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Pose of the Month: Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

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Camels represent fortitude and determination. They teach us to stay the course and trust in the outcome. Camels seem to have the gift of accomplishing the impossible, and when we bring our bodies into the pose of the camel, we awaken that same gift inside of us. With consistent practice, we will find the source of strength that will sustain us even in the sometimes harsh climates of our lives.

Ustrasana brings us out of our daily habitual posture of rounding the back and hunching over. It 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. Ustrasana can sometimes stir up emotions in the practitioner more than other poses.

Ustrasana brings us into a posture of opening the front body as well as elongating the spine. It can be a very difficult posture and it is a challenge to do without overarching in the low back, which causes compression and pain in the lower spine. In order to prevent that compression and discomfort, it is important to find a long arc of extension from the sacrum to the crown of the head. I like to think of it like the arc of a candy cane – the heart center going up up up, and then going back. In Ustrasana, our legs are grounded so the extension and expansion is more focused on the thoracic spine (middle/upper) and cervical spine (neck).


Pose Type:
backbend

Benefits:
• Stretches the entire front of the body, the ankles, thighs and groins, abdomen and chest, and throat
• Stretches the deep hip flexors (psoas)
• Strengthens back muscles
• Improves posture
• Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and neck

Preparatory poses: cobra; upward facing dog; locust; bridge, hero, reclined hero, wheel; supine wheel

Follow-up poses: staff; hero; wheel; supine wheel; bridge; shoulder stand; headstand

Tips:
• When practicing backbends, it is crucial to create length between your vertebrae, being careful not to collapse or crunch into the pose. Keep your pelvis stable as you lift and lengthen your sternum toward the sky.
• Take the pose slowly, only going as deep as your body will allow without pain.
• Avoid pinching the shoulders together, tensing the neck.
• Avoid crunching the lower back by squeezing the butt, pushing the knees wider than hip-width apart, or pooching the belly.

Variations:
• If it is difficult for you to touch your hands to your feet, tuck your toes to elevate your heels.
• If it is still difficult to reach your feet, bring your hands to your low back/sacrum for support or place your hands on yoga blocks positioned outside of each foot.
• To deepen the pose, squeeze a block between your thighs.
• You can go deeper into this posture by bringing your hands up over your head and reaching for your toes, letting your head rest between your feet.

Cautions:
• High or low blood pressure
• Migraine
• Serious low back or neck injury


"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete"

~ Jack Kornfield

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