I love treating my group classes like an open forum for discussion of all things yoga, movement…and reality TV. Picture me in a toga leading the class through Socratic dialogue. Recently, in one of these glorious moments of learning a student asked, “When we’re in bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) aren’t we supposed to release the glutes?” I had never heard of this cue, but others definitely had as evidenced by every other student in the class saying that they were also struggling to relax their butt muscles while holding the bridge shape.
No, people, you don’t understand. I thought I might actually pass out. This had to be one of the most egregious cues in the history of movement anything. I asked the student what the purpose of this cue was and she said, “We are told to relax our glutes to release tension and strengthen the quads.” Honestly, this is a moment that, even in memory, leaves me dumbfounded. It’s just so bad.
This fine tidbit is one of many tragic misinformation bombs that are dropped daily in yoga classes. Ok, so here’s why not using your glutes while in bridge is a bad idea. You need to use your glutes to get your pelvis in the air in the first place. Ideally, the muscular work of this bridge is then distributed along the entire back line of your body. But the gluteals, hamstrings and calves are the dominant muscle groups used to maintain the shape and height of your bridge. What I’m describing here is a kinetic chain; a group of muscles working together. To interrupt an integral part of that chain by releasing the buttock muscles could be injurious especially with repetition. (Note: The push of the feet into the floor with a strong and well distributed force is also essential to the shape of this asana. But for the sake of time and keeping this post at a decent length we’ll not go further into that.)
So, is it even possible to do bridge pose without the glutes?! Maybe…weird shit happens all the time, but it’s doubtful.
You could probably eventually train your butt to relax when you’ve reached the top of your bridge. If you are successful you can expect your pelvis to drop, which means you won’t get to experience the full length that your hip flexors and quads reach while achieving this hip extension. This stretch in the front of the body is a great reason to do bridge, especially if you spend a lot of time at a desk sitting (perpetual hip flexion). However, when the pelvis (i.e. physical support against gravity) drops in your new sad-bridge, those same quads and hip flexors could be overworked in a terrible compensation pattern resulting from desperate attempts to maintain length. Imagine an arch. This is the shape we are creating. But we are human and not stone. In order to create a nicely integrated shape it must be dynamic and the muscles of our backline contract to support the shape against gravitational and other compressive forces. Thus, in this asana: no gluteal support = inefficient compensation patterns. Also, the pelvis dropping a bit from its position could aggravate already present low back issues (chronic pain, stiffness, herniations, etc.).
On an entirely superficial note, who doesn’t want strong, well-developed booty? I know I’m Puerto Rican (and Mexican) and, therefore, biased. But why not safely practice yoga and look good while doing it?
If you’re afraid of getting giant, bubbly booty because that’s not your thing (again, unimaginable in my world) do not worry. It takes more than a regular yoga practice to get that look. On the other hand, if you are interested in it, Kim and Marcus, the SMARTer personal trainers on our team can get you there. Be prepared to eat. A lot.
Now, I want to know, have you heard this cue? If so, ignore it! If you believe it, help me understand. One last thought: when I explained all this to the misled student mentioned above she said, “Well, shouldn’t we learn to do this pose supported by our bones?” I ask, “What moves your bones???”
Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to this awesome podcast from our friend Ariana and colleague who interviews a cool movement teacher Joanne Elphinston. Then listen to all her other podcasts!
Want to train that butt and legs? Watch our apprentice, Abby, demonstrate killer bridge pose variations.