Print Print Comment Comment Add to Favorites
Log in to save to My Yoga Journal!
Add to Favorites
Bookmark Bookmark

Building Your Bridge to the Self

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is often translated as Bridge Pose, but setu also means "dam," which can refer to obstacles we face on the mat.

By Richard Rosen

Like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is a perfect example of a pose that gets its name from the way it looks. But there's more to this moniker—which refers literally to the "construction of a bridge"— than meets the eye.

Derived from the Sanskrit verb si, "to bind," the word setu also means "bond or fetter; dike or dam." In many spiritual traditions, the bridge symbolizes a connection or bond between two banks or worlds, the mundane and the divine, divided by the river of life. Constructing and then crossing this bridge represents a radical transition or transformation, whereby we leave behind our transitory everyday existence and enter the enlightened realm of the eternal Self (atman).

The yoga tradition equates the "bridge to immortality" with the Self (Mundaka Upanishad, 2.2.3). In other words, while the goal of practice is to realize our connection to the divine Self, the Self is also the bridge to reaching that goal. Confusing, huh? By way of explanation, it might be useful to review the definition of the word yoga. The most common translation is "union" or "Self-integration," which is what all of us practitioners are diligently seeking. But most people don't realize that yoga also means "method" or "employment." So on the one hand, yoga denotes the goal of the practice (union); on the other, it is the means we must employ to reach that goal. A famous maxim, found in an old commentary by Vyasa on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, pithily summarizes this idea: "Yoga is to be known by Yoga, and Yoga itself leads to Yoga."

This means we don't need to search far and wide or buy any expensive equipment for our bridge-building project. Each of us is innately endowed with a toolkit, our own Self, which we assemble by following the blueprints and wielding the variety of construction tools provided by yoga.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is a visual reminder of the venerable Self-as-bridge teaching. It's also, by extension, a representation of all the asanas, which might be known collectively as bridge-building tools par excellence. Asanas help us ground our bridge in the bedrock of the river and firm its trusses to support our passage.

Richard Rosen, who teaches in Oakland and Berkeley, California, has been writing for Yoga Journal since the 1970s.

Print Print Comment Comment Add to Favorites
Log in to save to My Yoga Journal!
Add to Favorites
Bookmark Bookmark
Full Name
Address 1
Address 2
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email (req):

Reader Comments

Shazam

Thanks for the Yoga Suttra. That says it all.

Add a Comment »

Your Name:

Comment:

Stay Connected with Us!

Yoga Journal Live events
ep14 YJ LIVE! Colorado
Estes Park, Colorado
Sep 14-21, 2014
Register
florida YJ LIVE! Florida
Hollywood, FL
Nov 13-17, 2014
Register

More Events

Join Yoga Journal's Benefits Plus
Liability insurance and benefits to support
teachers and studios.
Learn More
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 4 FREE GIFTS
Your subscription includes
Yoga for Neck & Shoulders • Yoga Remedies
Yoga for Headaches • Calm, Cool, Collected
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Yoga Journal
and my 4 FREE downloadable Yoga Booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions