Balancing strength and mobility is one of the best things you can do for your body. Maintaining strength as we age keeps us from giving in to sarcopenia (muscle loss) and osteopenia (bone loss). It’s also important to maintain mobility so that we can continue to move our body and do things like put on our shoes or bra, reach up to grab a sweater off a shelf, or bend down to load the dishwasher. Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) is a yoga pose that creates strength in the lower body and back, while creating mobility in the chest, shoulders, and neck. It is a wonderfully balanced pose that can undo the tightness of daily life. Here’s how:
One of the things we lose with gravity, poor posture while sitting, standing, driving, and “computering” is thoracic mobility. The thoracic spine makes up the majority of our back. We have 12 ribs that connect to each of the 12 thoracic vertebra. Most spinal movement happens in the thoracic spine. Forward and backward bending, side bending, and twisting all happens using that part of our back. In Bridge pose, it’s the thoracic spine that extends (back bends). This thoracic extension is the antidote to the gravity causing slouch, and can create strength to support good posture.
Upper Back Strength
The Rhomboids are muscles that pull the shoulder blades toward each other (retraction). When we slouch, we usually fall into protraction, where the shoulder blades move apart. Squeezing them together releases the tension and pain we often have in the upper back and neck from sitting at a computer, or scrolling on our phone.
Chest and Shoulder Opening (stretching)
Slouching also causes tightening of the chest and shoulders. When these areas get tight it becomes harder to find good posture because the tightness pulls everything forward, including your head and neck. The upper back muscles weaken and the chest muscles tighten, which lead to pain and discomfort. If you imagine an “old man” or “old woman,” that image usually includes them hunching forward like a candy cane.
As I have written about before in [fill in proper blog post], core strength is much more than just 6-pack abs. Having good core strength supports our ability to stand up straight, and to balance on our feet (or hands ,if you desire). The core muscles activated in Bridge pose are the glutes, pelvic floor, lower abdominals, inner thighs, and the erector muscles along the spine. Bridge pose also strengthens the quads in the front of the thighs. Strengthening these muscles allows us to move about our day with ease and stability.
How to do Bridge Pose
Start on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Feet are between hip and shoulder distance apart and parallel. Bring the feet as close to your hips as is comfortable for your knees, ideally knees over ankles. Place your arms alongside your body with your palms facing upward. Inhale. As you exhale contract your pelvic floor and lower abdominals. When you inhale, press your feet evenly into the floor to lift your hips as high as they will comfortably go. Engage your glutes, inner thighs, and quads. Lengthen your tailbone toward your knees to keep the lumbar spine (lower back) neutral. All the back extension (back bending) should happen in the thoracic spine. Feel your outer shoulders rotating toward the floor as your chest rises toward your chin (not chin to chest, but chest to chin). You can stay just as you are, or interlace the fingers underneath your body, pressing your palms and wrists together. This will activate the Rhomboids as you draw your shoulder blades toward each other.
Stay and breathe, in and out through the nose, for 3-10 breaths, then release the arms and roll down one vertebra at a time. Rest, then repeat a second time, this time interlacing the fingers with the other set of fingers on top (whatever thumb is on top, switch all the fingers over by one so that the other thumb is on top).
Your breath might move a bit easier in your chest after practicing Bridge pose. Notice the feeling of openness in your chest and shoulders. You might also feel relief in your back and neck. Feel free to leave questions or comments below!
If you want to watch a short video guiding you in and out of Bridge pose, click here!
To practice Bridge pose with me on a regular basis, click here to check out my online class schedule!
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