Simple Bending Back

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Photo by Elina Fairytale on

The use of blocks in simple backbends

Setu Bandha, a backbend, is not overtly demanding of the posterior chain musculature. The supine  orientation provides substantial support when initiating the pose. There is a train of thought in some yoga circles that using props in this pose must adhere to certain strict guidelines. Placing a block between the knees provides a different kinesthetic stimulation to the body. Varying the width of the block will not elicit sacral strain, provided that the sacro-pelvic musculature is maintained in a passive state. The traps, lats, serratus, and quads are the muscle  groups most active in performing and  supporting the pose. It is thereby one of the more accessible backbends within the repertoire of asana

Setu bandha is listed and taught as a beginner pose.

Asana receives much attention as people begin the yoga journey. The are basic poses with which all beginners must become familiar. These are the basic poses, the building blocks of all asana work. All pose work contains some structural semblance of tadasana (basic st3anding pose of yoga). Setu Bandhasana is no exception. Alignment of the feet is key to this and all other ‘backbend’ poses. Hip width is the ‘normal’ foot alignment. However, wider foot alignments can be accommodated in this pose.

The pose develops from a supine position

Setu Bandhasana develops from the supine position. The pose is engaged by pressing the feet into the earth and rolling the scapula down and  back toward the sacro-pelvic area. The supine position should not be utilized for pregnant women, Since this pose requires lifting the hips and the back on a supported shoulder, students with neck and shoulder injuries and sprains need to avoid it completely. . . .

Guidelines for performing this pose:

1) If you have hip pain then do not do this pose.

2) Do not do this pose if there is a problem with the cervical and slip disc.

3) Pregnant women should not do this pose.

4) Do not do this pose when there are piles and fissures.

5) Do not do this pose if there is neck and shoulder pain

Some alignment instruction being doled out is sub-par (IMO)

The instances of cueing that I have encountered over the years has been mixed. The interest of the students is of course always of the highest consideration. Yet, it seems that a basic understanding of biomechanics and musculature engagement is lacking among ‘newer’ instructors (seeing as how I have over 10 years of instructing under my belt). Specifically, an instructor was telling me that to use a block (beyond the narrowest width) between the knees in Setu Bandhasana would place a strain on the sacrum. Although I could see her point, her supposition, based on what she had been taught, was contrary to biomechanical principles and pose alignment dynamics.

Various benefits are derived from proper use of a block between the knees

Using a block for Setu Bandhasana provides several benefits. Firstly, placing the block under the sacrum facilitates a deeper awareness of breathing (especially into the back) and the ability to let the shoulders relax. Relaxing the shoulders is linked to more fully opening the heart and chest. A block between the knees helps to develop a kinesthetic awareness of engaging the inner thighs / internal rotators of the femur. This is important as the knees will tend to splay out due to inadequate firing of the inner thighs. When the thigh musculature is inadequately engaged, the glutes and lower back have to take of the slack resulting from absence of engaging the thigh musculature.

Bring the feet toward your hips
The stability of the hips and the shoulders is necessary to go into this advanced position.

Keeping spinal musculature passive is supportive of backbends  Specific muscle groups provide support and stability in Setu Bandha

Pressing down through the feet and keeping the knees at hip width distance are key points of alignment that receive attention. According to the Yoga Journal, pressing down through the feet will facilitate lifting the hips and the backs of the thighs from the floor. Also stressed in YJ is using a block for more active engagement of the inner thighs and the glutes. Other sources emphasize keeping the knees hip withs apart. I do place emphasis on pressing down through the feet in my own ‘my own personal practice’. I do this in conjunction with holding onto my ankles with the humeri in external rotation. I use a block between the knees at the most lengthwise setting. The sacrum and the lower spine should remain minimally activated as long as the femurs are internally rotated and the feet are parallel (turned in). I strive for minimal engagement of the glutes as this may lead to overly engaging the lower spine and or possibly straining the sacrum.   

Setu Bandha can be performed by varying levels of yoga practitioners

One of the first back-bending yoga postures that many new students learn is Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana). It is also a posture from which one can continue to learn for an entire lifetime.

This stalwart backbend can be performed restoratively or dynamically—as a resting pose or a strengthener. It allows for gaining the deep emotional and physical benefits of ‘opening up’ the chest and thoracic spine.


In Sanskrit, Setu is “bridge,” sarva is “all,” and anga is “limb.” So in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, the pose you make with your body uses all your limbs to create a bridge. Mentally envision a bridge over tranquil water as you breathe fully and muster your energy to lift into this pose. In particular, take breath into the lower back and kidney areas to help keep them passive.

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