Although ustrasana (camel pose) is commonly practiced by students who are newer to backbends, it shares common techniques with more advanced asanas, and is an ideal pose with which to start deepening your understanding of backbends. It is also a pose where individuals can get first hand experience of how Iyengar yoga methods can transform something that might initially feel cramped and uncomfortable, into a pose with space and a feeling of composure. This post looks at one way of learning ustrasana in stages. The methods will be well suited to newer students, and will help to impart an understanding of how to safely practice this key backbend.
This version of ustrasana is an ideal starting point when you are new to the pose. Having your toes tucked under like this elevates your heels making them easier to reach. It also helps to keep your body weight forwards. You are aiming to keep your hips slightly forwards of your knees. Don’t allow your toes to become compressed. Press them into the floor to lift the heels higher. When your fingertips reach the heels maintain this lift.
Key points: hips forwards, chest upwards.
This version of the pose enables you to have your shins flat to the floor. The bolster placed over the lower calf gives the fingertips a solid support without needing to reach back as far as the feet. This enables you to get a taste of the pose whilst remaining in a more upright position. The gaze can either remain forwards in this position or you can begin to look up.
Key Points: Press the lower shins/ankles down to move your hips forwards. Press your fingertips firmly down into the bolster to lift your chest upwards.
This version of ustrasana is a development of the previous position. The bolster is now moved further back so that it rests on the soles of your feet. Your hands come further back and down to reach the bolster. This brings you a little deeper into the backbend. Check that it is only your arms and shoulders that reach further back, your hips and chest remain forwards. Your hands press firmly down on the bolster without slipping towards the toes. You can begin to look up and slightly back without dropping your head. This version of the pose allows people with tight shoulders to have their hands slightly wider than their feet.
Key points: Press the tops of your feet down without rolling towards the big toe side. Lift the backs of your thighs up as you move your hips forwards. Use your shoulder blades to lift and open your chest.
It is important to be able to access the region of the lower shin in order to generate lift in ustrasana. Ideally this part of the leg presses firmly down into the floor. This action of having the shins flat to the floor does not come easily for many bodies. In order to emphasise this contact, a rolled blanket can be placed under the lower shins. The hands now can come further back. Starting with your fingertips on the heels, you begin to bring the palms down flat to the soles of the feet.
Key points: Shins press down, backs of the thighs lift up, fronts of the thighs draw downwards, move the part of the spine between the shoulder blades deep into the body.
Ustrasana can be seen as a transition pose that links preparatory backbends with more advanced backbends. Techniques used in this pose will be consistent and complimentary with techniques used in more challenging poses. This article shows one approach to learning this pose in stages. The methods explored here will help you to maximise chest opening in the pose, whilst minimising the risk of injury to your lower back. This approach to the pose will help to keep your backbend practice on a healthy trajectory as it evolves over time.
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