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camel pose: ustrasana


A powerful way to boost your energy and your mood, Camel pose, or Ustrasana (oosh-TRAHS-anna), offers a long list of benefits for both the physical and subtle bodies. And thanks to its many different variations and modifications, there are plenty of ways for individuals of all levels to appreciate the chest-opening and chakra-opening effects of Camel pose.  

Philosophy + Origin

Although it’s named Camel pose because the shape resembles the hump on a camel’s back, there are other ways to consider the name when approaching the posture. Camels are not horses; they don’t move quickly. Instead, camels are known for their slow, steady, almost methodical way of moving. Rather than trying to race into the posture, being slow and methodical will help you find its benefits without risking injury or strain. In the same way, camels use their humps as food reserves, like well-packed bags ready to be used when needed. This type of physical preparation, a part of the camel’s natural adaptation for survival, is essential for this pose as well. Taking your time to gather and practice the skills and knowledge necessary to take a backbending journey will ensure that you come in and out of the posture with ease and poise.

ADJUSTMENTS/MODIFICATIONS

  • To lessen the intensity, keep your toes tucked rather than placing the tops of your feet flat on the floor
  • To reduce discomfort in your knees, place a folded blanket under them for extra padding
  • Keep your hands on your lower back and pelvis — rather than reaching back for your heels — to work on proper alignment and to lessen intensity. This modification is highly recommended for all beginning yoga students
  • Use a wall for extra support by placing the crown of your head against the wall as you extend back rather than letting the head hang
  • For more intensity, bring your thighs, knees, and ankles together to touch

CONTRAINDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS

  • Lower back and neck injury
  • Herniated discs
  • Knee injury, stiffness, or pain
  • Irregular blood pressure (high or low)
  • Pregnancy
  • Migraine
  • Insomnia

TIPS

Rather than thinking of Camel pose as a big backbend, approach the pose with a heart-opening intent. For alignment purposes, avoiding the desire to go back farther will help to keep your body safe and comfortable. Instead of reaching or going back as you deepen the pose, find depth from lifting your heart up more. To do this, pay attention to the way you integrate your shoulders into the posture, firming your shoulder blades into the back ribs.

STEP-BY-STEP

  1. Begin by kneeling at the top of your mat. Separate your knees so they are hip width apart (about two fists). Your thighs should be perpendicular to the floor, your shins and feet in line with your knees. Begin to slowly rotate your inner thighs back (you can learn this action by placing and squeezing a block between your thighs), but be sure to keep your glutes soft as you do.
  2. Place your hands, with your fingers pointing down, on your lower back/sacrum. Guide your tailbone down and then forward slightly toward your pubic bone — do not overemphasize this action. Keep pressing your thighs back as you use an inhale to start lifting your heart up. Find extension through your heart by bringing the shoulder blades down and into your back ribs.
  3. Begin to lean back without dropping your head. Keep your chin in close to your sternum. With your hands still on your sacrum, find more depth by continuing to draw your shoulders together, focusing on length and extension of the pose rather than depth. Once you’ve extended as far as you can, try reaching back with one hand at a time to find your feet. Your hands will rest on your heels if your toes are tucked. Otherwise, they will rest on the soles of your feet. If you can’t reach your feet without compressing your spine, feeling pinching, or losing the lift in your heart, keep your hands on your sacrum.
  4. Draw your front ribs in to keep your belly soft and your spine long. Lift your pelvis up as you focus on lengthening, especially in the lower back. Use your hands against your feet to lift more through your heart and sternum with each inhale. At this point, you can choose to drop your head back or to keep your head supported with the neck in a more neutral position.  
  5. Hold Camel pose for up to 60 seconds. As you leave the pose, return your hands to your pelvis and use an inhalation to come up, pushing the hip points down for support. Lead with your heart, head coming up last. Take a few breaths to rest in an easy neutral pose, such as Virasana or a kneeling pose.

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PREPARATORY POSES

  • Bhujangasana
  • Dhanurasana
  • Salabhasana
  • Setu Bandha
  • Supta Virasana
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
  • Virasana

FOLLOW-UP POSES

  • Dandasana
  • Sarvangasana
  • Sirsasana
  • Urdhva Dhanurasana
  • Virasana

SANSKRIT

  • Ustra = camel
  • Asana = pose

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

  • Stretches your front body, especially the neck, chest, abdomen, thighs, hip flexors, groins, and ankles
  • Strengthens the muscles in the back body, especially the back, glutes, and triceps
  • Stimulates the internal organs in your abdomen by providing a gentle massage
  • Improves overall posture

ENERGETIC BENEFITS

  • Stimulates energetic centers in the body, primarily the chakras located in the navel, heart, and throat

MANTRA

“Yam”

The seed mantra for the heart is “yam.” Reciting this simple yet powerful mantra will encourage your heart to open and balance with your other energy centers.

MUDRA: Hridaya

To practice this heart chakra mudra, bring your index fingers to the base of your thumbs. Press the tips of your middle fingers and ring fingers to the tips of your thumb. The pinky fingers extend straight up. Allow your hands to rest in your lap or on your knees with the palms of your hands facing up.

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