Bridge Pose — Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (SAY-too BAHN-duh shar-vahn-GAHS-uh-nuh) — is a beginning backbend that helps to open the chest and stretch the thighs. Its Sanskrit name comes from five different words: “Setu” — meaning “bridge”, “Bandha” — meaning “lock”,“Sarva” — meaning “all”, “Anga” — meaning “limb” and “Asana” — meaning “pose”.
When you’re in the pose, your arms and legs create a “locked bridge” with your body. This pose can be used as preparation for deeper backbends, or practiced with a block as a restorative pose.
Benefits of Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose opens the chest, heart, and shoulders. It stretches the spine, the back of the neck, the thighs, and the hip flexors (front hip joints). Because your heart is higher than your head in this pose, it is considered a mild inversion (less strenuous than other inversions, such as Headstand) and holds all the benefits of inversions: Relief from stress, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and mild depression.
Bridge Pose also calms the mind and is known to be therapeutic for individuals with high blood pressure. Because it opens the chest, it increases lung capacity, which is therapeutic for those with asthma. Bridge Pose also stimulates the abdominal organs and thyroid glands, which improves digestion and helps to regulate metabolism. Because it revitalizes the legs and stretches the shoulders, it can be a particularly rejuvenating pose for those who spend the day sitting in front of a computer or driving. It is also a preparatory pose for Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) and Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana).
Do not perform this pose if you have a neck or shoulder injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Do Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Lie down on your back.
- Bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet to your mat. Set your feet up about hip’s distance apart, parallel to each other, and close to the buttocks. Reach your hands down along your sides. Your fingertips should be able to graze your heels.
- Roll your shoulders down and back to secure your shoulder blades onto your back and puff up your chest.
- Press into your feet to lift your hips up towards the ceiling. You can choose whether to lift up on an inhale or an exhale. Moving on the inhale will allow your chest to float upwards as your lungs fill with air. Moving on the exhale lets you exert more power to push your hips up. It’s interesting to try it both ways and notice the differences.
- Once your hips are lifted, tuck one shoulder at a time more securing under your chest. Interlace your fingers behind your back and straighten your arms, pressing them down into the mat.
- Try to relax your butt while keeping your thighs engaged in order to lift the hips a little higher.
- Inflate your chest toward your chin, but do not move your chin toward the chest. Keep your gaze on the ceiling and do not move your head around.
- Make sure your feet and knees stay parallel the whole time.
- To come out, release your hands from behind your back and allow your upper, middle, and then lower back down to the floor.
- Rest, separating your feet as wide as your mat and allowing your knees to knock together.
- Do two more rounds of bridge for a total of three backbends.
Bridge Pose for Beginners
Practicing Bridge Pose can be both calming and rejuvenating for your mind and body. Never push your body to come deeper into the pose. Always work within your own means and abilities, and this might change every day.
- If your knees want to splay or your feet turn out, it’s helpful to place a block between your knees. Squeeze the block with your knees the get the feel for how to keep them in line. You can add another block between your feet if keeping them parallel presents a problem.
- For a restorative variation, bring a block under the sacrum. Let your weight rest on the block. (See supported bridge for more detailed instructions.)
Bridge Pose for Advanced
Bridge Pose can be a great way to counteract the stress of sitting for long periods. It can also be used as preparation for deeper backbends or as a restorative pose for deep relaxation.
- For a greater challenge, try One-Legged Bridge Pose (Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): Come into the full version of the pose. Lift one leg straight up to the ceiling. Flex your lifted foot strongly and press firmly into the foot that is still on the floor to keep your hips high. After several breaths, return your foot to the floor and try the other side.
- When coming out of the pose, keep your hands interlaced. Lower the weight of the body onto your arms for a deeper shoulder opener. More experienced students can try keeping the buttocks relaxed in the pose. Use only the thigh muscles to lift the hips.
- For a deeper internal experience in the pose, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath.
Bridge the Gap
Practicing Bridge Pose can be a potent lesson in learning to slow down and listen to your body. Your spine, shoulders, and thighs will tell you how far to take the pose. The less you push, the more the pose will open up. Turn your awareness inward and notice how your body releases its grip when you don’t force it. Let your Bridge be a connection between your body, mind, and spirit.