Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) is a beginners/warm up backbend that strengthens the legs and hips, massages the spine, and opens the front of the chest. Rather than rush into and out of it, it’s worthwhile spending more time exploring this asana.

Start with a baby Bridge

To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor hip distance apart 20 cm or so from your pelvis. Rest your hands near your hips with the palms up, opening the front of the shoulders and collarbones. Settle onto your mat and take several easy breaths, noticing which parts of your body rise and fall with your inhalations and exhalations.

Do you feel your hips and pelvis starting to gently move with every breath in and out? Think about your feet. Are they turned inward or outward? Is more weight settling onto the balls or the heels? The inner arches or the outer soles? Carefully turn your head to one side and peer down checking they are parallel to each other and equidistant from the hips. Sense the weight resting evenly on the four corners of each foot.

Take another few breaths, then rock gently to your right just far enough to free up your left shoulder. Slip the left shoulder blade down toward your hip, creating lots of space between your left ear and shoulder in the process. Then roll back to center and note the difference in sensation between your right and left sides. How is the weight settling differently onto each side of the upper back? Which shoulder feels closer to your ear? Has your breath changed as a result of your actions? Repeat this simple shoulder adjustment on the right side, leaving the two sides of the back evenly settled.

Now send a gentle rooting action down through your legs, as if you were trying to press the floor away from you and into the earth. Press down evenly, envisioning the deep footprints you are making in your mat as you do this.  Come up the smallest distance possible, keeping most of the spine on the floor. Breathe easily for a few moments, keeping your mind focused on those strong and steady feet, then slowly allow your hips to melt back downward tucking your tailbone away from your waist as you return.

Find fluidity in your spine

When you’re ready to repeat this action, perhaps moving a little deeper into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, try thinking of your spine as a strand of beads, with each vertebra a separate bead that is capable of its own articulation. Try relaxing the buttocks as you work the legs.

When you lie on your back, the entire strand of beads will rest on the ground. When you rise up into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, the strand will be picked up one bead at a time, starting at the tail end of the strand, near your sacrum. And when you reverse your movements to emerge from the pose, you will settle back onto the ground, one by one, beginning with the top of the strand, near your head. The first one to float upward into the pose will be the last to return back home.

This wavelike action will infuse your movements with a satisfying sense of fluidity and wholeness, and will offer a deepening connection with your body’s core. How far you move into Bridge is entirely up to you. Some days, you may feel like doing only a gentle baby Bridge.

Keep the knees over the ankles as you rise upward. And finally, as your Bridge arches higher off the ground, readjust your upper back so you rest more on the shoulders than on the shoulder blades. As you rise up higher onto the shoulders, be mindful not to flatten the back of the neck into the ground. Instead, feel the muscles in the face, jaw, and neck soften and release. These few adjustments will help your body maintain integrity as you move into the heart of the pose.

Afterwards, you can come down and hug the knees into the chest, and perhaps stretch the legs. You can work more strongly in locust or another backbend, or rest in child, or alternatively come onto all fours for cat and downward dog.