The Secret to Bridge Pose: Top Tips to Transform Your Yoga Practice
Article At A Glance
Whether you prefer an active Full Bridge or a soothing Supported Bridge, there is a version of Bridge Pose for every body. Read this article to discover the incredible benefits of Bridge Pose and learn to practice three pose variations.
Why practice Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)? Truly, it is one of yoga’s most versatile postures. From the active, challenging Full Bridge to the soft, restful Supported Bridge, there is a version of this posture that is safe and accessible to all bodies. In this article, we’ll delve into the benefits of Bridge Pose and explore how to approach three different variations.
What are the Benefits of Bridge Pose?
The Sanskrit name for Bridge Pose, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, means bridge lock of all limbs. While this translation may not sound relaxing, it alludes to the energetic focus of the posture. In Bridge Pose, we wind our bodies into a fixed position, often with the chin pressed into the chest. This action lengthens the back of the neck and concentrates energy around the throat chakra, our energetic center of speech, communication, and self-expression. The focus on the neck makes this posture an ideal one to practice while reflecting on our truths and how they are being expressed in daily life.
In addition to the energetic focus of the throat chakra, Bridge Pose is also a wonderful posture to counteract the hunching and slumping forward in a chair that, for many of us, is part of daily life. This posture is a gentle backbend and an accessible way to open the chest and shoulders. Practiced as an active posture, it is also a strengthening asana that targets the muscles of the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. By contrast, practiced as a restorative posture, it is a wonderful way to promote relaxation and soften the entire body while gently opening the heart.
Beginner-Friendly Tips for Bridge Pose
Whether you have yet to practice Bridge Pose or you’ve been in the posture hundreds of times, the following tips can be helpful to practice the best version of the posture for your body:
Locate Your Sacrum Before Transitioning into the Pose
You don’t have to be an anatomy expert to practice Bridge Pose, but it is helpful to understand where your sacrum is located. Your sacrum is the wide, triangular bone near the bottom of your spine, just above the tailbone. It’s helpful to know where exactly yours is because this is where we place a block, bolster, or folded blanket in the supported variation of Bridge Pose.
Visualize the Spine as a Stand of Pearls
One of my first yoga teachers in Boston, Barbara Benagh, used to compare the spine in Bridge Pose to a strand of pearls. She would use this metaphor to encourage us to lift into and descend from Bridge Pose with elegance and grace. That cue has stuck with me to this day as a way to avoid yanking or jerking the body into my fullest expression of the posture right away. Each time we come into Bridge Pose, we can visualize the spine in this way to approach this gentle backbend.
Use the Mat for Bridge Pose Support
How we “lock” our bodies in Bridge Pose can be flexible. We can interlace our fingers to create a bind in Bridge Pose, but this version can be inaccessible for bodies with tight shoulders or if you have wider shoulders and shorter arms. Alternatively, we can grip the edges of the mat in Bridge Pose to create the “lock.” This variation can be practiced even if the sacrum is only lifted a few inches from the earth and can be easily released when we’re ready to return to the mat.
Be Gentle on Your Neck
Since much of the energetic focus in Bridge Pose is on the throat chakra, it’s crucial that we’re mindful of our necks as we practice. When lifted in Bridge Pose, it’s important to keep our gaze straight up toward the ceiling rather than twisting the neck to look around the room. For students with neck or cervical spine injuries, Bridge Pose is best practiced with extreme caution or avoided altogether.
Use Your Breath in Bridge Pose
It should go without saying, but don’t forget to breathe in Bridge Pose! The breath can also be a nice tool to ease in and out of Bridge Pose before resting in the shape for a longer hold. For example, you might inhale to lift into Bridge Pose and exhale to descend, repeating this breath and movement several times before staying in Bridge Pose for 5 to 10 breaths. As a more advanced practice, Bridge Pose provides an opportunity to practice Jalandhara Bandha (Throat Lock). This Pranayama practice engages and tones the neck muscles while focusing energy on the throat chakra.
A Yoga Sequence for Bridge Pose
Ready to ease into Bridge Pose? This short sequence warms up the body and provides three variations of this asana for practitioners at all levels.
Cat/Cow to Prepare the Spine
- Begin by coming into Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana) with your wrists placed underneath your shoulders, knees under your hips, and spine in neutral.
- The movement in Bridge Pose initiates from the pelvis, and you can also focus this warmup from the pelvis to mimic the movement in Bridge. As you inhale, tilt the sitz bones toward the ceiling, then one vertebra at a time, and move the rest of the spine into Cow Pose (Bitilasana).
- As you exhale, tuck the tail, then round the rest of the spine into Cat Pose (Marjaryasana).
- Repeat Cat/Cow for about ten breaths.
Constructive Rest as a Home Base
- Next, make your way onto your back, bend your knees, and set the soles of your feet to the earth.
- Knock your knees in and separate your feet to mat-width apart to come into Constructive Rest.
- Bring one hand to your belly and another hand to your lower ribs. Begin to watch the breath from this shape, feeling the belly and rib cage rise as you breathe in and descend toward the mat with each exhalation.
- Stay in Constructive Rest for as long as you need, and return here at any point that you’d like to shift out of Bridge Pose.
Bridge Pose with Breathwork
- Take a moment to notice how your body and mind feel. If you’re feeling like you need to rest today, then either skip ahead to Supported Bridge or stay in Constructive Rest. But if you’d like something more energizing, then prepare for Bridge Pose by inching the feet to hips-width apart with your feet parallel.
- Draw your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down to the earth.
- Keep the rest of the body still as you begin to mobilize the pelvis. As you exhale, tuck the tailbone, bringing the sacrum flat toward the earth and drawing the pubic bone toward the belly. As you inhale, release the tuck, tilting your sitz bones back toward the mat. Repeat for about five rounds of breath.
- Next, begin to approach the pose with your breath. As you inhale, lift the spine one vertebra at a time toward Bridge Pose, moving from the pelvis toward the mid-back. As you exhale, lower one vertebra at a time back toward the earth. Visualize your spine as a strand of pearls as you gently lift and lower in and out of Bridge Pose. Continue this Rolling Bridge variation for 5 to 7 rounds of breath.
- Stay in the pose for several rounds of breath. Create the “lock” of Bridge Pose by interlacing your fingers underneath your back or gripping the edges of your mat. In either variation, draw your shoulder blades in to lift the heart toward the sky. Stay here for about seven rounds of breath.
- When ready to release, gently lower on an exhalation, descending one vertebra at a time back toward the mat. Come into Constructive Rest and stay here for at least five breaths.
Transitioning to Full Bridge Pose
- Either repeat twice or if you’d like to play with Full Bridge (also known as Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), begin by returning your feet to parallel, hip-width apart.
- Bring your hands shoulder-width apart, framing your head with palms down to the mat and your fingers pointed toward your shoulders.
- Simultaneously press into your hands and your heels on an exhalation, lifting your hips, back body, and head off the earth.
- Lengthen your arms as much as is comfortable, and energetically draw your heart toward the back of the mat to open your chest.
- Stay in the shape for 3 to 5 breaths before gently releasing to the mat on an exhalation and returning to Constructive Rest.
Supported Bridge Pose as an All-Levels Restorative Shape
- Finally, after you’ve practiced these active pose variations, you can rest in a Supported Bridge Pose. Begin by returning your feet to parallel, hip-width apart.
- On an exhalation, press into your heels to lift your hips just high enough to slide a bolster, a folded blanket, or a yoga block horizontally at its lowest height underneath your sacrum. Adjust the prop so that you feel comfortable and grounded.
- Either stay with the soles of the feet grounded or if it feels comfortable, you can slowly extend one or both legs forward.
- Either keep your arms alongside your body, or you may reach your arms overhead for a deeper chest opening.
- Stay in this shape for 2 to 10 minutes, focusing on slow diaphragmatic breathing.
- When you’re ready to release, draw your arms back alongside your body and slowly rebend your knees. Ground through the heels and lift your pelvis just high enough to slide the props out from underneath you.
- Slowly roll your spine back to the mat one vertebra at a time and pause for a few long, slow breaths in Constructive Rest before taking this calming energy with you into your day.
Bridge Pose for All Bodies
Bridge Pose is an elegant yoga asana with many physical and mental benefits. It is accessible for beginners and can be adapted to suit various skill levels. Additionally, variations like the supported version and Full Bridge Pose provide options for added comfort or a challenging practice, depending on your energy level. By utilizing the tips and guidance above for these variations, you can ensure a safe and fulfilling journey into and out of this powerful asana. Incorporate Bridge Pose into your yoga practice to experience its transformative effects on your body and mind.