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Bridge Pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana can be whatever you need—energizing, rejuvenating, or luxuriously restorative.


Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is one of the first back-bending yoga postures that many new students learn. And yet, much like the rest of an asana practice, it is also a posture from which you can continue learning for your entire lifetime.

“One of my favorite postures for awakening the senses is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana,” says Yoga Journal contributor Claudia Cummins. “This beginning backbend strengthens the legs and hips, massages the spine, and opens the heart. Methodical practice of this asana also offers an opportunity to explore the body and its movements with attention and care. In the process, the mind is calmed and the body becomes energized, leaving the practitioner feeling revitalized and refreshed.”

The backbend can be performed dynamically or restoratively—as a strengthener or a resting pose. In Sanskrit, Setu is “bridge,” sarva is “all,” and anga is “limb.” So in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, the pose you make with your body uses all your limbs to create a bridge. Make a mental picture of a bridge over tranquil water as you breathe deep and muster your energy to lift into this pose.

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Sanskrit

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (SET-too BAHN-dah Sahr-von-GAH-sah-nah)

Setu = bridge

Bandha = lock

Sarva  =  all

Anga = limb

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Bridge Pose Basics

Pose type: Backbend

Targets: Core

Benefits: Bridge Pose improves posture and counteracts the effects of prolonged sitting and computer work. It may help relieve low back pain and can counteract slouching and kyphosis (abnormal curvature of the spine). The pose gently stretches your abdomen, chest, and the area around your shoulders while strengthening your back muscles, buttocks (glutes), thighs, and ankles.

Other Bridge Pose perks:

  • Stretches your abdomen, chest, and the area around your shoulders while strengthening your back muscles, buttocks (glutes), thighs, and ankles.
  • May help relieve low-back pain.
  • Shares many of the potential benefits of conventional inversions. The pose can be used as an alternative by anyone with contraindications for coming into Headstand and Shoulderstand.
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How to

Woman demonstrates Bridge Pose
(Photo: Christopher Dougherty)
  1. Lie on your back in the center of your mat with your knees bent, your legs and feet parallel and hip-distance apart.
  2. Move your feet closer to your buttocks. Press down firmly through both of your feet and inhale to raise your hips, lifting from the pubic bone rather than the navel.
  3. Clasp your hands under your back on the floor. Broaden your collarbones and get on top of your shoulders. Firm the outer shins and roll your upper thighs inward. Press down firmly through your heels and lift the back of your thighs and the bottom of your buttocks even higher while keeping the thighs parallel.
  4. To finish, exhale, release your hands, and lower to the floor. Allow your back to rest in a neutral state as you observe the spaciousness within your chest.
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Beginner tips

  • If you have tight shoulders or feel intense discomfort when you try to bind your hands behind your back, place your arms down alongside your body instead.
  • Once the shoulders are rolled under, be sure not to pull them forcefully away from your ears, which tends to overstretch the neck. Lift the tops of the shoulders slightly toward the ears.
  • Maintaining the natural curve of your neck is a crucial element of the pose that often gets lost when your shoulders are dragged down as they are tucked under. When you shrug your shoulders slightly closer to your ears, notice how this softens your trapezius muscles at the base of your neck and emphasizes the cervical curve.

Contraindications and cautions

Avoid this pose if you have a neck injury. Only do this pose under the supervision of a teacher with experience in anatomy.

Deepen the pose

Once in Bridge Pose, lift your heels off the floor to lift higher and push your tailbone up, a little closer to the pubis. Then lower the heels back to the floor again.

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Teacher tips

  • If a student needs more support for an achy or weak back, advise them place a block (experiment with the right height) under their sacrum—the flat triangular bone at the base of the spine. They can rest their weight on the block and focus on keeping their knees hip-width apart.
  • For students who wish to make this pose more challenging, invite them to exhale to lift their right knee into their torso, then inhale and extend the leg perpendicular to the floor. Advise them to hold for 30 seconds, then release their foot to the floor again with an exhalation. Then they can secure the right foot and repeat with their left leg for the same length of time.
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Bridge Pose variations

Photo: Andrew Clark

Bridge Pose with a block

Place and hold a block between your thighs to focus on inner thigh strength and keep the knees from splaying out.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Supported Bridge Pose

For a more relaxed version, set a block at any height under your sacrum, the flat part of your low back. You may want to use a blanket on the block for extra padding. If it’s more comfortable, turn your palms up. Stay here as long as comfortable, then lift the hips to remove the block and slowly lower down.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Supported Bridge Pose with a strap

Bring a looped strap around your thighs so your knees are about hip-distance apart. For an active version of the pose that focuses on strengthening your outer thighs, firmly spread your knees against the resistance of the strap. For a more relaxed version, put a block at any height below your sacrum (the flat part of your low back), and rest in the pose for as long as comfortable. Remove the block, then slowly lower down.

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Why we love this pose

Why we love it: “Bridge is one pose I can sneak in while getting my kids ready for bed or before or after a workout. In fact, it was one of the first poses I did postpartum—supported, of course, and under the guidance of a physical therapist,” says Erin Skarda, Yoga Journal‘s digital director. “On its face, Bridge is not a challenging pose, but when you really tune into your body and breath, even slight adjustments (squeeze those pelvic floor muscles, press those hands into the floor!) make it work for you. As a restorative pose, Bridge is the reset my lower back craves post-walk or hike. But when I want to take it up a notch, I add in some single-leg variations or raise and lower my hips. The next thing I know, I’ve had a little workout—all without standing up!”

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Preparatory and counter poses

Preparatory poses

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Counter poses

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)

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Anatomy

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana combines arching the back with extending the shoulders to lift the pelvis and torso. Additionally, the pose stretches the flexor muscles at the front of the pelvis, including the psoas and its synergists, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

The pose passively stretches the quadriceps along the front of the thighs, the psoas high at the top of the hips and thighs, the rectus abdominis in the abdomen, the pectoralis major in the chest, the deltoids cloaking the shoulders, and the biceps at the front of the upper arms.

Extending the hips lengthens the psoas and its synergists of hip flexion: the pectineus, the adductors longus and brevis, and the sartorius. The rectus femoris also stretches.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

When you contract the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles, you draw the pelvis upward.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Contract the triceps to extend the elbows and straighten the arms. Interlace the fingers and then gently turn the palms upward to supinate the forearms. Drawing the shoulder blades toward the midline stretches the serratus anterior muscles.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

When you contract the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum muscles along the spine, your back arches. Continue to engage these muscles along with the gluteals so the pelvis tilts into retroversion (backward) while the lumbar spine extends.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Once the pelvis is lifted, relax the hamstrings and activate the quadriceps to deepen the pose. (Remember that the quadriceps activate the knees. Because the feet are fixed on the mat, attempting to straighten the knees actually lifts the torso.)

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Backbends and Twists by Ray Long.

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About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.