How to: Bridge Pose
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat and hips width apart. Your feet should also be parallel with your ankles directly under your knees. It is important to have your feet parallel to reduce pressure on your lower back. When your feet are turned out, they close the space in the sacroiliac joint and create more stress on the joint than necessary.
Begin to pelvic tilt and raise your hips off the floor, by pressing down through the feet and arms. Once your hips are as high as they can get, snuggle your shoulders underneath your upper back. Try to interlace your fingers under you. In time and with practice, you can interlace your fingers and fully extend your arms on the floor with your palms connected. Be cautious here if you have a tendency to hyperextend your elbows.
It is important that you get your shoulder blades under you as much as you can. The further they go under, the more they lift your spine off the floor creating a canal underneath you. This canal lifts the spine from grinding into the floor. Part of your cervical spine will stick out a little further than the rest, so if you are not properly set up in this pose it is easy to bruise it or feel too much weight.
It's helpful to put a light, soft block between your knees to aid your engagement of the inner thighs. It is also an amazing therapeutic pose if you put two blocks together, on their highest side directly under your sacrum, clasp your hands beyond the blocks and relax and release into the pose holding for minutes. Consider occasionally interlacing your fingers the opposite way than you usually do. This gets your shoulders slightly different and eliminates habit and stagnant practice.
In this pose you should feel a dynamic opposition of pressing down with your arms and feet and lifting the pelvis and chest. Try to get your chest to meet your chin. Press your shoulders down away from your ears.
Benefits of Bridge Pose
The role of bridge pose is vast. Done properly and consistently, the most noticeable benefits include:
- Strengthens back, glutes, legs and ankles
- Opens chest, heart and hip flexors
- Stretches the chest, neck, shoulders and spine
- Calms the body, alleviates stress and mild depression
- Stimulates organs of the abdomen, lungs and thyroid
- Rejuvenates tired legs
- Improves digestion
For the lay person or yogi, bridge pose lengthens the front body as well as the back body, creating space between your vertebrae and relieving pressure on the disks. For people who are concerned about thyroid function the bend in the neck and holding of the pose for lengths of time stimulates sluggish thyroid. Your thyroid is responsible for fueling your calorie-burning fire. In addition, bridge pose supplies the neck with an awesome stretch. It also holds you (especially if you use blocks for support) in a gentle backbend.
For the athlete, this pose is a great tool for assessment. You have a bird's eye view of your chest and sometimes abdominal area to observe any imbalances or asymmetry. This will give you a clue as to what poses you will need to improve your game. Bridge pose also gives the practitioner a great easy way to open the hip flexors and psoas, which is essential for keeping their back healthy and strong. It gives them a pose to assist in opening the chest actively, which creates lung space and increases breathe capacity.
When you snuggle the shoulders under, it stretches the chest as well as the anterior deltoids. When practicing this pose be careful not to sink into it too much but remain very active in it at all times. Finally, holding this pose without block support will strengthen the hamstrings.
Although you should always consult your physician and research a properly trained teacher before starting a yoga practice, there are a few instances where you should avoid this pose entirely:
- Neck injuries, unless supervised
- Those with low back pain or knee pain should use modifications
Have fun exploring this pose and learning about your body.
Gwen Lawrence has been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. Her current practice includes private yoga training, class instruction and her sport-specific Power Yoga for Sports training program www.poweryogaforsports.com. Gwen’s unique combination of dance, massage and yoga training experience, coupled with her extensive knowledge of anatomy, nutrition and homeopathy, provide her clients, class participants and athletes with overwhelming benefits. Gwen is the yoga instructor for several New York Yankees baseball players, team yoga instructor for the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Red Bulls, and the Pace University baseball team; as well as many youth teams in a variety of sports. Visit her website at www.yogawithgwen.com