‘Kandharasana’ is known as the Shoulder Bridge Pose in English. A wonderful asana to begin your supine backbends practice, it can be relaxing as well as strengthening. It stretches and strengthens the back, stimulates the reproductive system and opens up the chest, leaving you feeling energized and refreshed.
What are the benefits of Bridge Pose
From a pranic (energy flow) point of view, this asana has an impact on the Manipura Chakra (solar plexus), Vishuddi Chakra (throat region), Ajna Chakra (eye-brow center), and even the Sahasrara Chakra in its advanced version(the crown of the head). This is a beginner level asana and is often practiced as a step-down variation for Chakrasana (the wheel pose). In the asana, the entire spine is curved making a bridge. Therefore, it has a toning and strengthening effect on the back. The posture also stabilizes the hip joints and helps relieve pain, stiffness, and discomfort. It also lowers blood pressure, relaxing the mind and improving digestion.
For women, the posture relieves the symptoms of menopause in women and it strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, thus having a toning and strengthening impact on the reproductive system. It is also great for people suffering from digestive problems as well as thyroid imbalances. When in the posture, the chin and the chest are nearly locked, activating the chin lock (Jalandhara Bandha). It also plays a role in regulating the flow of blood and prana (energy) to the heart, the glands in the neck and the head. Since it is a chest opener, it also enables better respiration. It also strengthens the shoulders and lower back muscles, and tones the thighs, calves, hips and all the leg muscles.
Position type: Lying down on back
Spinal bend type: Backbend
Ideal for: Strength
Pose level: Beginner
How to prepare for this asana
Since this asana itself is a beginner level posture and is usually a preparatory pose for many advanced backbends, it is best to do a few simple shoulder and back stretches. It is normally practiced towards the end of the session as it is a supine posture (lying on the back). Including a few twists like the easy spinal twist (Vakrasana) and movements like Cat-Cow pose (Marjari asana) are helpful.
Improving the flexibility of the back helps in holding the posture for longer. Regularly practicing forward bends like seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana) and wide legged seated forward bend (Upavistha Konasana) are helpful. Even if you can’t fully bend forward in these poses or achieve the final posture (Upavistha Konasana can be challenging for many people), the movement itself provides a stretch and will improve flexibility. Back bends like the camel pose (Ustrasana) and cobra pose (Bhujangasana) will also improve flexibility of the back.
How to practice Shoulder Bridge Pose
Getting into the posture
- Lie on the back, bend the knees and bring the heels closer to the buttocks. Keep the heels firmly on the mat. The feet should be hip width apart on the floor with the knees and ankles in a straight line.
- Hold the ankles with your hands.
- Inhale and slowly lift the buttocks and hips up. Now lift the back and arch the back upward as you raise the lower, middle and upper back off the floor.
- Now lift the chest as high as possible towards the chin without straining. Ensure that the feet and shoulders lie firmly on the ground. Keep the inner thighs and glutes active and engaged. The thighs should be parallel to each other.
- Gently roll the shoulders and support your weight with the shoulders, arms and feet.
- Stay here for a few deep breaths.
Getting out of the posture
1. As you exhale, slowly bring the buttocks, hips & back on the floor.
2. Release the ankles and stretch the legs out
What are the contraindications of the bridge pose?
If you are suffering from slip disc, abdominal hernia or back pain, please avoid the asana. If you have any neck, shoulder or knee pain as well, it is best to avoid the posture. Pregnant women should also avoid the asana.
Counter poses of Bridge pose
Practice Pawanamuktasana (wind relieving pose) for a few minutes after doing the bridge pose. You can also simply relax with your back on the mat and knees bent for a few minutes. This way the lower back will be touching the mat and will get relaxed.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or Kandharasana variations
- As a beginner, you can place the palms on the floor for extra support.
- You can also raise the back and chest only as much as is comfortable.
- You can hold the palms together behind the back / or grip the ankle with your hands and then lift up the hips.
- In the advanced variation you can take the heels up (balance on the toes) and the palms up as well.
- You can also raise one leg and try the one-legged bridge pose.
- As you progress, you can attempt Chakrasana (the wheel pose).
Advice for beginners
Make sure you keep the feet hip width apart and the ankles and knees inline with each other. Don't let the back drop down or curve. The chin should touch the collar bone. Your gaze will then automatically be upwards. Keep the thighs and glutes engaged throughout. You can also try placing a block between your thighs. When you press the block with both thighs, automatically they will be engaged.
Start with the easier variations. This will require less effort and will be easier to hold the asana. Slowly, with practice your strength and endurance will increase so you can hold it for longer. The asana is simpler than many others can be achieved with just a little practice. However, do as much as you can and don’t overstrain the neck or back.