Namaste and best wishes to you all for 2015. May the New Year be filled with health, happiness and many enjoyable yoga practices for you! As the first pose of the year I would like to look at a back bending pose called Setu Bandha Sarvangasana—Bridge pose. It can strengthen your back muscles and at the same time stretch your front body from the hip crease to your head. This pose can be done actively or restoratively. I will describe the active version first and then in the picture section below show you some restorative alternatives. It is also a good counterpose to last month’s pose, Salamba Sirsasana – Headstand pose. Let’s align and refine this supine backbend!
Instructions for Setu Bandha Sarvangasana:
The classical variation of the pose is done with your hands on your back and legs extended straight. For this article we will look at the pose with a different arm position (not so intense) and bent legs.
- Lie supine on your back with the knees bent (shins should be perpendicular to the floor) and your feet hip distant apart, close to your buttocks. The arms are extended by your sides.
- Bend your elbows with your forearms now perpendicular to the floor and palms facing each other. Lift your hips a few inches off the floor. In this position now you need to tuck your shoulders under by rolling the outer shoulder down to the floor—this will give some broadness across the collar bones.
- On an exhale press strongly into your upper arms, elbows and feet to lift your hips, back and shoulder blades off the floor.
- Keep lifting your outer hips as high as you can, moving your back body towards your front body and moving your sternum towards your chin (not the other way around)
- Hold the pose for about 20 to 60 seconds and then release the outer hips back down to the floor (like a descending elevator J )
Work in the pose for alignment:
- Keep lifting the chest and pelvis to your maximum ability. Work towards having your sternum perpendicular to the floor.
- For most of us the knees want to splay open to the sides. Try to avoid this. It helps to continuously press into the balls of the big toes. Also draw the inner thighs towards the floor.
- Keep reaching the top buttocks flesh towards the backs of the knees (notice how your frontal hip points lift towards your navel) and at the same time pull the shins toward the head side.
- A recent instruction I’ve learnt in a class: lengthen the tops of the thighs towards the knees and at the same time let the hamstrings (back of the thighs) reach toward the buttocks—don’t forget to still do 3.
- Widen and strongly lift the back ribs. Lift the side ribs.
- Let the tips of your shoulder blades press into the back strongly (helps with the chest lift) , let the back of the armpit roll to the front of the armpit and allow the front of the armpit to roll up to the tops of the shoulders and then to the floor.
- I have a block between my big toe mounds to keep the feet from turning out and to bring awareness there so that I make effort to press the big toe mounds down (this is helpful to keep the knees from splaying out).
My knees squeeze into another block so that they don’t splay out to sides (which could compress your lower back)
(Notice how my shins are in better alignment than the starting picture for Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- To get more height in the hips and work on opening the chest, it can be helpful to have the feet on blocks.
- To get more height in the hips, lift your heels up to be on your tip toes (you might have to walk your feet a bit closer to your buttocks). Keep lifting your outer hips higher and higher. Try not to lower the hips as you descend the heels back to the floor.
- You will need a wall 3/4 blankets and a chair. The blankets will be on the one side of the mat and the foot side of the mat wraps around the other side of the blankets- this prevents sliding of the set-up. This variation can also be used as a beginner option for a Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana). Place 3 stacked blankets (smooth edges point away from chair) about a foot away from the front of the chair seat. Lie over the blankets with your head and neck off the blankets(and off the mat) and the feet on the chair seat. Hold the front chair legs and roll your upper arms out (very helpful for open lifted chest area) Press the feet into the chair seat, lift your hips, bring the back body towards the front body and move the sternum towards the chin.
- This variation is referred to as Chatush Padasana. In this pose you hold on to the ankles—this will give you good leverage to roll the arms out and lift the chest. Notice how in the left picture the alignment of my shins is not good. In the right picture I’m using a strap around my ankles. Pulling on the strap gives me the same good leverage as before but in my case with much better alignment.
- Here I have a block under my sacrum. I placed it vertically under me –more towards the buttocks and NOT in the lower back. If this feels uncomfortable to you or you have sacroiliac issues, you can also place the block horizontally. My feet press into the wall. If your lower back feels uncomfortable, place another 2 blocks, the same height as the sacrum block, at the wall under your heels. This variation is a more restorative option and you can hold the pose longer to allow the chest to open in a relaxed manner. The next two options are also in the restorative category:
- This set-up requires a wall, a bolster (or 2 narrowly folded stacked blankets), a strap, 2 blocks and a head blanket. The head side edge of the bolster presses into the tips of your shoulder blades to help with the opening of the chest and the rolling of the tops of the shoulders to the floor. A strap around your thighs will keep the legs together so your abdomen can stay soft and relaxed. The blanket under head and shoulders is for comfort and to help with relaxation.
his restorative version is similar to 6. The chair allows for more height in the pose (I can use 2 blocks under my sacrum)
- Iyengar Yoga: The Integrated And Holistic Path To Health by T. and B. Thomas, published by Xlibris, 2008
- An online article by com : Supported Bridge Pose: cross over into quiet by Eve Johnson
- Fitz-Simon’s web blog: yogaartandscience.com
- Inspiration from the asana classes taught by Iyengar teachers that I attended
Katja Huiras is a 500 hr certified Yoga teacher who teaches alignment based yoga classes in the Lehigh Valley. In 2009 she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and was intensely inspired by its method. Since then she regularly studies and practices with certified Iyengar Yoga teachers.