Camel Pose  -Ustrasana

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.
  • 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.

Beginners tips

  • When coming into this pose, bring one hand at a time towards the feet.
  • Remember you can tuck your toes to make it easier to reach your feet.
  • If it's still difficult use blocks on the side of each foot or keep the hands on the backs of the hips.

Benefits

  • Opens the belly, chest, heart, shoulders and upper back.
  • Stretches the whole front of the body including ankles, thighs and groin.
  • Strengthens the legs and back.
  • Improves your posture.
  • Stimulates the organs in the belly.
  • Energizes body and mind.

Watch out for...

  • Straining your neck - if you have any injury or neck sensitivity please keep your neck in a neutral position or with the chin towards the chest so that the back of the neck is long and relaxed.
  • Lower back - if you have a back injury do a more gentle backbend like the sphinx pose.
  • Lightheadedness / dizziness - if you are compressing the neck too much it can lead to these sensations. 
  • Sensitive knees - place a blanket or double your mat under your knees to reduce sensitivity.

Variations

  • Practise the pose while you squeeze a block between your inner thighs.
  • You can work on the opening in the chest, with every in-breath lifting the chest more with the shoulderblades supporting and firming, keeping your hands in the lower back for support and reminding yourself to keep length in the lower back.
  • Try this pose with the front of your body against a wall. Keep pressing the thighs to the wall as you bend back.