Depending on how you perform it, the Bridge Pose, also known as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, can energize you, rejuvenate you or simply help you release tension as the perfect restorative posture.
(Pronounced as "SAY-too BAHN-dah Sar-VAHN-GAHS-anna")
In Sanskrit, Setu bandha means "locked into the form of a bridge. The Sanskrit word Sarvanga means "all of the limbs," or "the entire body." Literally, your body takes the shape of a bridge while your head forms a chin lock against your sternum.
Lie down on your back on top of your yoga mat. Bend your knees so that your heels almost touch the outside edges of your buttocks. Keep your knees only at your hips' width apart. Straighten your arms on the ground at your side to grab your ankles. The right fingers wrap around the front of the right ankle with the right thumb circling around your Achilles' tendon. Hold your left ankle the same way with your left hand.
Take a deep breath. While exhaling, push your tailbone in and lift your pelvis as high as you can. Push hard with your legs to shift your body weight toward your shoulders. Pull your ankles with your arms to help you lift your sternum up. This movement lets you tuck both of your shoulders underneath you more so that your shoulder blades come closer together.
Now to help you get the full lift you need to support your pelvis, lift your heels up from the floor for a moment to press only your toes into the floor. Use this extra height to fit your palms underneath both sides of your tailbone. Your upper arms stay flat on the floor while only your forearms and hands are perpendicular to the floor, supporting your pelvis and lower back. Now you should feel most of your weight resting on your shoulders and hands. Put your heels back down so that both feet are flat on the floor.
Pressing down firmly into the floor with your feet, lift up your buttocks and push your knees toward your torso so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, almost like a table top. Try to keep your knees right above your ankles. You will know that you are doing the posture correctly if you feel your thigh muscles working well.
Expand your chest fully and push your sternum up to touch your chin. Do not push your chin to your chest. Your head stays in place while the chest moves.
Hold this posture for about 30 seconds to start. You can hold it a little longer each time your practice it. Breathe out as you slowly release your hands and roll your back down gently to the floor.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
If you have had a neck injury, then do not practice Bridge Pose without an experienced yoga teacher.
Menstruating women should only practice this pose with a block underneath their sacrum for support, and they also need to keep their legs elevated by pressing their feet into a wall. That way, their legs stay at the same height as their hips.
If you struggle with keeping your pelvis lifted, then put a block under your sacrum so that it lifts you as high up as possible from the floor. Your hands are then free so that you can interlock your fingers. Now push down against the floor with your straightened arms to raise your sternum higher.
After you lift your hips up as high as you can, then keep your lower back supported with your hands as you slowly stretch your legs out straight in front of you. Point your toes. Try not to lower your hips as you extend the legs straight.
Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (pronounced like "ACHE-ah PAH-dah") literally means a one-legged Bridge Pose. Eka translates as "one," and pada means "foot" or "leg."
After your perform Bridge Pose fully to the best of your ability, take a deep breath. Exhale as you raise your right leg up straight in the air and point your toes, making your leg perpendicular to the floor. Hold it here for up to 30 seconds. Then exhale and lower the leg back to the floor. Now do the same with your left leg, holding it up in the air for the same amount of time.
Ask a partner to help train your thighs to lift the right way by using a yoga belt. After you lift yourself up as high as you can in the pose, they should stand behind your head and put the yoga belt around your knees.
Holding each end of the belt in their hands, they can gently pull your knees a little more toward your torso. The belt also slightly braces the outer thighs, helping you focus on turning your thighs in as you lift your pelvis up more. This movement in your thighs and pelvic floor is what you need to recreate in every backbend.
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