If I had to choose my single favorite yoga pose, Bridge (Setu Bandhasana) would be it.
Bridge is how I started doing yoga many years ago… After working a long day in my heady corporate job and after all my evening chores were done, I would retreat to the carpeted floor in my bedroom (I don’t think I even had a yoga mat back then) and do a series of stretches to wind down and reconnect with my body.
Having been “upright” (and uptight) throughout most of the day, I didn’t go for standing poses – my body wanted to be supine… and my spirit wanted to be uplifted… Bridge pose delivered.
Bridge is a type of backbend that strengthens the quadriceps, stretches the abdomen, squeezes the kidneys, and provides an all-around detoxifying “lift” for the body. But it also delivers something more – for me, something deeply soulful.
When I hold Bridge pose with a steady Ujjai breath, my heart is open, my gaze is focused and I feel supported by my own being… I feel empowered… I feel I can “span the chasm between two contradictions,” as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes below, and I feel the god in me.
As Once the Winged Energy of Delight
Rainer Maria Rilke
As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.
Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.
To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.
Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two
contradictions… For the god
wants to know himself in you.
Warming up for Bridge
After studying yoga and becoming a teacher, I learned a simple routine to warm up for Bridge that has become a staple in my daily practice. This routine is considered a vinyasa because it’s a series of movements coordinated with the breath. It goes like this:
STEP 1 – Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor/yoga mat, and arms by your sides. Take several deep, cleansing breaths through your nose (mouth closed).
STEP 2 – On the next inhale, press into your feet, rotate your arms over your head, and lift your buttocks off of the floor.
STEP 3 – As you exhale, lower your buttocks, draw your knees into your chest, and hug your hands around your knees.
STEP 4 – On the next inhale, press your feet toward the ceiling straightening the backs of your legs and rotate your arms overhead again.
STEP 5 – As you exhale, bend your knees, bring your feet back to the floor and your arms back down to your sides to return to the starting position. Repeat Steps 1 – 5 several times coordinating with the breath.
To come into the full Bridge pose, on the next inhale, lift the buttocks but this time keep your arms at your sides and draw your shoulder blades in toward each other. If it’s comfortable, clasp your hands together and press the backs of your arms into the floor. Breathe. Watch your belly rise and fall. Feel the possibilities of your own being.
To release from Bridge, unclasp your hands and allow your arms to move back to the sides of your body as you slowly lower your back onto the floor/mat one vertebrae at a time, as if lowering a pearl necklace. Hug your knees into your chest and massage your lower back by rotating gently side to side.
The next time you need a lift, try doing Bridge pose. Namaste.