Asana of the Week: Setu Bandhasana

(NOTE:  Do not attempt this posture without the close supervision of a qualified instructor, especially if you have any history of neck injury.)

Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Posture) is the final posture of the Ashtanga Primary series before the finishing sequence.  As such, there is an inherent temptation for students to rush, skip, or approximate this distinctive backbend, which is different from any other backbend in the series in that it encourages external rotation of the legs.  The primary action in this posture is the extension of the cervical spine, which must be approached with care and attention to avoid injury.

To enter Setu Bandhasana, lie down on your back and turn your feet out with your knees bent and heels together like Charlie Chaplin (see right).  Then, as if setting up for Matsyasana, lift your head and chest and drop the crown of your head back to the mat with the chest lifted.  Cross your arms over your chest and, with an inhalation, slowly push into the feet to lift the hips from the floor.  Roll forward up the centerline of the head until the hairline or forehead touch the mat.  Gaze down the tip of your nose to soften the face and throat.  Breath deeply into the chest for 5-10 breaths.

Throughout your stay in this posture, be aware of the sensation in the neck.  We want to maximize spinal extension without crunching or compressing the cervical vertebrae.  To do this, try to envision your cervical spine in the posture.  Use gentle muscular contraction to create a support structure for the neck, as if each little vertebrae is held securely in its place by 360 degrees of controlled muscular tension.  Resist the temptation to lift the arms away from your chest.  Keep them down and pull the shoulders back.  As you feel ready to move deeper into the posture, try pressing the legs straighter.  Eventually, the legs may come completely straight with the inner legs together.

To exit, exhale as you slowly roll down the the centerline of the head.  Take a moment on your back to gently rock your head from side to side and release any compression in the neck before lifting your head away from the floor.