Don't miss the 7 day flow from Last weeks Poses
Ustrasana - Camel Pose
Beginners very often aren't able to touch their hands to their feet without straining their back or neck. First, try to turn your toes under and elevate your heels. If this doesn't work, the next thing to do is to rest each hand on a block. Position the blocks just outside each heel, and stand them at their highest height (usually about 9 inches). If you're still having difficulty, get a chair. Kneel for the pose with your back to the chair, with your calves and feet below the seat and the front edge of the seat touching your buttocks. Then lean back and bring your hands to the sides of the seat or high up on the front chair legs.
Step by Step
Come on your knees, place the knees hip width apart, body upright. Toes tucked under, or if you are more flexible, point your toes back.
- Place your hands on your lower back, heels of the hands resting on the lower back, fingers pointing down, or pressing thumbs into the lower back.
- Engage your legs. Pull the thighs back so the hips are still over the knees. Rotate the inner thighs in a little and with your hands help to lengthen the buttocks down. At the same time visualise drawing the front hipbones together and up to activate the belly. Your hip bones and lower ribs firm towards each other. Try to maintain this action throughout the pose.
- With the lower body stable, begin to breathe in towards the chest, drawing the shoulder blades back as you lift the chest.
- On an exhale start to come into your backbend keeping the chest lifted and without crunching the neck or lower back.
- You can keep the head neutral throughout the pose, chin towards the sternum (recommended), if you take the head back, do so only when the opening in the chest is at its fullest and your neck is long and happy.
- Lift the lower back ribs away from the lumbar spine to create even more length in the lower back and to facilitate the opening in the chest even more.
- Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, breathing into the chest to facilitate the opening there. When you notice you cannot breathe properly you are taking the pose too far and you should back off to a variation you can sustain with breathing smoothly.
- To come out, place the hands to the front hip bones and guide them down as you lift back up on an inhalation. If your head is all the way back lead with the heart, bring the head up last.
- Neutralize and lengthen your spine in Downward Facing Dog Pose before resting in Child's Pose for a few breaths.
- Reduces fat on thighs
- Opens up the hips, stretching deep hip flexors
- Stretches and strengthens the shoulders and back
- Expands the abdominal region, improving digestion and elimination
- Improves posture
- Opens the chest, improving respiration
- Loosens up the vertebrae
- Relieves lower back pain
- Helps to heal and balance the chakras
- Strengthens thighs and arms
- Improves flexibility, especially in the spine
- Stimulates endocrine glands
- Releases tension in the ovaries
- Stretches the ankles, thighs, groin, abdomen, chest, and throat
- Cures constipation
- Tones organs of the abdomen, pelvis, and neck
- Complements overall health and well-being
- If your knees or ankles have discomfort due to the floor, kneel on a folded blanket.
- If you're not able to touch your feet without causing compression in your lower back, tuck your toes under. With the heels elevated, you may have greater ease in placing the hands on the heels.
- For beginners, keep your hands on the back of the pelvis (not on the heels) and gently open the chest region by slightly arching the upper back. Maintain the light pelvic tilt to support your back as you draw your shoulders against your back ribs.
Contraindications and Cautions
- Lower back (especially herniation) and neck injury
- Injury or stiffness of the knees
- High or low blood pressure
- Internal organ surgery
- Setu Bandha
- Supta Virasana
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
- Setu Bandha
- Urdhva Dhanurasana
The Yoga Flow
The camel pose, ustrasana, is a good example. Here, rooted through the thighs and knees, the spine lifts, and the chest and throat open, creating a bloom that is nourished and sustained by the sap rising from earthy stores of the lower body. Such a flowering must be coaxed, not forced. In the camel pose, as in many backbends, that means anchoring through the pelvis and legs with the proper alignment, and then inviting the upper back, chest, and shoulders to open and welcome the flood of life-giving energy flowing up the central core of the body.
With careful preparation, the camel pose is valuable for beginners as well as more advanced students. It is more accessible than many backbends, such as the pigeon and wheel poses, but more exhilarating than the prone backbends, such as the cobra, in which you are working against gravity. In the camel, the feeling of falling backward is thrilling once you are stable and grounded enough in the lower body to feel secure and comfortable. As the focal point of the pose is in the chest, ustrasana makes a wonderful preparation for pranayama, and good therapy for anyone who tends to rounded shoulders or a sunken chest. It also strengthens the thighs and lower back, and increases awareness and strength in the pelvis.
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