Manhattan Setu Bandhasana (Bridge!)

(still very behind on this series, but always fun to take a look back at where I was four months ago …)

Oh, New York.  America’s bridge to her slightly more sophisticated sister (if only due to age), Europa.   Where the weak and weary masses were once so welcome, they came by the boatful to build themselves a shiny new American life.  Boasting over 800 spoken languages, it’s the most linguistically diverse city in the world.  The selection of gustatory delights is pretty impressive as well . . .

Herself on the eve of New York's worst hurricane in who knows how long, 2011

Where you can catch a subway 24 hours a day, where countless authors and musicians have sojourned for inspiration, and you can bet money you won’t be disappointed with your bagel or pizza order.  8 million people living in 305 square miles of sea-side urban sprawl  If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

My favorite personal New York story (so far) was the time my best friend and I went to see a free showing at Showtime at the ApolloI’ll preface the whole thing by noting we were 17 years old at the time!

We arrived in Queens when it was already dark and the line to get in went for blocks and blocks and blocks.  Blocks of chicken joints and pawn shops.  And we were the only non-African-Americans in sight.  We felt pretty cool.

As we stood in line, taking it all in, this little Puerto Rican chic comes up to us and asks if we wanna get into to see the show early.  At first we thought she was trying to steal our spot, but then her camera crew caught up with her and we decided it was worth a shot.  So she takes us back to the venue, snaking in and out of massive crowds, leads us over to the entrance in the back and straight into the building.  We were in!

Shot from inside the Apollo, back in the day...

Alright ladies, we’re gonna sit you down, and after the amateur show we’re gonna bring the cameras round and ask ya’ll what you thought.  Sound good?

Totally in awe, we were taken to our ninth row seats and enjoyed an hour of the worst dancing, singing and standup we’d ever seen.  Oh, the hilarious things we wanted to say!

That ventriloquist guy should see if he could maybe switch positions with his dummy, cuz it could hardly get any worse!

Was that a song she was singing or an imitation of a woe-struck chicken?

But when the big cameras and lights caught up with us after the evenings (rather embarrassing) performances, we could hardly muster, “Yeah man, that was cool.”

Ah, to be 17in the Big Apple.  So much sass and so little sophistication!

Thankfully, after the embarassing encounter with the bright lights of entertainment, we were treated to Montel Jordan’s dancer being taken away in an ambulance from an asthma attack . . .

. . . and Lord Tariq and Peter Guns getting one better than a standing ovation: the in-house impromptu partay.  Everyone in the joint got up, rushed the stage and got down to their anthem . . .

This leg of the Friends and Family Tour takes me back to the world’s culture capital to visit the very same friend – as well as a former colleague and soul sister from Japan.  I actually ended up re-connecting with a surprising number of old friends and acquaintances, part of the reason why I chose to explore bridge pose (setu bandhasana) just under the Manhattan Bridge.

Ze Pose

In its basic form, bridge, Setu Bandhasana (or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), can be done by any beginner who isn’t suffering from a major neck concern or back issue.  Start with the feet hip distance apart, knees bent, hands just a few inches from the heels of the feet, arms parallel to the torso.  Tuck the tailbone and press the lowerback into the earth to start feeling your core muscles.  This also helps to protect your lower back further into the pose.

Two bridges on a sunny NYC day

On an inhale, lift the hips and press the feet into the earth, as if you’re trying to straighten the knees.  To bind in the pose (the ‘bandha’ part of the Sanskrit name) shimmy the shoulders down until you can grab onto the ankles.  Hold here for as long as it’s comfortable.

For intermediate practitioners, the pose can be explored more deeply with all sorts of variations and props.

  • Try lifting one leg perpendicular to the earth.  Press the foundation foot evenly through the ball and heel.  The raised leg is straight, hips square – and you can play around with pointing the toes, balls, and heel of the feet to see which position feels best.
  • Shift the direction of the toes and heels clockwise and counter clockwise to experience how that affects the physical sensations in the pose.
  • If your balance is feeling solid, bring the lifted leg out to the side of the body until it’s parallel to the earth.  This should work the inner thigh and core, as well as your overall sense of balance.

This pose is great for the thighs and core, but you can also engage the arms and shoulders by actively pressing the palms into the earth as you lift the hips.  You may even opt to interlace the fingers and press both hands firmly down, walking the shoulders closer together.

For a more dynamic vinyasa version, inhale as you raise the hips up and arms up and behind the head.  On the exhale, bring the hips and hands back to their original positions. Continue with your own rhythm to your heart’s content!

It sounds kinda cheesy, but sometimes a yoga practice can really act as a bridge over troubled waters, so I couldn’t resist adding this song to the post.  Enjoy . . .

A few shots from around what could possibly be the next place I call ‘home’ . . .

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