By Michael Chi
2021 has been a challenging year for many of us, with lingering weariness from the aftermath of the pandemic blocking rays of positive sunshine entering our musty closet, hindering our ability to give thanks.
We at Sugarmat know it’s not been all fructose and glucose, and there’s been a lot of bitter to go along. But hey, hence we dig bittersweet! In 2021, we collaborated with National Gallery to launch a special mat collection, expanded performance-led offerings, and managed to still conjure smiles amidst all. That calls for a heartfelt THANK YOU. This Thanksgiving 2021, we encourage you to open your heart, your energy center for love, gratitude, and compassion, to take in the high points of your 2021, with a series of heart opening yoga poses.
Melting Heart Pose
This pose opens the shoulders, pectorals, spine, neck, and back muscles. We find that when done in the morning, it sets the tone of gratitude for the day ahead! Come to all fours, palms under shoulders at a shoulder-width distance, with knees hips-width distance under the hips. Crawl the fingers all the way forward, feeling the shoulder blades retraction, as the heart melt to the ground.
Note: Place a block underneath the heart for comfort if the chest cannot touch the ground.
This pose encourages spinal extension, while stretching the front of the body (think chest, abdomen, and quadriceps). Come to a kneeling posture, with the knees separated hip-width distance. Place your palm below the back ribs, with fingers pointing down, thumbs facing outwards. Roll the elbows inwards until the shoulder blades retract and begin walking the palms downward, as you push the hips forward beyond the knees, until they reach the back of the thighs, calves, or heels at your preference. Allow the chest to rest up and not to sink into the lower back.
Note: If the knees are sensitive, place an additional towel under them as padding. Place blocks on the inside of the heels and reach for the blocks, for more stability.
This pose is a gentle chest opener, relieving tightness in the chest, back and neck. Place 2 blocks in a T shape, one under the head (lowest height), and one between the shoulder blades (medium height). Allow the rib cage to be lifted by the blocks, the arms to lay by the sides with palms facing up and fingers relaxed. Allow the throat to open by resting back of the head on the block.
Note: The legs can be straightened, with the heels resting mat-width distance. Alternatively, for a gentle hip opener, the soles of the feet can be together with knees pointing outwards to create a diamond shape.
This pose strengthens the legs and stretches the groin, hamstrings, and hips, while gently opening the chest and shoulders. Stand with one leg in front of the other at a hip-width distance, with the back toes turning out at 45 degrees again. Place the palm nearer the back leg onto the hip and reach the front arm forward. Slide the front palm down to hold on the front shin. Turn the chest towards the side away from the front leg, and reach the back arm up, gazing towards the top arm.
Note: Slide the front palm down onto a block placed outside the front knee for more stability.
This pose improves spinal mobility and opens the chest, while strengthening the arms, shoulders, and legs. Start lying on your back, with the knees bent and soles of the feet on the ground at a hip-width distance, near the buttocks. Place your palms beside your ears, with the fingers pointing towards the shoulder blades. On the inhale, push into the ground with your palms and feet to lift shoulders and hips off the ground, until the crown of the mat touches the mat. Pause here to ensure the elbows are parallel, without splaying outwards, before straightening the arms to lift the head off the mat. Start to straighten the legs, without changing the placement of the feet.
To come down, tuck the chin into the chest, and lower down slowly until the crown of head, ribcages, spine and buttocks land onto the mat sequentially.
Note: Place blocks beside the ears, and palms onto the block for a greater challenge.