with big toes together and knees open. Drop belly and chest in between knees. Soften your breath with a few deep inhales and exhales.
2. Slowly slide along the floor into Cobra pose. Lift through the heart, soften the shoulders, and take deep, slow breaths.
3. Pull hips up and back to Downward Dog.
4. Pivot left heel down and in, step right foot toward hands, and lift arms along the ears to Warrior I.
5. Lower left arm to left leg. Lift right arm alongside right ear in Reverse Warrior.
6. Windmill your arms down to the ground and lower body into a lunge, then step right leg back to meet left foot in Down Dog.
7. Repeat steps 4–6 on right side.
8. Drop knees and lower to Child’s pose. Take 10 deep breaths. Fill the back of your body with breath.
9. Roll up to a seated pose, drop hips to the left, extend legs straight out, and roll down onto your back. Bend knees, draw heels up toward bum so you can brush heels with the tips of your fingers. Inhale and lift hips up. Roll onto shoulders, and interlace hands underneath body for Bridge pose.
10. End in a supported pose on your back with a folded blanket under the length of the spine to help arch the upper and middle back, and lengthen the lower back.