Uṣṭrāsana or Camel Pose is most likely named for the hump in a camel’s back. But there’s more camel imagery that might be helpful when cultivating this posture. Many yogis hold a lot of tension in the jaw, palette, and throat when exploring this back bend. Letting go or releasing in these areas can be one of the biggest challenges. Imagine how camels slowly chew their food, their jaw rolls slowly as they go through the process, no rush, no clenching, just a relaxed, rhythmic motion. Before working on this pose, lazily roll your jaw in your mouth to release any tension in the face surrounding the hinge area. Try to invoke this relaxed feeling as you practice.
Be sure to come in and out of the Camel slowly. If you take several rounds, pause in between to reset and calibrate the spine. Sit back on the heels or find sukhāsana (easy pose) for a few breaths. A gentle twist or side stretch may also feel good. Resist the temptation to find a full forward fold until you are finished working on your back bends.
Try these variations for Camel Pose:
Option 1: Hands at the Heart. Come to a high kneeling position. The toes can be tucked or the feet can be flush to the mat. Choose whichever feels most comfortable and stable for you. Stand up tall on the knees, reach the tailbone towards the floor, hug the belly and ribs in, and soften the shoulders. Begin to lift the heart towards the chin, as you do, reach the crown of the head toward the ceiling. Gently, raise the heart toward the ceiling, keeping the neck long and head lifted. Soften through the jaw, palette, and throat.
Option 2: Hands to the Back. Bring the hands to your back, resting on the hips with fingers pointing down. If your wrists and shoulders are more open, turn the wrists to point up. Broaden through the back and pull the shoulder blades towards the hips. Hug the elbows towards one another without collapsing the back. Press the hands into the back, guiding the hips forward and the tailbone down. Lift the heart up and then toward the ceiling. Keeping the neck long, release the back of the head if can do this without crunching the top of the shoulders.
Option 3: One Hand. Follow the instructions for Option 1, then, release one hand to a block set just outside the heel. If you are more open, release the hand directly to the heel. When the hand finds connection, lift the hips forward and reach the heart into the other hand. Square the shoulders in line with the hips. Come back to neutral and then find the second side.
Option 4: Full Uṣṭrāsana. Come into the pose with hands at the heart or hands to the back. Release the hands to the heels, trying to maintain a long spine, lifted hips, and open heart. Relax through the face and neck. Lift the heart for full expansion. If the neck allows, reach the crown of the head behind you for your fullest expression of the pose.
Pace yourself as you work on these back bends. In time the spine is strong and pliable enough to find a deeper expression. Follow this #PowerPose challenge @suzannewrightyoga on Instagram or at Suzanne Wright Yoga on Facebook. If you post your pictures or about your experience be sure to tag #PowerPose and @suzannewrightyoga.