Want to learn more about Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or Bridge Pose? In this post, I share the benefits of this pose — which is also known as Setu Bandhasana — a complete pose tutorial, contraindications, myths, a step-by-step video, modifications and more.
This is one of the first intermediate asanas (yoga poses) that most students learn in class. Prior to this you probably had practiced Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), maybe Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Up Dog), and possibly Ustrasana (Camel Pose).
In Bridge Pose, you have to push yourself up from the ground, which is a new action for many students. Fortunately, it is also a pose that can be modified easily with yoga props like blocks and straps or even just a wall or chair. You can find out more about that in the Modifications section below.
Do you want to know my favourite modification? I love to place a yoga block across my sacrum so the block is sideways and my sacrum can rest on the block. The height of the block is up to you. I usually have the block at one of the two higher settings.
And then — relax. I love to just rest here and encourage my Deep Six muscles and lower back to release. I find this to be very beneficial after a lot of back bend work, or if my lower back hurts after a long day.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Quick Facts
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Benefits
- Precautions & Contraindications
- Misconceptions & Myths About Bridge Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Pose Breakdown
- Modifications & Variations
- Yoga Poses Related to Bridge Pose
- Related Posts & Videos
- Gear & Resources for This Pose
- A Final Note About Bridge Pose
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Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Quick Facts
|Sanskrit||Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (aka Setu Bandhasana (SBS))|
|Pronunciation||SEH-too BAHN-dah sahr-vahn-GAHS-uh-nuh|
|Meaning||Setu means bridge.|
Bandha means lock or bind.
Sarva means all.
Anga means limb.
Asana means pose or posture.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana means All Limbs Locked in a Bridge Pose, if you translate it literally. But generally it is called Bridge Pose.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Benefits
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
The main physical benefits of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana include:
- Strengthens your hamstrings and strengthens your Quadriceps.
- Strengthens your main back muscles — the Erector Spinae.
- Stretches your hip flexors, especially your Psoas and Iliopsoas.
- Builds strength in your pelvic floor muscles.
- Stretches chest / Pectoralis Major.
- Strengthens Transverse Abdominus and Rectus Abdominus.
- Strengthens your glutes and leg adductors.
- Improves the flexibility of your spine.
- Strengthens your Latissimus Dorsi, Pectoralis Minor, Trapezius, and Serratus Anterior muscles, helping build strong shoulders.
- Strengthens your Triceps.
- Can be beneficial if your have sciatica. See Modifications below.
- Strengthens ankles.
- Strengthens support muscles of your neck, which can reduce strain around your neck.
- Builds strength in the support muscles of your knees.
If you want more on the benefits of yoga, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
- When you practice Setu Bandhasana do not move/turn/adjust your head once you have lifted your back. If you want to adjust the position of the neck or head come back down first.
- If you have sciatica, be careful not to overwork in the pose as that could increase your pain. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana can help alleviate sciatica if practiced carefully. I recommend starting with a block or bolster under your pelvis. See Modifications below.
- If you have recently had a knee replacement, it is likely best that you avoid this pose for a while.
- If you have severe osteoporosis, it is likely best that you avoid this pose or find a modification that works well for your body.
- If you have spondylosis in your neck, you may want to adjust or simply not do the pose.
- If you have an abdominal hernia, do not practice Setu Bandha Sarvangasana.
- If you have a shoulder injury or neck issues, proceed with caution, listen to your doctor, your body, and remember you do not need to do this pose. There are lots of other poses you can practice instead.
- If you have lower spine issues, proceed with caution and learn what you are comfortable with in the pose. Props are your friend! See Modifications below.
- If you have a neck injury, please check with your doctor about practicing this pose, and always proceed with caution and listen to your body. As my teacher Darren Rhodes says, “No pain, gain.”
Can you practice Bridge Pose if you are pregnant?
You can find many sources online that say you shouldn’t practice Bridge Pose if you are pregnant. If a reason is given, it is most often that back bending will harm the baby. Of course, there is no blanket rule (when it comes to yoga) that applies to the full term of pregnancy. It is a long ever-changing journey. What you can do in your practice one week will not be the same as a few weeks — or even days — later.
This article from Yoga Journal is the best summary I have seen of different options for yoga when pregnant, how you might feel at different times of your pregnancy, and helping your understand what might be appropriate and when.
Misconceptions & Myths About Bridge Pose
What’s in a Name?
What is this pose called anyway? No one can decide. The traditions I have been trained in have all called it Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, so I was a little confused when I started to venture outside of “my yoga” and discovered not everyone agrees on the name. This might actually win the award for yoga pose with the most names.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana? This seems to be the most common name on yoga websites and it is the name used in Iyengar Yoga.
- Setu Bandasana? This is the most commonly searched name variation on the internet. When this spelling is used people are generally referring to the same pose as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, which is the version taught and described in this post.
- Setu Bandhasana? This is the second-most-searched variation, and is the name of a pose in the Ashtanga Primary Series. But this spelling isn’t exclusive to Ashtanga. Lots of other yoga teachers and students use the name Setu Bandhasana.
This is where it gets complicated though. The Setu Bandhasana of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is not the same pose as the Setu Bandhasana written about in this post. The picture below illustrates the Ashtanga version.
- Setu Bandha? Setu Asana? These are other names also used for the pose. The Bihar school calls it Setu Asana.
- Uttana Mayurasana? Krishnamacharya claims that in the Yoga Kurantam or Korunta, a (likely mythical) book he says his yoga came from, called the pose Uttana Mayurasana. But for some reason he chose to called it Setu Bandhasana.
- (and 7–11) Supported Bridge? Bridge Pose? Low Wheel? Half Wheel? Shoulder Supported Bridge? Bridge Lock? It’s no better in English. We can’t come to an agreement on what to call it either.
For the purposes of this post, I will call it Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or Bridge Pose.
It’s Not That Ancient
Classic yoga texts do not mention this pose.
The oldest mention of it on record is in the late 1800s in the Sritattvanidhi, a book detailing the iconography of South India. This text gives us yet another name for the pose: Kamapidasana.
Modern Postural Yoga has a pose called Karnpidasana, which means Ear Pressure Pose. That is sometimes spelled Kamapidasana (or Kamapithasana). However Karna means ear while Kama means pleasure, sex or desire.
Kamapidasana translates as Pleasure Pressure or Sex Pressure Pose. Interesting name.
Medical Myths Abound!
When it comes to back bends there seem to be even more claims of magical powers than you see for most poses. Here is a selection of actual phrases I read describing the benefits of Setu Bandhasana.
Let’s start with the one that always makes me laugh/roll my eyes/puke a little/wish-there-was-a-regulatory-body-making-sure-yoga-teachers-didn’t-say-unhelpful-things-like:
Bridge Pose causes, “the blood flow in the opposite direction.” This is not true.
Yet, this is on loads of websites. Let me repeat: It is not true.
Do they not think about what they write? Do they just copy and paste it from somewhere else? Is their knowledge of human anatomy so basic they think your blood a) flows in one direction and b) by going upside-down or doing a back bend you are somehow going to CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF THE FLOW OF YOUR BLOOD?
Your blood flow is regulated by your heart and you cannot change the direction it is flowing by going upside-down.
Also, even if you could, you really wouldn’t want to. Our blood flows the way it does for some very good life-supporting reasons.
OK, now here are some other good ones I read — and by “good” I mean they are completely untrue and/or irresponsible things to say. According to the untrustworthy internet, Bridge Pose:
- Expands the lungs, thus curing asthma
- Burns unnecessary fat by pulling in the tummy
- Cures thyroid problems
- Helps prevent arterial blockages or cardiac arrest
None of this is true. But it is quite an impressive list of magical cures that Setu Bandhasana is capable of. It’s a wonder anyone in yoga gets sick anymore.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Lie down on your back.
- Bend you knees and place your feet on the ground.
- Stretch your arms down at your sides, towards your feet.
- Turn your palms to face each other and touch the outside of your hips with your inner forearms.
- Walk your feet back towards your hands until you can just touch your heels with your finger tips, and your heels just touch the inside of your hands. This is to help make your feet hip width apart as well as a good distance away from your hips.
- Make your feet parallel to each other. (This is hard to do when you are new to this instruction. You can practice it in standing poses, like Tadasana. Soon you will learn what it feels like to make your feet parallel, even when you cannot see them, like in Bridge Pose.)
- Bend your elbows so that your fingers point up towards the ceiling.
- Push down with your feet, shoulders and upper arms.
- Lift your hips off the ground.
- Underneath your back, bring your hands together and interlace your fingers.
- Tuck your shoulders in and underneath you one at a time. To do this, lean onto your left shoulder as you externally rotate your right arm and retract your shoulder blade. Then slowly roll onto your right shoulder, helping hold it in this new position. Repeat on your left side and then come down onto your back again, resting evenly on your shoulder blades (scapulae).
- Keep your feet where they are but also pull back with your feet. This will activate your hamstrings and help you lift your hips higher. Keep your knees pointed straight ahead as you do this, but hug them in slightly.
- Push down with your upper arms and lift your chest. Work to back bend along your entire spine.
- Tone your Transverse and Rectus Abdominus muscles to prevent over-arching in your lower back.
- This is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana.
- To come out, release your hands and slowly lower your hips.
- Bhujangasana or Balasana make good counter poses after Bridge Pose.
Modifications & Variations
What should you do with your hands?
There are different schools of thought on what to do with your hands when practicing Bridge Pose.
- Some schools have you hold your ankles with your hands, which teachers can then claim creates a bandha, or lock, between your hands and feet.
- Some teachers teach you to place your hands flat on the ground. This variation is great for new students or if you have weak or tight shoulders or chest. See the next section for more details on this variation.
- The version I usually teach has your hands interlaced underneath your hips with your arms straight and pushing down into the ground. This is the classic Iyengar form of this pose.
- Then there’s the Ashtanga variation of arms crossed in front of your chest, top of your head on the ground, legs straight and feet flat that they call Setu Bandhasana.
If your shoulders or chest are tight
Don’t worry about interlacing your hands. There are three great modifications you can try:
- Grab the edges of your mat and pull with your hands as you lift your hips and push down through your shoulders. This is great for opening your chest and building strength in your shoulders, especially when they are weak or tight.
- Place your hands palm down on your mat, arms straight down at your sides, and push your hands down while you lift your hips. Instead of bringing your hands together, keep them on the ground and push with your hands, upper arms and shoulders.
- Use a yoga strap/belt. Make a loop in the belt that is roughly shoulder width. It can be a little awkward to get this hooked around your arms, but loop the strap around your upper arms (about half-way up your upper arms) and then set up for Bridge Pose as instructed above, simply omitting the instruction to “interlace your fingers”.
If your knees turn out
Engaging your hamstrings and glutes is essential for opening your hips in Bridge Pose. However, these muscles also turn your legs out. In order to limit knee pain, but also maximize your hip extension, focus on preventing your knees from turning out.
To help with this, place a yoga block between your feet (on the ground) and one between your thighs. You can play with the different widths to find what works for you. As you come up into Setu Banda Sarvangasana, squeeze the blocks with your feet and thighs so help activate the adductor muscles in your legs.
If your hips won’t lift up much
Place your hands on your hips or lower back to help build confidence in the pose, and to teach your body the shape you are working towards.
You can also use blocks. See the next modification.
If your lower back is weak or sore
Place a block (or two) underneath your sacrum with the block turned sideways so your pelvis has a little more width to rest on. The height of the block is up to you. I usually have the block at one of the two higher settings.
And then relax. I love to just rest here and work to release my Deep Six and lower back. This can be restorative after a lot of back bend work, or if your lower back hurts.
When you are ready to come out of the pose make sure you engage your pelvic floor before you lift your hips and move the block, and again before your sit up.
If you have a neck injury
You may want to avoid the pose, but that isn’t true for every neck injury. It depends on the injury and what your body can and can’t do.
One way to limit the extension in your neck is to place a folded up yoga blanket below your shoulders and neck.
If you want a restorative Bridge Pose
There are a few great options to make the pose restorative. Here are a few of my favourites.
Legs on a chair
Set up your yoga chair at the wall on top of your mat so the back of the chair is at the wall. To come into the pose, lie down on your side with your knees bent and your back facing the middle of your mat. Roll onto your back and lift your legs, placing your shins and feet on the chair seat.
Bend your elbows and point your fingers to the sky, or rest your arms on the ground. You may choose to rest your head on a blanket. Stay here and rest.
You can progress this variation by placing a yoga block under your sacrum.
Lie over a bolster & blanket
Set up one bolster to go across your shoulders/upper back. Straighten your legs and roll up a yoga blanket to go under your ankles. You may want a block or blanket to go under your head. You may also like placing a towel or Savasana eye pillow over your eyes. Stay here for several minutes.
Place your feet on the wall
Lie down on your back close enough to the wall so that you can place your feet on the wall with your legs bent and roughly over your hips. You can have your lower back on the ground, on a blanket, or even on a yoga block. Stay here for several minutes.
Yoga Poses Related to Bridge Pose
- Urdhva Hastasana / Upward Hands Pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog Pose
- Gomukhasana / Cow Face Pose
- Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
- Salabhasana / Locust Post
- Ustrasana / Camel Pose
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana / Upward Facing Dog Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Paschimottanasana / Intense Stretch Of The West Pose (aka Seated Forward Fold)
- Virasana / Hero’s Pose
- Matsyasana / Fish Pose
- Viparita Karani / Legs Up The Wall Pose
- Savasana / Corpse Pose
Poses To Take Your Practice Further
- Purvottanasana / Reverse Plank Pose
- Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
- Urdhva Dhanurasana / Full Wheel aka Upward Bow Pose
- Sarvangasana / Shoulder Stand
- Ustrasana / Camel Pose
- Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / One-Legged Bridge Pose
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: How to do Sarvangasana – Benefits & Yoga Pose Tutorial
- Post: How to Do Legs Up The Wall – Benefits & Yoga Pose Tutorial
- Video: Yoga Pose Breakdown — Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Gear & Resources for This Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Corq Cork Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Yoga Chair
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Good for the planet and great for your practice!
A Final Note About Bridge Pose
I am a fan of poses that help prepare us for several other poses, because I feel I am getting more bang for my practice that way. That is true for every pose, but some poses have something special to teach us.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is one of those poses. It helps us unpack and learn essential elements of three of the great asanas (as deemed “great” by me, just now). Bridge Pose teaches you the action in your arms that is also the foundation for Sarvangasana and Viparita Karani. And it teaches you the action in your hips and legs that is the same as for lifting up into Urdhva Dhanurasana.
Practice Bridge Pose for all the great benefits it has in its own right, but know you’re also developing greater access to these other poses because of your work in Setu Bandha.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post helps you find ways that Bridge Pose can help support you on your yoga adventure, and that it has been helpful in expanding your understanding and possibilities with Setu Bandha Sarvangasana.
I want these posts to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply and I hope this post helps you see this fairly common pose with new awareness and understanding. The more you understand about each pose the more it will help you find the strength and clarity needed to live your adventure to the fullest!