Want to ameliorate back pain? Speak up more clearly? Improve the look of your legs? Bridge Pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana in Sanskrit, will with all three issues. A basic pose, Bridge works well at the beginning, middle, or end of a yoga class, and is one of the basic asanas that every new yogini should learn. This is not to say that Bridge is an easy pose – correct alignment is, as always, key in practicing safely and prosperously.
We access this pose from our backs, with our legs bent and our heels pulled as close as possible to our rear ends. The toes should point straight ahead, with the sides of your feet parallel to the sides of your yoga mat. On an inhale, raise your hips towards the sky, bringing your posterior up off the floor. Relax the muscles in your butt; strange as it seems, your hamstrings and low back are doing the work rather than the gluteal muscles. Take a moment here before rolling your shoulders under your body and clasping your hands together on your mat. Focus on your breath here. When you are ready to release this asana, separate your hands and bring your arms parallel to your body. Then lower yourself with control.
In some classes, this asana is taught as a vinyasa all its own, often called ‘Rolling Bridge.’ To practice this way, start with your arms parallel to your body, with your legs bent. Check the alignment of your feet, and then exhale. On an inhale, lift your hips at the same time as you lift your arms, bringing them to the floor behind your head. On an exhale, your arms come down in tandem with the rest of your body. You can use your breath to slow the process, turning the pose into a moving meditation.
When practicing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, it’s important to focus on the alignment of the neck. Ideally, you should keep your neck long and relaxed. Your chin will pull back a bit towards the floor, thus bringing your neck into Jalandhara Bandha, or chin lock. Don’t turn your head here, as this will destabilize the neck and possibly cause injury. Instead, note that the correct position of the skull will stimulate Vishuddhi chakra, the wheel of energy located at the back of your throat. Vishuddhi is the center for our creativity as well as our ability to speak our needs; Bridge Pose helps to keep this chakra working well.
As a backbend, Bridge Pose is considered a heart opening pose, and can be practiced in a restorative fashion. Using two bolsters (or blankets), form a T shape with the props. Lie down so that your shoulders and head are just over the top of the T. Your arms and torso will be supported by the bolsters, which will gently press your chest up towards the sky. Relax here and allow your attention to move to your breath. When you are finished, roll to the right and wait for a moment before continuing with your practice or moving into Savasana.