In 1989, I went to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter Geeta. Studying yoga in India was an eye-opening experience. While there are many, many great teachers in other parts of the world, there is something about practicing in the place where yoga began.
The rhythm of life in India is just so different from that of the West. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding New Agey, so I’ll leave it at this: I’ll just say that it was an immersive experience—definitely tangible, but also indescribable.
On the more practical side, it’s undeniable that visiting India can be fraught with health challenges. Our Western guts aren’t used to the bugs that permeate the food and water. All but one person in my group of 33 ended up being down for the count for a few days with amoebic dysentery.
Later in the trip, many of us developed sore throats and sinus problems. Pune was, at the time, a city of 2 million souls. Even so, there were no regulations as to what fuels could be burned. The city’s particulate-laden air took a toll.
The good news is, the Iyengars were very experienced at dealing with these issues. Instead of encouraging us to stay away from practice when we felt crummy, they’d have their assistants lead us through a practice specific to our health challenges.
The one pose they prescribed for all the various health challenges we faced was Supported Bridge Pose. Of course, there are situations where it wouldn’t be appropriate, but in general, it’s a pose that promotes healing for a wide variety of maladies.
One reason is the head/neck position. When your head is below your heart and your neck is flexed, it triggers a process called the ”baroreflex.” In a nutshell, the baroreflex suppresses the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) side of the autonomic nervous system. Because of this, practicing Supported Bridge Pose promotes relaxation.
In addition to the relaxation effects, Supported Bridge Pose stretches the hip flexors, expands the chest. It can also be helpful for digestion.
Contraindications to Supported Bridge Pose include disc problems in your neck and back or knee problems. Because it is a slight inversion, avoid Supported Bridge Pose when you’re on your menstrual period or if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, glaucoma or detached retina.
How to Practice Supported Bridge Pose
- Gather your props: a nonskid yoga mat and one or two yoga blocks.
- Lie on your mat with your blocks close by. Place your arms close in to your sides.
- Bend your elbows and press your upper arms into your mat to help you arch your ribcage up.
- Straighten your arms out alongside your body, and then press your feet down into the floor. As you plant your feet, stretch your knees out away from your pelvis to lift your hips. For a more detailed description of this instruction, read this blog.
- Place your block under your pelvis—not your low back. It should be positioned under the sacroiliac (SI) joint. Make sure the block is placed widthwise across your SI joint so that it supports both sides of the joint.
- Begin by placing your block at its lowest height (Baby Bear position). If that feels easy, you can turn it on its side (Mama Bear position, as in the photo). If that feels fine, you can try turning it to its highest position (Papa Bear position). If at any point, you feel stress anywhere as you increase the height of the block, go back to the previous position. Your body—and your nervous system—will not relax if you’re feeling pain or discomfort.
- If your knees are uncomfortable, feel free to place a block between your knees and squeeze your knees into the block. For this, you’d want to use the narrowest dimension.
- Relax your neck, throat and jaw, as well as your facial muscles. Breathe deeply. You can stay here for as little as a minute or two or for longer—up to 15 to 20 minutes—if it’s comfortable.
- To leave the pose, lift your hips off the block. Remove the block and set it aside. Extend your arms out overhead and slowly roll your spine down onto the floor.
- Stay here for several breaths, allowing your back body to soften into your mat.