An elegant heart-opening, back and thigh stretcher or the bane of your life? We take a closer look at Ushtrasana or Camel Pose, its benefits and how to get into it without getting the hump!
When it gets to the part in your yoga lesson where your instructor says, "gently lean back into Camel," are you discreetly looking at the door to see if you can sneak out without being seen?
Don't run out! Let us tell you why Camel Pose is good for you and how you can make it more bearable and you never know, you may even get to love it like we do.
6 benefits of Camel Pose
1. It's a heart-opener. What we mean is that it's a great way to open your heart and share all the love you have inside with the universe. Practically speaking though, it's great for increasing chest and lung capacity assisting the respiratory system.
2. Stretches the spine. You may hear a crack or two during this pose and that's a good thing as it releases any tension and loosens up the vertebrae. Great after a long day at the office and we even recommended doing it at some point during the work day. Just ignore your colleagues' funny looks.
3. Preparation for back-bending. Let's face it there's a lot of back-bending in yoga and even more people who make it seem so easy. Master Camel and you're well on your way to much more complex poses, like Laruga Glaser here for instance...
No? Well, Camel is a good starting point for backbends, anyway.
4. Front thigh stretch. Fantastic for flexibility and Hanumasana preparation (what? You can't do Monkey Pose yet? Why in heavens not? We jest. Neither can we).
5. Ab work out. Try to get back up from Ushtrasana without tensing your abs. It's not going to happen, is it.
6. Makes you feel like a yoga goddess. We think it looks pretty awesome (Exhibit A, this sickeningly lovely photo below).
For the yoga geeks out there, here's a very thorough and in-depth article on the complete benefits of this pose, including curing "Vata, Pitta and kapha dosha", got it?
For a briefer guide, please see the very helpful diagram below.
7 ways to get comfortable in Camel
1. Double-up the mat. Folding up the mat two or three times under the knees helps during the pose but especially in getting out of the pose where a lot of pressure is put on our poor knees.
2. Don't bend the head back. This is not a necessity. If it doesn't feel good, then you don't have to do it. It's still classified as yoga if you take this alternative.
3. Grab your butt cheeks. (Go on. You know you want to.) Instead of going straight for the heels of your feet, place your hands on the lower back or the butt, or the upper thighs, whatever feels comfortable.
4. Hand in the sky. Keep one arm raised upwards (you can have that hand in a mudra to make you feel super-yogic) making it much easier to get back up.
5. Use the wall. It's a wall. It's there for support. Lean on it. Prepare to get into Camel pose with your back to the wall, and your heels touching the wall. Lean backwards till your back touches the wall. When you feel more comfortable, raise the arms upwards till they reach the wall and drop the head back (or not; it's up to you).
6. Use a friend. A friend or teacher can stand behind you with you leaning back as far as possible, resting your shoulders on their legs and dropping your head back, if you can, in between. Yes, you'll be looking up their hoo-ha, but this is yoga; we're used to it.
7. Partner up. Partner Camel is loads of fun and there are a lot of different modifications. Go on, experiment!
This video gives practical tips on how to get into the pose with correct alignment using a wall as a guide (her English is not perfect but she's very sweet and the tips are helpful).
And of course we can always rely on MyYogaOnline and Kino for their very thorough and helpful video guides.
Feel better about Ushtrasana now? We hope so!
Please try our tips above and send us any pictures, or upload to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using #lotsofyoga and we'll do our best to regram/retweet/repost.