Ustrasana - as it’s written in Sanskrit - is a deep, back-bending and heart-opening pose. This backbend offers great benefits, especially for those of us hunched over behind a computer all day.
When practicing Camel, alignment and preparation are key. This pose offers a deep stretch to the entire front of your body as well as a backbend which can help to relieve pain in your neck and back.
However if done out of alignment, this pose has potential to cause injury. As with any yoga pose, I suggest that every student study alignment cues carefully. Practice non-competition and always listen to your body, as it is truly the best guide.
If you are just starting out with Camel pose, be gentle with your back and only recline slightly. Over time you will find that it becomes easier to work into the full extension of the pose. Ready to get started? Here are five alignment tips to keep in mind.
Begin by coming down to your knees on your mat. Spread your knees hip distance apart with your toes tucked under. If you have more practice with Camel you may find more extension by untucking your toes.
Find your personal comfort level. Draw your hips directly above your knees, tuck your tailbone under and engage your core by drawing your belly in.
Place the palms of your hands on your lower back, on either side of your spine. Your fingers should point down towards the ground. Focus on drawing your elbows together. Try to imagine that you are squeezing a block between your elbows.
Lengthen up through the crown of your head, chin parallel to the ground, with your shoulders relaxed away from your ears.
Continue to lengthen as you arch your spine back over your feet. Imagine you are rounding your back over a giant beach ball. Continue to round and drop back, using your breath to bring you deeper into the pose. Keep your abs engaged and core strong.
Once you have reached a place that feels like the full extension of your backbend, test yourself. Release your hands from your lower back and allow them to drop down towards your heels.
If your hands can easily touch your feet, wrap your hands around your heels. Push into your hands to lift your heart to the sky, feeling a deep stretch in the entire front side of your body. If your hands do not reach your feet, keep them on your lower back to support your spine.
Once you have found your full extension of the pose, you may choose to drop your head back and release your neck. Wherever you find yourself, hold this pose for 3-5 breaths.
Continue to relax your shoulders, engage your abs, tuck your tailbone, and push your hips forward so that they are directly over your knees. Some people will find that when they drop back, their hips dip back as well. It is important to keep pushing them forward.
Remember, like with any pose in yoga, there are many variations of Camel depending on your flexibility, strength and experience. A tip I once received from another teacher was to practice this pose against a wall. Face the wall with your thighs and hips pressing against it. Try to keep your thighs and hips against the wall through the entire pose.
This may seem a bit awkward at first, however it is a great reminder to keep your hips pressing forward and aligned above your knees.
Try out this pose at home as part of your practice. I suggest testing out every variation to find a place that feels nice and comfortable for your body. When you find that sweet spot, a mix of challenge and relaxation, Camel will be one of your favorite poses.
I personally love to practice Camel pose on hump day, mixing it in to my Wednesday practice. I keep track of how my body responds to the pose, finding new levels of extension every time.
I hope you find these alignment tips helpful in your own practice. If you have any tips or tricks you’ve learned along the way, I’d love to hear them!