Health & Fitness

Putting Yoga Into Practice: Building Bridges

Written by April Ricchuito

There is no better time to talk about relationships, love, and hearts than this very moment. Not just because we’ve just come off of Valentine’s Day, but because it is right now. All we ever have is this present moment–and each moment, each relationship, is indeed a gift that we were meant to share with others.

Yoga means “union” in Sanskrit. While it’s often assumed that this said union is between the mind, body and spirit, I like to offer alternate definitions that have a secular spin, because yoga is for everyone. Labels and language should be the last thing to alienate someone from a beautiful practice that is grounded in love. My definition of yoga is also union, but the union of movement and breath toward stillness. In striving for true union, I like to practice yoga on and off the mat.

One of my teachers has always told me that the way we move through our asanas (poses) is how we go through life; are we rushing from one pose to the next in order to complete a flow? Do we find ourselves resisting? This statement led to serious reflection after each practice, so much so that I started journaling after I left the mat, drawing parallels and noting how the things I learned in yoga on the mat could be put into practice in everyday situations off the mat.

A pose that I’ve been spending a lot of time in lately is bridge pose, or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (SAY-too BAHN-duh shar-vahn-GAHS-uh-nuh), which is the Sanskrit name for the posture. In bridge pose, your limbs formed a “locked bridge,” which is the literal Sanskrit meaning. This is a very versatile pose that can be enjoyed on its own and modified in many ways. It can be utilized as a prep for back bends or shoulder stands, or be done with a block as a restorative pose for deep relaxation. It’s especially great when you’ve been sitting for long periods of time, as it opens up the chest, heart and shoulders. It also stretches the spine, the back of the neck, the thighs and the hip flexors in a most luxurious fashion. Therapeutic properties include increased lung capacity, which is beneficial to those with asthma, and stimulation of the abdominal organs and thyroid glands, which improves digestion and helps regulate metabolism.

The less you push yourself into this pose, the more the pose will open up and become available to you. That’s right–it will come to you, without you having to push to “make it happen.” You do not have to force your will here. You can simply allow yourself to experience the essence of this pose.

In bridge pose, the shoulders lift the heart up, allowing you to lead with the heart. Incidentally, the shoulder is the least stable joint in the body, partially due to the fact that it’s also the most mobile joint in the body. Yet here it is, following the lead of our heart, lifting our heart up to the sky, opening our hearts up, because we trust that they will. Our hearts lead the way, opening up, and the least stable joint in the body follows, grounding themselves to the earth, supporting our hearts in a show of solidarity, if for no other reason than because we trust that they will do so. We have faith in the strength of our bodies.

Like a real bridge, we must learn to allow for some movement and flexibility in our lives, especially in our relationships. A real bridge must be stable, but it must also allow for some movement, as it is subject to horizontal and lateral forces from wind, passing vehicles and temperature changes. We cross over bridges daily by trains, buses and cars; we know that the bridge will take us to the other side. We don’t doubt that the bridge will support us. We have faith that we will be supported and safe in our journey.

Bridges build connections–connections that take us over and above objects and conditions that would otherwise be rendered impassable. Our connections that we make with each other–the bridges that we build–can do the same thing.

As humans, and especially as women, we are architects of the future. Build these relationships and cross these bridges. Allow yourself to be gently supported. You are building a beautiful future by forging overpasses to go above and beyond; you are building connections. You are a bridge, leading with your heart and supported by the earth.

Take a few moments today for you, to open your hearts and connect, building a bridge. Perhaps it’s with a spouse, child, family member, friend, pet, or even yourself.

If you’d like more information on bridge pose, including how to safely practice it on your own, you can check out “How To Do a Bridge Pose in Yoga” from iSport Yoga.

About the author

April Ricchuito

April Ricchuito, D.D., MSW is a writer and integrative practitioner who brings a unique voice to the field of health and wellness by combining traditional evidence-based techniques with ancient practices such as yoga and newer findings in contemplative sciences.

She has been named one of 20 Young Champions for Women by the White Ribbon Alliance and WIE Symposium, presented by Donna Karan and Arianna Huffington. She also authors the column Hell on Heels: Soul Searching. She is currently living and loving in New York City with her Yorkie Frankenstein, whom she really calls Frankie.

Be sure to check out Verbal Vandalism to keep up with April's regular written works and featured contributions!

You can also read her blog Mental Makeup or follow her on Twitter.