Ustrasana, Intense Backbend to Open heart with Camel Pose
Back bending Yoga asanas are a powerful means of strengthening the logical thinking of the mind. Ustrasana is no different, it gives an anti-gravitational lift to the spine and the associated muscles.
Ustra is Sanskrit for Camel; this is a yoga pose in which the curvature of the chest resembles the camel’s hump, and the bend in the legs at the knees is similar to the bend in the front legs of the camel who is beginning to sit form standing position.
Hindu mythology speaks about the camel being the favorite animal of the ancient teacher Rishi Sukra, also known to personify the planet, Venus. Thus Ustrasana is known to impart the qualities associated with the planet Venus to its practitioner like Virility.
Ustrasana is also a perfect preparatory Yoga asana for all the back bending asanas as it improves the flexibility of the muscles around the spine which are responsible for inducing a backward bend into it.
Preparatory Postures for Ustrasana
- Supt Virasana
Details of how to get into Ustrasana
- Kneel on the yoga mat with knees and feet hip distance apart, make sure that the shins are parallel to each other and both the toes are pointing backward with the tops of the feet resting on the mat
- Place the hands on the hips with the thumbs pressed against the sacrum – base of the spine – , fix the hips directly over the knees, rotate the thighs inward and firm up the buttocks, push the tailbone down with the palms, and then in, to lengthen the lumbar spine downwards, slightly contract the navel region while inhaling
- Take another inhalation and lift the ribcage, pull the elbows towards each other behind the back, this will expand the chest from the front
- Lift the sternum towards the ceiling while inhaling, simultaneously firm up the upper back by drawing the shoulder blades towards each other pushing the ribcage up from behind
- Now start bending backwards while continuously lengthening the spine from the base of the lower back to the occipital joint at the skull, the lower front ribs should not be visible while the chest is pointing upwards, now push the pelvis from the front up, after which lift the lower back of the ribcage up in order to maintain the length of the spine, hold this position for 10 to 15 secs
- Release the palms from the waist and drop them down and back to reach the heels with the same arm on the same palm, the palms must grip the heels and the fingers stretched along the length of the soles, rotate the elbows outward
- Drop the head back extending the front of the neck without straining it, keep the knees and the feet into the yoga mat for achieving stability in the final posture of ustrasana, keep the pelvis pushed forward and up to maintain the thighs perpendicular to the yoga mat, press the palms on the heels and push the shoulders up in order to bolster the upper back below the raised chest, distribute the weight of the body equally over the legs and the arms, hold this position while breathing normally from the nose
- To come out of the ustrasana contract the abdomen to prevent the torso from falling back as the hands are released from the heels and placed on the sides of the waist, now inhale and lift he torso up while pressing the hips down toward the yoga mat, The weight of the body is equally disyributed over the knees and the arms, while coming up make sure that the heart or the top of the chest leads the head and not otherwise, rest for a while in Child Pose
Breathing, Pattern & duration
In case of dynamic variation ( Breath coordinated rhythmically with every movement
Lift the chest up by inhaling for 3 seconds, hold the breath for 6 seconds in the final posture, Return to the starting position by exhaling for 3 seconds.
One can practice ustrasana for a maximum of 3 times in its dynamic variation.
In case of Static variation
Inhale while lifting the ribcage. Breathe normally, slow and rhythmically in the final pose of Ustrasana for not more than 3 minutes. Exhale while releasing the pose back to the starting position. Avoid inhaling deeply in the final posture as the chest is in a stretch.
Ustrasana must be not be done for more than one or a maximum of two repetitions.
Alignment essentials and Modifications – Ustrasana
The benefits of Camel pose can be available to everyone by making proper modifications for different body types and flexibility levels. Also, follow the details of the alignments mentioned here, along with the yoga alignment principles, for completing the experience of this yoga pose.
- In case the knees hurt in the kneeling position, one can use a folded blanket, yoga mat under them as a support
- In order to prevent the legs from splitting outward tighten a belt around the knees, or place a block lengthwise between the knees and keep them presses on it from both the sides up till the asana is released
- While the palms are on the hips, in the beginning, press them down and lift the chest up, stretching the front of the abdomen to its maximum limit, this will help by intensifying the back bending ability of the spine
- Holding the neck up, and not allowing it to fall backward in the final position of ustrasana will help tone the muscles of the neck ( Sternocleidomastoids)
- In case dropping the head back feels uncomfortable, release it downwards slowly with the mouth open, and the jaws relaxed, keep the eyes focused on a point
- In order to intensify the pose keep the heels, knees, and thighs touching each other before extending the torso up and then bending the spin backward, place the palms on the heels as before
- Another way of accentuating the pose is by holding the left heel with the right palm and the right heel with the left palm, everything else remains the same
- In case the inflexibility of the spine is restricting the palms from reaching the heals, turn the toes in, this will raise the heels higher for the palms to grasp
- The Mind should focus on the forward extension of the hips, chest, and the shoulder, this will help strengthen the gluteus maximus, latissimus, and erector spinae muscles along the back
- While doing ustrasana concentrate on lengthening the spine along its entire length, instead of on a local extension
Learn to engage the right attitude, action , and alignment while practicing any yoga asana.
Precautions and Common Faults
- Avoid drawing the shoulders towards each other in ustrasana, this will strain the neck
- Avoid letting the knees, legs split apart, this will crunch up the lower back instead of extending it higher
- If the neck muscles are weak avoid hanging it backward, doing this will shorten the spine
- In case of strain is felt in the lower back it signifies that the pelvis has been pushed less forward, tighten the hips, relax the quadriceps and now thrust the pelvis forward again
Follow up poses for Ustrasana
- Sisula asana ( child Pose)
Contraindications – When not to do Ustrasana
Avoid doing Ustrasana in case the following conditions are present.
- Lumbago or lower back pain
- Enlarged thyroid – can do with care
- A migraine
- Serious neck injury
- A Condition of having abnormal blood pressure ( high or low)
Advantages- Benefits of Ustrasana – Camel Pose
- Ustrasana stretches the entire anterior side of the body, ankles’ and groin included
- Stretches the Psoas muscle
- Maintaining the final posture for long help strengthen the muscles of the back
- It improves the posture by working on the chest, shoulders and the spine
- It innervates the abdominal organs, as well as the thyroid and parathyroid glands present in the neck
- Since this yoga pose expands open the chest increasing the thoracic cavity by creating a vacuum within it helps heal asthma or emphysema, ustrasana forms an integral part of the yoga techniques for curing asthma
- The range of motion of the hip joint is improved by practicing ustrasana, this increases the length of the stride while running
- A stretched Poas and the quadriceps benefit the issues related to the lower back like lumbago an is a part of yoga to heal sciatica pain.
- The camel pose stretches the stomach and the intestines improving the process of peristalsis which relieves constipation
- Being an intense backbend it loosens the vertebrae relieving the pressure on the spinal nerves
- This yoga pose acts as a posture corrector for round back and drooping shoulders
- It tones up the vocal apparatus present within the neck
- Ustrasana helps relieve any menstrual discomfort if present and is crucial to treating menstrual issues the yoga way
- It improves splanchnic circulation
- It is good for the health of the ovaries and is taught as a part of yoga for ovaries health in the yoga therapy classes
- Camel pose also aids in preventing flabbiness
- It heals fatigue and anxiety if present
The Bhava ( Attitude) which Ustrasana comes under
Ustrasana comes under Aisvarya bhava; as it builds up the feeling of enthusiasm and strength within the practitioner.
The Chakras ( Nerve Plexuses) Ustrasana works upon-
Though Ustrasana works on all the chakras with differing intensities, the chakra it impacts the most is the Anahata Chakra or the heart chakra. The heart is the region where fears and trauma can settle in. Ustrasana cleanses the heart of these negativities, a healed heart is more open and accepting of new, and experiences and personalities.
It also impacts the throat chakra or the Visudha chakra positively. The Visudha chakra of Individuals who practice ustrasana regularly gain confidence in expressing themselves more effectively.
Sit in Vajrasana,Place the palms a few inches behind the toes, palms facing away from the toes, take a deep inhalation and lift the hips up, drop the head down backwards, keep in pushing the waist and the hips higher , stay in this position as long as possible while breathing normally, exhale and lower the hips back in between the heels as in Vajrasana, relax in Child pose for a while.
Begin by getting into the basic pose of ustrasana as explained, stand on the knees, hands on the respective heels, hips pushed forward and up, head dropped back, now keeping the right hand on the right heel swing the left hand up from the front and drop it backwards till it comes parallel to the floor, make sure both the shoulders are at the same level horizontally, stay in this position while breathing normally, exhale and release the pose by sitting back in Vajrasana, rest for a while in Child pose before beginning the next round.
Sit in Vajranasan, place the finger tips of both the palms on the mat 4-5 inches away from the toes, back of th epalms facing away from the toes, take a deep inhalation and lift the hips up, throw the chest up and forward up till the thighs become perpendicular to the knees, drop he head down and deepen the arch from the knnes to the top of the head by pushing the waist and the hips forward, hold this position while retaining the breath till comfortable, exhale and release the pose by sitting back into Vajrasana, Relax in the child pose.