Sethu Bandasana - Mythology and Symbolism

In India's older of the two Ithihasas ( which means 'that which happened as such'), Ramayana, Shri Rama builds a bridge (called Sethu) to Sri Lanka from India with the help of an army of monkeys. According to mythology, Rama lived in the treta yuga, estimated to be between 10000 and 70000 years ago. The thin strip of land barely submerged in the water between Sri Lanka and India is called Ram Setu and some people believe it to be the remnants of the bridge built by Rama to rescue Sita from the wicked asura  (demon) king, Ravana, of Sri Lanka. 

Ram Setu as seen from the sky

Ram Setu as seen from the Indian side

Hanuman and Sugriva writing Shri Rama's name on the rocks

In Ramayana, it is believed that when the monkeys helping Shri Rama, wrote his name on the rocks, the rocks floated on the water due to his divine presence, for he was considered to be the avatar of Lord Vishnu. 

Sethu Bandasana (shown below) is the last asana of the Ashtanga Vinyasa primary series. Sethu, as previously mentioned, means bridge in Sanskrit and bandha means bind. The hands are bound together in this bridge pose and hence the name. Many people who practice ashtanga vinyasa yoga, either skip this pose or do a modified version of this pose and teachers often tell new students to skip this pose in a lead class. This is because of the acute angle at which the neck is placed which can injured someone who is not careful.

 The important thing to bear in mind while doing this pose is the engagement of moola bandha. As mentioned in this article, bandhas, especially Moola bandha, are great protectors in asana practice.  When the moola bandha is engaged one would fell the hips rise upward, the legs become taut and engaged and the feet strongly rooted on the yoga mat. When done in this fashion, the strain on the neck is less. The upward lift that one experiences from the moola bandha is symbolic of the rocks floating in the water due to the divinity of Lord Rama's name written on them.