16 Aug Camel Pose – Ustrasana – Asanas For All
Welcome to the next pose in my new series ‘Asanas For All’.
‘Asana’ is the sanskrit word meaning ‘pose’ and over the next few weeks I am going to show you how to do some intermediate yoga poses and how, with the use of props and modifications, they can be done by everyone!
Try this glorious back bend to help you improve your flexibility and to open the heart.
Camel is a strong back bend out of gravity that stretches your neck, pectoral muscles, abdomen, thighs, hip flexors (psoas), and groin. It strengthens your back muscles, gluteus muscles and arm muscles. It massages your internal organs.
The benefits of practicing Camel pose:
- Help reduce fatigue
- Eases anxiety
- Eases Menstrual discomfort
- Massages and stimulates your organs and charkas of the abdomen
- 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
- Stretches the ankles, thighs, groin, abdomen, chest, and throat
Areas for caution
Camel is a pose performed with your weight on your knees. When you kneel to perform Ustrasana you are putting a lot of pressure on the meniscus within the knee which can cause severe pain for some students. A way to ease the amount of pressure placed on the meniscus is to use a blanket underneath the knee to pad it.
Lower back (lumbar spine)
Camel pose involves a strong extension of the lumbar spine. Those people with lower back pain can find this pose uncomfortable as it requires a compression of the discs to take the full bend. This pose should be performed slowly and carefully and using the various modifications to enter the pose slowly.
During Camel Pose, when you take the full back bend, the head is tilted backwards which can cause a lot of pressure on the neck. To do Ustrasana without jamming your neck, you need a lot of extension in your upper back. In fact, before you can safely release your head, each vertebra in the thoracic must extend enough so that the topmost vertebra moves back at least 90 degrees from its original, upright position.
This pose is considered an intermediate pose and should definitely be performed with care and caution. There are many different modifications and props that you can use to make this pose accessible for everyone.
How to perform Camel Pose
1. In preparation to performing Ustrasana, ensure the body is properly warmed up by carrying out some lighter back bending asanas such as Cobra pose. It would also be useful to practise poses that open the chest, hip flexors, quadriceps and external rotators of the hip. It is also important to warm-up the neck muscles.
2. To move into Ustrasana, kneel with knees hip distance apart. Place the tops of the feet on the mat and set your hips over the knees (if your knees or ankles have discomfort in them, kneel on a folded blanket). Ground the pose by slightly pressing the top of your feet into the earth.
3. Place the hands on the hips with the thumbs facing towards the spine maintaining a light firmness in your abdomen. The base of your palms should go across the tops of your buttocks causing the fingers to point down. Encourage the lower back to lengthen as the tailbone moves further into a pelvic tilt as though it is drawing forward toward the pubis.
4. Lift the base of the spine and the ribs upwards to create an opening in the chest. Proceed into the back arch and roll your shoulders back by pressing your shoulder blades back and against your back ribs. Mindfully, keep the pelvis forward over your knees and slightly lean back against the firmness of the tailbone and shoulder blades.
5. Slightly twisting to one side, smoothly place one hand on the back of the one heel. Return the spine to centre to place the other hand on the other heel.
6. Relax the neck and jaw as you gently tilt your head back. Relax and soften your throat as much as possible.
7. During the static phase of this posture, keep the breath steady, mainly inhaling in to the upper chest. As you inhale, continue to lengthen through the chest and spine. The hips should continue to extend forwards and length in the ribs and chest should remain open to enable the spine to lengthen.
8. Slowly bring your hands onto the back of your pelvis one at a time. As you inhale, contract your abdominal muscles further to pull the bottom ribs forward causing the trunk to flex forward. Continue to lift your chest over the knees. When the chest is in line with the knees, gently bring the head forward.
9. Fold forward into Balasana and rest here for a few breaths as a counter pose to Ustrasana.
Props and Modifications
- Practising Camel against a wall helps stop the hips from moving backwards when performing the back bend. When students push against the wall, they push into the hips and help to support the knees and the lumbar spine.
- Place a blanket under the knees to protect them and prevent them from excess strain.
- For those students who can’t reach their heels, you can place a block or bolster on the heels which will elevate the hand placement and make it easier for them to reach a solid foundation.
- If you don’t feel comfortable taking both hands towards the heels, you can go into Half Camel (Ardha Ustrasana). In this pose you take one hand down to the heel and keep the other hand on the back, or reach it towards the ceiling. Remember to do this pose on both sides.