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Asana Study: Building Bridges

"Adapt for your situation. Now that you have key areas identified, imagine all movements and poses in our asana practice on a continuum; depending on what your situation is, select an appropriate adaptation from the continuum."

These are words I wrote as part of my upcoming book. As I work with more and more yoga teachers I realize that this part of my book may grow into another book because teachers need help with adapting postures. I'm dedicating a few blog posts to this topic, so look for titles beginning with Asana Study in my upcoming posts.

When I look to adapt a pose, I begin by asking, "What physical and energetic benefits does this pose provide me, and how can I experience similar benefits in a way that is more appropriate to my situation?"

Let's begin by looking at setu bandha sarvanghasana and setu bandhasana (bridge pose):

Bridge pose

Bridge pose is a backbend that demands strength through my back body and flexibility through my front body. Energetically, it connects me with my heart and I leave the pose feeling gratitude and trust in the world. Physically, this pose counters the rounding in my shoulders, chest and upper back that come from long hours of sitting at the computer, as well as stretching my belly and hip flexors. I feel a squeezing on my back as I draw my shoulder blades towards each other and a massage around my kidneys. When my hips are elevated, I promote better lymphatic drainage and an opportunity to elicit my relaxation response. In keeping with all of these benefits, I want to practice a variation that offers me:

  • opening across my chest

  • lengthening around my belly

  • opening my hip flexors

  • strengthening my back body (calves, hamstrings, gluteals, back muscles)

  • elevating my hips above the level of my heart

Here are some options for the "short bridge" depicted above:

Click on each one for a description of how to get into the pose and why you might use that variation.

Here are some options for a "long bridge" pose:

As you examine the adaptations, notice how each one offers some of the benefits, but not all. How I decide which one to use will depend on what I'm doing with the rest of my practice and why I've chosen this particular pose. In general, when I modify a pose I look at adapting the:

  • base of support (how many contact points with the floor, what props are under me) for the pose

  • intensity

  • complexity (including how many props to wrangle)

  • load (my body position, relationship to gravity)

  • how many repetitions, if any

  • resting between repetitions

  • "temperature" of the pose (a more physically demanding pose will generate more heat, for example)

Try them out and let me know what you think. You may need some options some day, either as a teacher or a practitioner, so keep these close.

Look for more Asana Study posts coming soon...

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