Camel Pose — Ustrasana (ooh-STRAHS-uh-nuh) — is a backbend that stretches the whole front of the body. It is performed on the knees and is often used as preparation for deeper backbends. This pose is a popular component of Vinyasa and Power Yoga classes, and it is also one of the 26 poses practiced in Bikram Yoga.
Ustrasana is an intermediate level back-bending yoga posture known to open Anahata (Heart chakra). Its name comes from the Sanskrit words “ustra” (meaning “camel”) and “asana” (meaning “pose”). Practicing Ustrasana daily can be a great way to relieve neck and back pain caused by slouching in front of a computer or driving.
Benefits of Camel Pose
Ustrasana stretches the front of the body, particularly the chest, abdomen, quadriceps, and hip flexors. It improves spinal flexibility, while also strengthening the back muscles and improving posture. This pose creates space in the chest and lungs, increasing breathing capacity and helping to relieve respiratory ailments. Ustrasana also stimulates the kidneys, which improves digestion. This pose energizes the body and helps to reduce anxiety and fatigue.
Known as a “heart opening” yoga pose, Ustrasana stimulates and balances both the fourth and fifth chakras, located at the heart and throat centers, respectively. In many practitioners, the heart and throat centers are often closed off and protected, as evidenced by slouching, lowered chins, and poor posture. For this reason, practicing Ustrasana can sometimes stir up emotions in the practitioner more than other poses. It is important to keep a calm awareness of your feelings when practicing this pose; fear of your emotions can create stiffness in the body and may lead to injury.
Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing high or low blood pressure, insomnia, or a migraine. Also avoid this pose if you have a low back or neck injury. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Do Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
- Begin by kneeling upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Rotate your thighs inward and press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor. Do not squeeze your buttocks.
- Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, with your fingers pointing to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone down toward the floor and widen the back of your pelvis.
- Lean back, with your chin slightly tucked toward your chest. Beginners can stay here, keeping their hands on their back pelvis.
- If you are comfortable here, you can take the pose even deeper. Reach back and hold onto each heel. Your palms should rest on your heels with your fingers pointing toward your toes and your thumbs holding the outside of each foot.
- Keep your thighs perpendicular to the floor, with your hips directly over your knees. If it is difficult to grasp your heels without feeling compression in your low back, tuck your toes to elevate your heels. You can also rest your hands on yoga blocks placed to the outside of each foot.
- Lift up through your pelvis, keeping your lower spine long. Turn your arms outward without squeezing your shoulder blades. Keep your head in a neutral position, or allow it to drop back without straining or crunching your neck.
- Hold for 30-60 seconds. To release, bring your hands back to your front hips. Inhale, lead with your heart, and lift your torso by pushing your hips down toward the floor. Your head should come up last. Rest in Child’s Pose (Balasana) or Corpse Pose (Savasana).
One of the most common problems in camel is keeping the thighs upright. As you take the chest back, you want to make sure that your thighs are following it and ending up slanting back instead of staying fully vertical. To check if this is happening, take you pose over to a wall. Set up with the front of your thighs on the wall. As you reach back, make sure that your thighs and even your hip points stay in contact with the wall the whole time. You may find that you can’t reach your heels as easily when you really monitor you thigh position. If this is the case, adjust your grip by taking one of the heel variations described below. This is a good exercise for both beginning and advanced students.
Camel Pose for Beginners
Ustrasana can be an energizing way to gain spinal flexibility. However, it’s important to learn how to do it correctly to avoid injury and strain. Ustrasana can be a very difficult pose for the neck, especially if your shoulders are tight. Remember never to force your body into the pose. Practice a modified version until you have gained the amount of flexibility and strength you need to safely go deeper.
- Use blocks on either side of your feet if you need a little more height for your hands.
- You can keep your hands on your low back if reaching back for your feet or blocks isn’t a good fit.
Camel Pose for Advanced
You can increase the challenge of Ustrasana by performing some variations:
- For a greater opening in the chest, shoulders, and arms, cross your forearms and take hold of the opposite ankles.
- You can also try a variation where one arm holds your heel while the other one reaches toward the ceiling.
Reach Back & Open Up
Ustrasana can be an emotionally moving and energizing yoga posture. It is vital to listen to your body throughout the pose. If your breath becomes short and strained, ease up a bit. Keep your thoughts calm and steady by returning your awareness to your breath and the present moment. Like a camel, Ustrasana can take you on a journey to new and foreign parts of yourself. Take the path slowly, stay in the moment, and allow these new parts of yourself to open wide.