I decided to look at the evolution of the bridge pose, today. Old and new styles of it.
The very old style
When I first learnt the bridge pose, decades ago, we did it from 1/2 or full shoulderstand, taking one leg down into the pose, then the other,so in the full pose we were up on tip toes, doing the bridge pose, with our hands still supporting our back. Then back up into the 1/2 or full shoulderstand, again.
I met someone during these years, who guest-taught my class, once. He did the modern style of the bridge pose (and was most derisive of the way that I taught then....) As I recall this, I realise that he was trained in the Iyengar system, which was not so widely known then.
Old Ashram style
Then, years later, when I did "ashram" training, (also decades ago) we went into that same pose from:
- lying on our back, with knees bent, and feet flat on the floor.
- feet were wide apart, at least shoulder width apart and toes turned out a bit.
- we held onto our ankles throughout the pose.
- the chest was wide open
Now the bridge pose is done with Good Form. For muscular reasons:
- Lie flat on the floor
- Knees bent
- Feet hip width apart, and parallel. Hip width referring to placement of the hip bones, rather than the sides of the torso at hip level.
- Arms alongside the body, with the palms flat on the floor.
- We raise our hips to the ceiling, pushing into the feet.
- It will feel as though the weight is on the feet and the shoulders
- Push down onto the big toes to activate the inner thighs by rolling them inwards
- We might do a straight line from collarbones to knees
- we might have more of a gentle curve with the chest lifting higher
- We might open up the chest (done by placement of the hands).
The arms might:
- Stay as they are - the hands may, or may not, press into the floor, for support
- the fingers might be interlaced under the body.
- The next move is to roll the upper arms outwards in this position. Inwards would be the upper arm muscles going in towards each other. (opens the chest)
- A third, effective variation, is to briefly lift up onto the toes whilst you put your elbows on the floor, and cup your hips with your hands. (opens the chest) Then put the feet back flat on the floor.
Benefits of the modern version
Which of course, is all amazing. Wow:
- core activation
- great buns (buttocks)
- beautifully defined hamstrings
- toned inner thighs
- strong thigh
- beautiful calves
- strong back
The secret of the older method
In reality, none of the modern benefits were what the bridge pose was originally about. The first style that I learnt it in, from the 1/2 or full shoulderstand, was specifically for the endocrine system, and in particular, the pancreas. For hormones which are released directly from the pancreas into the blood stream. As we went into the pose, we got like a "squirt" of these hormones.
Without being too technical, these various hormones, and other functions, of the pancreas did many things. Briefly:
- Regulate blood sugar
- Are an important glucose regulator, so they also affect our brain and liver
- Are responsible for the storage of fat and glucose after a meal
So, someone like myself, when I first started yoga, who could only do a very minor attempt at the bridge pose, from an inverted pose (as described), still got a quick squirt of beneficial hormones and elements from the pancreas, with my (cautious) attempt. This was major, as I had severe blood sugar problems when I first started yoga. Over time, these problems mysteriously disappeared.
How to merge old and new styles
How to merge old and new styles
As a yoga teacher, and a yoga teacher trainer, of course I am aware that many people could not and should not do this old form of the bridge pose. And of course, many cannot do a 1/2 nor full, shoulderstand. Which is fine. What I do, in this instance, is substitute a modern bridge pose instead. Why?
- it can be held
- most people can do a variation, whether beginners, or more advanced
- it is an inversion (head lower than the heart)
- it is beneficial for thyroid (as are 1/2 and full shoulderstand)
- it opens up the lungs, so benefits breathing
- I do feel that it does have a benefit to the pancreas, but less than the older version
- great for adrenals
I usually finish it with reclining butterfly, as the pelvic area gets "drained" (sort of....) in the bridge pose, and reclining butterfly following it, allows a freer flow of blood and other fluids around the pelvic area.