Finding Fluidity in your Spine with Bridge Pose

Great for beginners, Bridge Pose preps you for bigger backbends and brings you into the present moment. Some days seem to race by without us ever being truly here for them. We dash breathlessly though our jam-packed schedules, and then at night collapse into our beds and wonder where we've been for the past 24 hours. Sure, we may have accomplished a lot, but have we taken even a moment to feel the pleasures of the passing day? 

One of my favorite postures for awakening the senses to the here and now is Bridge Pose, a beginning backbend that strengthens the legs and hips, massages the spine, and opens the heart. The methodical practice of this asana also offers an opportunity to explore the body and its movements with attention and care. In the process, the mind is calmed and the body becomes energized, leaving the practitioner feeling revitalized and refreshed.

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When you're ready to move a little deeper into your Bridge Pose, envision your spine as a strand of pearls, with each vertebra a separate bead that is capable of its own articulation. When you lie on your back, the entire strand of pearls will rest on the ground. When you rise up into Bridge Pose, the strand will be picked up one bead at a time, starting at the tail end of the strand, near your sacrum. And when you reverse your movements to emerge from the pose, you will settle the pearls back onto the ground, one by one, beginning with the top of the strand, near your head. The first pearl to float upward into the pose will be the last to return back home.

This wavelike action will infuse your movements with a satisfying sense of fluidity and wholeness will offer a deepening connection with your body's core. How far you move into Bridge Pose is entirely up to you. Some days, you may feel the urge to lift only a few beads off the floor into a gentle baby Bridge. Other days, your spine may grow so enthusiastic that you find bead after bead soaring upward, inviting your ribs and heart to bloom toward the sky as well. In this deeper exploration of the pose, the shoulders and arms root downward like the legs, inviting the upper body to grow light and the pelvis to rise. As you ground through the arms and shoulders, you can encourage the chest to soar upward toward the sky.

Whichever incarnation of Bridge Pose you choose, maintain a fluid and spacious feeling in your spine, moving less like a wooden beam and more like that strand of pearls. Enjoy the sensation of each bead taking flight and settling back down to the earth. Experience the warmth you've created in your thighs and hips, as well as the lightness in the belly and the cracked-open freedom in the heart. Feel that if you weren't so well rooted by your feet and shoulders, your hips might continue wafting upward, causing your entire body to take flight. As you explore Bridge Pose, keep in mind a few important details. First, avoid the tendency to let the knees splay wider than the feet as you rise upward. At the same time, take care to keep the feet parallel to each other, with all four corners of each foot fully planted into the earth; you want to end up with even and symmetrical footprints in your mat, not cockeyed heel prints or toe prints. 

And finally, as your Bridge arches higher off the ground, readjust your upper back so you rest more on the shoulders than on the shoulder blades. As you rise up higher onto the shoulders, be mindful not to flatten the back of the neck into the ground. Instead, feel the muscles in the face, jaw, and neck soften and release. These few adjustments will help your body maintain integrity as you move farther and farther into the heart of the pose. When you feel your body giving way to fatigue, settle down toward the ground, taking care to lengthen the tailbone toward your feet as you do so to elongate the spine. Breathe comfortably and steadily, close your eyes, and drift back toward the center of the earth, softening every fiber of your body.
Climb into the moment. Open all of your pores to the experience, like a dry sponge soaking up rainwater. Notice sensations of warmth or coolness within, as well as feelings of fatigue or exhilaration. Consider the sensations in your hips, your heart, and your head. Have you allowed yourself to be changed at all by your exploration? As you grow more familiar with Bridge Pose over weeks and months of practice, avoid falling into the trap of halfheartedly moving through the posture just to check it off your list and move on to the next. In fact, you might even choose to use this asana as a touchstone, a daily reminder to infuse all of your life with mindfulness and care.