Bridge pose is fundamental to yoga and for good reason: its benefits are enormous and wide ranging. Its Sanskrit name, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is composed of the words Setu, which means “bridge,” sarva which means “all,” and anga which means “limb.” Put it all together and it means that each of your limbs work as a unit to create a bridge with your body.
Basic Bridge can function as a restorative and calming posture posture as well as a stimulating and strengthening exercise. Variations include Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), which generates heat and energy and Supported Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) which cools and calms.
While Bridge poses are safe for most people provided they ease into them gradually, they may not be the best choice for people with neck, shoulder or spinal problems.
Bridge Building 101
To help you determine whether Bridge is for you, let's run through the pose. To do a proper, basic Bridge pose, begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet placed flat on the floor at hip width apart. Your arms should be at your sides with your palms down for stability. Take a breath and slowly elevate your hips toward the ceiling. Keep your knees and thighs parallel to each other.
Now engage your lower body muscles—abdomen, lower back, buttocks and thighs—keeping your spine rigid. Elevate your hips so that your body is in a straight line from chest to knees. Keep your neck relaxed by tucking your chin back away from the rest of your body. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to a minute. When you release, exhale and roll your spine down to the floor gradually a vertebra at a time.
Working Around Shoulder, Back and Neck Issues
Be cautious with back bridge exercises if you've got problems with your shoulders, back or neck -- or all three, since they do tend to go together. Bridge exercises could possibly aggravate whiplash injuries or conditions such as degenerative disk disease.
Most of the danger in doing Bridge poses is the result of incorrect form. Mistake number one is allowing your neck to support your full body weight rather than letting your shoulders carry the load. Placing a rolled-up yoga mat or folded towel beneath your shoulders will help you avoid slipping and diminish pressure on the shoulders and neck. You can also increase stability by interlacing your fingers, positioning them under your buttocks and pressing them down into the mat.
Watching Your Back
When doing Bridge pose, avoid over-extending your lumbar spine, which can lead to compression that could cause tight and achy lower back muscles. Bridge pose can be painful if the erector spinae -- the small muscles that run up and down either side of the spine -- and the intercostal muscles that connect the ribs are too tight.
Other causes of thoracic pain could be tight pectoral muscles, particularly the pectoralis minor. If you're new to Bridge, making sure your muscles are good and warmed up before attempting it can help you avoid injury.
Read More: Muscles Being Worked in a Bridging Exercise