Camel pose or Ustrasana, is a heart opening back bend pose. Back bending poses can be helpful to contrast our daily living of forward motions, like driving, being on a computer, eating. The majority of our time is spent moving forward, Camel helps us move back.
Just like with any other pose there are plenty of adjustments that can be made to help this pose fit with your body and how you’re feeling on any given day. Remember you’re finding your limits, if you get into a pose and feel like you’re putting stress on your body (breathing more rapidly, heart rate quickens, etc.) and taking a deep breath either doesn’t help or doesn’t seem like an option, then you’ve gone too far. In yoga we’re trying to stay in our bodies and in control of our bodies, that’s the challenge.
Before coming into Camel or attempting Camel, warm up your legs, shoulders and back. Some poses that can help you prep are:
You can hold this pose or add movement in by doing arm circles (to help warm up the shoulders) or by pressing your hips back and extending your front leg, then pressing your hips forward and extending more through your back leg, swapping these motions with your breath to dynamically stretch.
An alternative to Cobra is Sphinx pose, which is cobra on your forearms instead. The focus with either one of these poses is to use your ground connection (hands or forearms) to plant down and pull your chest forward and keep your shoulders down your back. Activate through your legs or glutes to stabilize your lower body to create length in your spine. No crunchy low backs. If it helps, imagine your spine is like a slinky, we want to create space and length
Not scrunch and bunch it all together
For the shoulders and upper back warm up you can do more dynamic stretching, like adding in arm circles or range of motion movements to the poses that you’re already doing, or bring your arms into field goal position
Once your warm, the next step is to build into camel pose. Remember to find your own stopping point and check in with yourself regularly to see how your body is responding to what you’re doing.
First, bring your knees underneath your hips, feet extended from your knees.
If you’d like a blanket or something underneath your lower body to help cushion more from the floor, I’d recommend a blanket underneath your legs, that way your knees and feet stay level with each other. You can either keep your feet flat (toes pointed) or your feet flexed (heels raised, ball of the feet on the ground). having the heels raised minimizes the distance you have to go with your arms to reach your heels.
Your upper body is upright, ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips and chin parallel to the ground (head and neck and extension of your spine)
Inhale and bring both arms back in a big circle motion. You‘re taking the heel of your hands onto the top of your hips to help provide stabilization to the hips and maintain length in your spine as you bend.
From here, inhale tall, then exhale and use your hands to gently press down and forward, keep your shoulders away from your ears, your arms reaching towards one another and your legs engaged to stabilize lower body, and begin to back bend, keeping the length in your spine and coming out tall from the top of your head, let your head and neck stay an extension of your spine.
This may be where you want to stop, or if there’s more, release both arms at the same time, keep your upper body as it is (with the back bend, everything engaged and stabilized) and bend your knees to bring yourself lower to grab onto your heels, once you have your heels you can then use your hands to help press up through your chest, coming into full Camel.
To release this pose, exhale and hinge from your shoulders and lower from your hips, bending your knees and bringing yourself back upright.
Rest in child’s pose after coming out of camel to help counter stretch the back bend.
Some other modifications for camel are:
-Using a strap underneath your ankles to help bring your arms towards your feet. -Sitting in a chair and focusing on opening through your upper body.
-Bringing your hands to your hips for a less intensive back bend
Talk with your yoga teacher for more options and help with your specific Camel.