What is Ustrasana?
‘Ustrasana’ comes from ‘camel pose’. It resembles the hump on a camel’s back, and its slow, steady and confident nature. A strong backbend, it is a wonderful chest opener that opens up the Anahata Chakra, the heart center. Practicing the camel pose helps us find our balance, stay calm and release fears. In the posture we bend backwards without seeing where our hands are going - we depend on our senses and a trust in our own balance, strength and ability. The opening of the Anahata Chakra provides an emotional balance.
Initially, Ustrasana might be uncomfortable and variations can be adapted. However, with practice, we learn to push our limits and trust our bodies. In the way a camel adapts, we slowly and steadily learn to stay in the posture with ease. Breath awareness and control is one of the best ways to enhance progression. Physically, we are strengthening the back and shoulders, improving respiration, and flexibility in the hips.
Position type: Kneeling down
Posture type: Backbend
Ideal for: Back and core strength
Pose level: Intermediate
How can you prepare for the asana
- Hip flexibility: The better the hip flexibility, the more comfortable the asana will be. Practice standing triangle, lunges and simple hip openers like garland pose and pigeon pose regularly to improve and achieve hip flexibility.
- Lower back flexibility: Since this is an intense backbend, flexibility in the lower back is important. Practice the cobra pose, locust pose, and forward bends like seated forward bend and standing forward fold to improve flexibility.
- Core strength: Developing strength is always helpful. In Ustrasana it will help to hold the posture for longer. Regular practice of a few postures like the triangle pose, the warrior series, boat pose and plank are good for this.
How to practice Ustrasana
Getting into the posture
- Kneel on the mat and place your hands on the hips.
- Your knees should be in line with the shoulders and the sole of your feet should be facing the ceiling. Keep the knees hip width apart.
- As you inhale, gently lengthen the spine and bring the pelvis in line with the thighs.
- Now slowly, arch your back and bend backwards. Now place the right hand on the right heel and as you exhale, drop your head back, circle the left hand from forward, up and back to the left heel.
- Gently drop your neck. Do not strain it. You can also keep it in a neutral position.
- Your toes can either be tucked or softened based on your flexibility.
- Stay here for a few deep, slow breaths.
Getting out of the posture
- To come out of the posture, inhale and slowly lift the head and then the left hand and bring it back to the front.
- Once again, as you inhale slowly raise the right hand and kneel back down
- Go into child’s pose for a few breathe.
What are the benefits of practicing Ustrasana?
The pose improves posture by opening up the shoulders. It also relieves back pain. The spine, spinal nerves, muscles and glutes also get stronger. Since it is also a chest opener, it strengthens the chest as well. While in the posture, you have to engage your core, hamstrings and quadriceps, so areas like the abdomen, thighs and hips also get stronger. It's wonderful for those suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions too. Emotionally, it makes you stronger, more confident and fearless.
What are the contraindications of Ustrasana?
This asana should be avoided if there is any pain or injury in the ankles, knees, calves, thighs, back, shoulders or neck. Even those with high or low blood pressure should be careful.
Counter poses of Ustrasana
Always practice counter poses, especially for intermediate and advanced asanas. For the camel pose, you can practice:
- Child’s pose or Shashankasana acts as a restorative posture that relaxes the back, hips, thighs and arms. In Ustrasana, all these areas get a deep stretch so the relaxation is very helpful.
- Seated forward bend, Paschimottanasana, is also extremely helpful as it gives the back a counter movement. This is very important to bring back the balance and centeredness in the body.
- As a beginner, you can simply place the hands on the lower back, with your fingers facing down and elbows pointing backwards, instead of dropping the head and hands back.
- You can also practice Ardha Ustrasana, where one hand is up and one hand is touching the heel.
An advanced version is with the heels softened, hands unsupported and back fully bent backwards.
Advice for beginners
As this is done kneeling down, there is pressure on the knees. Care should be taken to be gentle and slow, and not to over strain. For more comfort, you can also place a cushion below the knees. The intensity of the backend is quite deep and should be done carefully, with full awareness of the lower back. Do not overstrain the spine. Keep the lower and buttocks relax - do not squeeze it.
Practice tips for Ustrasana
- Remember to open up the chest and gently go into the backbend. It’s okay if your hands don’t reach your feet - you’ll still experience the benefits.
- Activate and engage the thigh muscles so your alignment of hips to knees remains correct.
- Before pushing the pelvis forward, you may gently point the tailbone towards the floor and then lean back. This helps to ease into the posture gradually and comfortably.
- In the beginning, there is a tendency to let the thighs and hips fall back. They should remain in line with your knees. Engage the thighs to ensure they remain forward.
- Knees should always remain hip width apart - not too far, nor too close together.
- If it is difficult to hold the asana for long, try starting with an easier version. Keep the toes tucked and try the half Ustrasana (only one hand touching the heel) or support the lower back with your arms instead of holding your toes. Gradually, you will be able to hold the position. Always practice under the guidance of a teacher to ensure you remain injury-free.