Bridge Pose, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, (se-tuu bun-dhuh sur-vaan-gaa-suh-nuh)
setu bandha (bridge joining) + sarvanga (whole body) + asana (pose)
Also Known as: Kandhrasana, Setu Bandhasana
Pose Type: Strengthening, Backbend, Inversion, Supine, Core Activating, Digestion
A beginner’s backbend or a core strengthener, the Bridge Pose can offer so much depth. Take a moment to find proper alignment
Bridge Pose Fundamentals
Bridge Pose derives its name directly from the Sanskrit translation. Setu (सेतु) means “bridge”, while the rest of the elements allude to the steady hold required by this pose. Bandha (बन्ध) means “lock” or “bind”, while sarva (सर्वा) and anga (ङ्ग) translate as “all” and “limbs”, respectively. Essentially, the pose calls for binding all of your limbs to form the shape of a bridge.
This asana is rather multifaceted. It combines the elements of a backbend, inversion, supine neck flexion, and a heart opener. Simultaneously, it brings focus to the lower body, strengthening ankles, thighs, glutes, and hips.
Additionally, it stretches and tones the abdominal muscles, which in turn results in a more stable core and improved digestion. Considering the plethora of benefits it provides, it would be a wise choice to include it in your daily practice.
Bridge Pose Benefits
- Strengthens glutes and quads. As you probably know, having strong legs is very important. After all, they carry the weight of our entire body, not to mention anything else we add on. Bridge Pose is a fabulous way to improve the strength in your thighs and glutes and help you gain more stability in the lower body as a result.
- Stretches hip flexors. If you set out to have healthy hip flexors, maintenance is key. That means as well as strengthening your hip flexors, it is important to lengthen them as well. This asana is a great way to stretch your hip flexors in an active and sustainable way.
- Prepares for advanced postures. While Bridge Pose is great in its own right, it’s a good pose to practice in preparation for the more difficult asanas such as Wheel Pose, Shoulder Stand, and Plow Pose.
- Releases lower back tension. If you suffer from lower back pain or stiffness, you are not alone. Chances are, you spend a lot of time in an uncomfortable position. This is especially common among people working desk jobs. By practicing Bridge Pose, you can significantly reduce tension in your lower back and banish pain from your lower back region.
How to Do Bridge Pose: Step-By-Step
1. Start in a supine position (lying on your back). Bend your knees and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Position your feet hip-width apart and parallel to each other. The heels should be set as close to your seat as your body will allow.
2. Extend your arms alongside your body and press your palms into the floor. Tuck the chin towards your chest and tilt your pelvis forward, shortening the space between your pelvic bone and your rib cage.
3. Take a breath in as you engage your core and glutes. Exhale and press your hands and feet into the ground, prompting your hips to lift off the floor. Keep the glutes engaged the entire time.
4. Lift your hips as high as you can, leading with your hip bones. Bring your hands together and interlace your fingers. Carefully shuffle your shoulder blades closer together, raising your chest higher.
5. Stay in this position for five full breaths. To exit, disengage your hands, freeing the space for the landing. Round your spine and begin to lower your back to the floor, one vertebra at a time. When your lower back finally touches the ground, you can relax your lower body and pull the knees towards your chest for recovery.
Tips and Tricks
- Keep your knees hip-width apart the whole time. Once your hips are lifted, there is often a temptation to let the knees fall away from each other. To help you maintain the correct form, drive your feet into the ground and squeeze your adductor muscles.
- Avoid putting too much pressure on your neck. Even though your cervical spine is in the flexed position in this asana, the weight should be mainly resting on your shoulders and arms.
- It is very important to engage your glutes. This will help with hip flexor extension, as well as protect your lower back.
- In a yogic progression, Bridge Pose is often a precursor for the Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose. Focus on building strength in your legs and glutes, as well as finding stability and proper form. This will help you progress faster and more sustainably.
- Although it may seem as if the purpose of this asana revolves around the legs and glutes, it is equally as beneficial for your torso. Make sure to keep your core and back muscles active to support your spine.
Bridge Pose Variations
Bridge Pose With Lower Back Support
Holding the hips up in the air takes a lot of strength and endurance. It requires several muscle groups to work in unison to not only lift your hips, but keep them in the elevated position. This kind of strength doesn’t happen overnight, it requires consistent practice.
If you are struggling with the endurance aspect of Bridge Pose, you can supplement the pose by supporting your lower back.
To perform this variation, bend your elbows and press your palms into your lower back once the hips are lifted. Keep your elbows shoulder-width apart, and try to position your hands directly above the elbows. You may recognize this arm position if you practice Supported Shoulder Stand.
An alternative way to support your weight is to insert a stack of yoga blocks underneath your lower back. The trick is to keep engaging the muscles in your legs, glutes, and core even though you have the option to rest on the blocks. This way, you can gradually build up your strength and endurance to perform Bridge Pose without support. This is also a good variation for those who have an injury preventing them from practicing the full expression of the pose.
Restorative Bridge Pose
Did you know that Bridge Pose can be a part of a restorative practice? While the gentle inversion and spinal flexion offered by this pose feel amazing, the classic Bridge Pose can be quite taxing on the lower body. If you want to experience some of the benefits of this asana without the strain that comes with it, consider performing this restorative variation.
Before you enter the pose, line up one or two yoga blocks within arm’s reach. If you have no access to yoga blocks, a stack of blankets or cushions will work as well. Once you lift the hips off the ground, slide your props under the lower back. Carefully land your lower back onto the blocks or blankets and soften through the entire body.
In this variation, you are not trying to fully extend through the hip flexors. Instead, the focus is on having your hips elevated slightly higher than your heart.
Bridge Pose With Ankle Contact (Advanced)
If you want to take your Bridge Pose practice to the next level, you can use this variation to challenge yourself. Once your hips are lifted, shuffle your heels under the body until you are able to grasp your ankles with your hands. Check that your feet remain hip-width apart and parallel.
Once the contact is established, squeeze your glutes to lift your hips even higher. This will create a steeper curve of the spine and apply greater pressure around your shoulders and neck. Be mindful of any unpleasant sensations and ease off if necessary. To exit this variation of Bridge Pose, release your ankles and shuffle your feet forward to create space for your back.
Bridge Pose With Block or Strap for Thigh Compression
If you find that your knees keep moving away from each other, you can use yoga props to help you stay within the correct alignment.
For a more passive variation, you can use a yoga strap. Before you lie back, wrap the strap around the lower part of your thighs, just above the knees. When you push your legs outwards against the strap, the strap should prevent your knees from moving any further than hip-width apart. It should also give you a good sense of the right distance. E.g. if your knees are too close, the strap will feel loose.
For active thigh compression, use a yoga block. Position it between your knees, flat side of the block facing your inner thighs. When you lift into Bridge Pose, squeeze the blocks with your knees to stop it from falling. This will condition the right muscles in your thighs and help you stop riding your knees apart.
Precautions and Contraindications
- Protect your neck. The majority of the weight in the upper body should rest on your upper shoulders.
- Spine injury. If you have a past or recent spinal injury or condition, practice this pose with extreme caution. If the injury is severe (such as a slipped or herniated disc), you should consult a medical professional before you attempt this pose.
- Quads and glutes. The muscle groups that experience the most pressure in this pose are quadriceps and glutes. If you have an injury (such as muscle strain or tear) in those areas of your body, it is best to avoid Bridge Pose until you have recovered.
Upward Bow or Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Reverse Tabletop Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana)
Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)
Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Knees to Chest (Pawanmuktasana)
Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)
Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
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