Setu bandha sarvangasana: the bridge pose
A bridge connects two points usually separated by water. Metaphorically, we may think of building bridges between people, communities or countries. Bridge pose symbolizes our means of communicating between our inner and outer selves or the mind/body with the Divine and the whole Self. When we practice with joy and release, we are gazing with a sense of benevolence into our own heart centres.
Set bandha sarvangasana is often done at the end of a balanced yoga practice. In the Iyengar traidition, we do this pose after headstand. It can also be used when one wants to create a feeling of calm in the body/breath/mind .
Equipment you will use:
*two or three firm blankets and a yoga belt or strap.
* OR four foam yoga blocks and a blanket
How to get into the pose
Make a rectangular platform of your yoga blocks or of the firm blankets. If you have any neck concerns, create even more height by adding a blanket to the foam blocks or the folded blankets.
Lay with your shoulder blades on the platform of blocks and/or blankets and your neck curving over the edge of it with your head resting on the floor. The support is to maintain the natural curve of the neck/spine and prevent any strain . Over time you may choose not to use this support as you learn to create the lift off of the neck by engaging the legs and back muscles efficiently.
DO NOT TURN THE HEAD UNTIL YOU RELEASE THE POSE AS THIS MAY CAUSE NECK STRAIN.
Walk your heels close to your buttocks and make the thighs and inner edges of the feet parallel and about 4-6 inches apart.
Place the yoga belt around the front hinges of the ankles and hold the ends firmly in your hands.
Roll your outer arms under you. Do not draw your shoulders away from the neck as this may cause a strained feeling in the shoulder blades or neck region. Your arms will anchor your shoulder and chest opening.
Lift the tail bone and buttocks and extend the tail bone towards the backs of the knees. Lift the buttocks flesh and roll the thighs inwards. Puff the chest a little, bringing the shoulder blades deeply into the back so the collar bones and heart region broaden. Pull on the belt firmly and steadily to turn the outer arms under even more and to lift the breast bone and broaden the chest to your maximum.
See that the chin is free and that the throat is soft and relaxed. Keep the breath soft and natural.
To release the pose, come high onto your heels, release the arms/hands and descend from the top of the spine with the back waist coming down before the buttocks. Let your arms rest alongside the body and close your eyes, breathing normally. Notice the openness of the chest.
Modifications and supports
If your thighs turn out in the pose, pigeon toe and place a strap around the mid thighs to assure parallel thighs and train the buttocks muscles and hip flexors.
Bridge strengthens the erector muscles in the mid, lower and upper back between the shoulder blades. It strengthens the hamstring muscles, the quadriceps and the buttocks muscles as well. The abdomen, chest and wrists stretch and release from sitting for long periods of time.
It’s best not to practice this pose when menstruating, or during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. Avoid it if you have a hiatal hernia.
Advancing the pose
When you can sustain the lift of the pelvis and chest come high onto your heels and place your hands on your back, close to your shoulder blades. Turn your fingers in and your thumbs around the side ribs, facing out.
Kelly Murphy is the owner of Bend Over Backwards Iyengar Yoga Studio