Bridge Pose, Variation
It can take a lot of effort and will to consistently show up for your practice. Some days you may feel too tired to come to class or too distracted by other obligations to practice at home. But when you do make the effort, you know how sweet the results can be. Your efforts can lead to a feeling of overall physical and mental well-being that spills over into the rest of your day.
In Chatush Padasana (Four-Footed Pose), a variation of Bridge Pose in which you grasp your ankles with your hands, you work hard and experience a sense of ease at the same time. Though it's a strong backbend, it has a soothing effect. The back of the body is actively engaged, creating a strong, stable arch that allows the front of the body to soften, spread, and open. The pose strengthens your hamstrings, buttocks, back muscles, and spine while it simultaneously stretches your quadriceps, groins, abdomen, and neck muscles. Your chest lifts and expands, which leads to longer, deeper breaths. Though the back body is strongly working, the heart and mind are at ease. In the midst of effort, the pose invites you to surrender into an effortless state.
The name Chatush Padasana, which literally means "four foot pose," contains a teaching. In the pose, it's essential that your weight is distributed equally among your feet and your shoulders-as if you were standing on four feet-in order to form a steady and even foundation for this soothing backbend.
To explore this, begin your practice of Chatush Padasana by pressing down evenly with the feet as you lift the hips halfway. Rotate the inner upper arms away from the chest to bring the shoulders down and underneath the chest. This action broadens your collarbones and allows you to press the backs of the arms to the floor so that your shoulders can now take a more active part in forming the base of your Bridge. When you continue to lift the thighs, buttocks, and back ribs, you will feel how much more you are able to lift and open the chest.
Taking time to work with the shoulders is essential. If you focus only on lifting the hips, your knees may spread open and your thighs may roll out, which can lead to compression in your lower back. Instead, when you stand on your shoulders and simultaneously press down through your feet, you can open your chest more fully so that your spine arches evenly from a balanced foundation.
While most backbends are energizing, Chatush Padasana has a calming effect on the nervous system that comes from the position of the head and neck in relation to the chest. In other backbends, the head is typically tilted back. But in Chatush Padasana, the strong actions of the arms, legs, and back lift the chest and bring it toward the chin. As the back of the neck lengthens, the chin is gently tucked in toward the chest. In the Iyengar Yoga method, this pose is taught as a preparation for Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) and is said to calm the flow of thoughts and relax the mind.
For this reason, this pose is often taught at the end of a practice. It's a perfect opportunity for you to witness the transformative moment when your physical effort leads you to a quiet mind.
Step 1: Bridge Pose, Variation
Set It Up:
1. Lie down in the center of your mat with your knees bent and arms by your sides.
Refine: Broaden your collarbones. Rotate each arm by turning your inner arm toward your outer arm. This action takes the outer shoulders down and makes them more compact and stable. Keep the outer shoulders steady and lift the back ribs to open and spread the chest.
Continue to press the back of your arms down and raise your heels as you lift the outer hips a little more. Keep your hips at this new height and then lower your heels back to the floor. Lengthen the back of your neck. Remain in the pose and breathe normally to create more space and fullness in your chest.
Finish: Before you finish, go in and out of the pose several times to feel its rhythm and movement. With each repetition, keep your feet, knees, and thighs parallel as you lift up and lower back down. Each time, aim to lift the back of the body a little bit more, beginning with the thighs, buttocks, and back ribs. This variation will strengthen your back muscles and open your chest.
Step 2: Bridge Pose, Variation With Props
Set It Up:
1. Lie down in the center of your mat with your knees bent.
Refine: While holding the belt, rotate the arms outward, as in Step 1, until the tops of the shoulders rest on the floor. Keep your feet, knees, and thighs parallel. Keep the back of your neck long and soft while keeping the front of your throat soft. Continue to press your feet down firmly to maintain the leg alignment and lift the bottom of your buttocks so that the sacrum rests evenly on the block. Lift the back ribs to open your chest a little more. If your shoulders have come off the floor, you can come down and place a folded blanket or two underneath your shoulders to support the foundation of the pose.
Finish: Observe your breath. As you stand on your shoulders and feet, the support of the block under your sacrum allows you to cultivate deeper, more complete breaths. As you inhale, spread your rib cage from the center toward the sides. As you exhale, maintain the lift of your back ribs and a softness in the front of your throat. Relax the muscles around your eyes and temples. Turn your gaze inward toward the heart. Breathe quietly and evenly.
Final Pose: Chatush Padasana
Set It Up:
1. Lie down in the center of your sticky mat with your knees bent.
Refine: Broaden your collarbones and get on top of your shoulders. Firm the outer shins and roll your upper thighs in—ward. Press down firmly through your heels and lift the back of the thighs and the bottom of your buttocks while keeping the thighs parallel. Lift your back ribs up and toward the chest. Allow your chest to become wider. Move the top of your shins toward your chest and your chest toward your chin. Relax the front of the throat and allow the back of the neck to elongate so the chin and chest come toward each other more.
Finish: Breathe evenly and expand the sides of your chest. Cultivate strength and confidence as you learn to engage the back of the body. Exhale, release your hands, and lower to the floor. Allow your back to rest in a neutral state as you observe the spaciousness within the chest.
Elements of Practice
In yoga, repetition is the key to mastery. When you practice doing the same pose several times in succession, learning is taking place at a cellular level. This learning is not about running your mind through all the technical instructions but rather engaging the body so that the muscles remember how the alignment of the pose is meant to feel. In this way, the next time you come back to your practice, your body will remember the steady, strong, and open-hearted qualities you have cultivated.
Optimize Your Pose
Try these modifications for exploring Bridge Pose:
Watch a video demonstration of this pose.
Nikki Costello is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher living in New York City.