Camel Pose: Ustrasana Opening your heart to grace
Ustrasana is a deep back bend that takes patience and awareness. If done correctly, this pose will bring space to the entire front side of the body while strengthening the back and creating vitality and self-expression from with in. In all back bends one must be mindful not to feel all the sensation in the low back which often times can create compression in the lumbar spine. When one is able to find length and extension through the spine, the spine should feel like a wheel, an equal sensation and flow of energy throughout. Energetically this pose focuses on the heart center- a place of love, self-healing and compassion. The throat center will also be energized. This area ignites one’s self-expression and communication.
The benefits of Ustrasana include stretching the ankles, thighs, groins, hip flexors, abdomen, chest and throat. The back muscles are strengthened in this asana while improving the posture, bringing it into balance. The organs of the abdomen and the neck are stimulated as well. Therapeutically this pose helps with respitory problems, mild back aches, fatigue, anxiety and menstrual issues. People with serious back and/or neck injury or high or low blood pressure should refrain or use caution when performing this pose.
Start by coming on to the knees taking them hip width apart. Firmly press the shins and the tops of the feet or toes into the earth. Bring the fists just beneath the low back at the top of the sacrum. Use your fists to gently draw the tailbone down and away from the low back lengthening the base of the spine. At the same time, draw the belly up and in towards the spine engaging the core and bringing the spine into a neutral position. Feel your thighs spiral inward to create more space at the sacrum.
Inhale and begin to lengthen out of the low back. Pressing the shoulder blades in to the back ribs, lift the heart towards the sky and begin to lean back against the firmness of the back side of the body. Keep the gluteal muscles firm but not hard. Watch that your hips aren’t protruding too far forward moving beyond your knees. To counter act this, press your thigh muscles back towards the leg bones.
Begin to see if you can bring the hand to the heel. Mindful that you are not twisting the spine to do this. If you bring your hand to the heel rather than the top of the foot, the heel will be higher and less extension in the spine will be needed to accomplish this. If one hand reaches all the way down, allow the opposite hand to reach towards the sky. The spine should make a “c” curve rather than a “v” curve. The thighs are perpendicular to the floor and the thoracic (upper spine) is arched and lifted to the sky. Once you find stability, form and breath, take deep expansive breaths staying here for 10 breaths. Keep a slight tuck in the chin to avoid hyperextension in the cervical spine.
When you are ready to come up, bring your fists back to support the low back and return yourself to neutral position. To counter stretch the spine come onto all fours exhaling and rounding into cat pose. Bring awareness, space and breath into your upper and lower back. Repeat this process again by switching hands.
To Deepen The Pose:
Once you feel successful taking one hand down at a time, it’s time to try the full pose. The tops of the feel will firmly press into earth and once again both fists will be supporting the low back. As you come back into the extension this time, bring both hands down to the heels. Make sure you are lengthening out of the low back and opening the heart to the sky. Allow the neck to come back to the point where the throat opens but does not harden. Maintain a neutral alignment here in the cervical spine. Stay here for up to a minute. Make sure you support your low back again with your fists when you come up. Return to cat pose to neutralize the spine.
Practice this pose at your ability level to create better posture, strength, length and breath capacity in the body; also to increase vitality, energy, self-healing and expression with in yourself.