How to perform camel pose to deepen your yoga practice
Camel pose is an energizing upright kneeling position that provides a deep stretch throughout your body and provides relief to your lower back. The Sanskrit word for Camel pose is “Ustrasana”, which comes from the words “ustra” meaning camel, and “asana” meaning pose. This posture dates back thousands of years and has been found in ancient yogic texts such as the Sritattvanidhi. Today, you will find Camel pose or Ustrasana in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha and Bikram yoga practices.
Despite looking simple, this yoga pose can be challenging both mentally and physically. It is a heart-opening posture that requires a deep backbend. However, even if you can’t make it into the classic Camel pose, there are variations for beginners so you can tailor your practice to whenever you are in your journey.
Camel pose in yoga
Camel pose is a heart-opening backbend that provides a deep stretch throughout the entire front section of your body including your chest, rib cage, shoulders, abdomen, quadriceps, and hip flexors. It is a great posture for people with a sedentary lifestyle, as it can relieve tension in your lower back and increase flexibility in your spine by providing a bend that is the opposite of slouching at your desk all day.
People of all fitness levels will benefit from backbends like Camel pose. Poses like this stimulate the spinal cord, leading to optimal nervous system function and overall health and vitality.
Step-by-step instructions for Camel pose (Ustrasana)
To reap the health benefits of Camel pose, start with a neutral position and slowly make your way into the posture by following these steps.
- Come into a kneeling position with your knees hip distance apart
- Tuck your toes under, or leave the tops of your feet flat on your mat, then push them into the mat.
- Release your shoulders down and, on the next inhalation, start to arch your back and lift your chest to the ceiling with a long spine. The crown of your head should be pointed towards the back of the room. Keep your hands on your hips, or the palms of your hands on the small of your back, with your fingers pointing downwards, as you move into this posture.
- Exhale as you come deeper into your backbend and, if you feel comfortable, slowly release your hands down to the heels of your feet or your ankles. Don’t drop your head: keep your neck in alignment.
- Engage your glutes so your pelvis stays parallel to your knees, keep your inner thighs engaged, and continue to bring your shoulder blades together.
- Stay in this yoga pose for a few breaths, and then slowly come out of it by placing your hands on your lower back or hips and then lowering yourself into a thunderbolt (seated kneeling) position with a neutral spine.
If you are practising with others, never compare yourself. Everyone’s body and yogic journey is different.
Variations of Camel pose
Camel pose is an intense backbend that relies on the strength of your front side to control the posture as gravity pulls you to the ground. Never force yourself into a position: always go slowly and do what is comfortable for you.
If you are new to this posture and you can’t reach the heels of your feet, place blocks on either side of your feet or ankles. Otherwise, keep your hands on your hips or placed on your lower back with your fingers facing down. Experiment with what feels good for you.
Opening your chest is one of the main reasons we do this pose. If you are having a hard time keeping your shoulder blades together, consider adding a strap around your forearms. You can also add a strap around your thighs to stimulate the awareness of the internal rotation of the thighs.
Throughout the practice, notice if you have stopped breathing and resume it at a steady pace. It is common for new practitioners to hold their breath through challenging postures.
Another variation involves performing Camel pose against a wall. Start the pose facing the wall, with your knees up against it, then follow the step-by-step instructions to make your way into Camel pose. Once you have lifted your chest, push your thighs forward against the wall so you can feel how your hips should align in this position.
When you are comfortable with the full Camel pose, you can bring more movement into your yoga practice with a half-Camel pose variation. Once secure in your Camel pose, lift one arm to the ceiling so that each arm is placed in the opposite direction.
Then switch sides with each breath or hold each arm up for a few breaths at a time. To open your chest and shoulders further, cross your forearms and grip your opposite ankles.
Benefits of Camel pose
Ustrasana is not only physically good for the body, it is also known as a posture that can provide incredible emotional and spiritual release on the mat.
Physically, Camel pose is designed to increase flexibility in the spine. It also improves digestion, energy levels, mobility and posture.
Camel pose stretches your chest, abdomen, quadriceps, and hip flexors, as well as strengthens your back muscles, hamstrings, and glutes. This posture improves circulation, nervous system function, and blood pressure.
Camel pose is linked directly to your heart chakra. As it is a heart-opening posture, you might feel emotions, anxieties, and slight discomfort swell up within you as you open up your heart centre. However, by moving through it you can achieve mental and emotional clarity to take with you off the mat.
The heart centre is related to self love, love for others and feelings of kindness and compassion. By stimulating your heart centre with heart-opening yoga poses like Camel pose, you will be able to let more love in and move towards a place of belonging, where you can give and receive love with ease.
In a safe and healing space, heart-opening poses can take you out of your comfort zone. It is not uncommon for people to experience emotion or tears when moving through this posture, so if this happens to you, be gentle with yourself and let yourself move past this emotional block. Practicing yoga is much more than just asanas, after all.
Preparatory poses for Camel pose
Always warm up before attempting Ustrasana. Sun salutations are a great way to gently lengthen and strengthen the main muscle groups in your body.
Camel pose is considered an intermediate level yoga pose. If you are preparing to start practising Camel pose, it is helpful to start with gentler backbends and front stretches to prepare your upper and lower body for this pose.
Reclining Hero pose
Reclining Hero pose gives the front of the body a deep stretch and opens the hip flexors. To start, move into a seated hero pose with your body in an upright kneeling position and your sitting bones on the ground between your knees. If this is too much on your knees, sit on a block. Then slowly lower your upper body onto your back to deepen the stretch in your thighs. If it is too much to lie directly on your yoga mat, then lie back on a bolster.
Upward-facing Dog pose
This chest-opening posture is performed by lying on your stomach with your toes pointed and then lifting your chest with your elbows pointing towards the back of the room, slightly bent. With this yoga pose, you’ll squeeze your shoulders together, lift your hips, and open your chest with a gentle backbend to prepare for Camel pose.
Bridge pose has similar benefits to Camel pose. To perform it, lie on your back and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle at hip width apart. Slowly lift the back of your thighs and your glutes off the yoga mat and clasp your hands together on the floor to squeeze your shoulder blades together. You will be more than half way to achieving Camel pose at this point.
In backbends, the core needs to be activated to protect the lower back. Perform this ab-strengthening yoga pose by sitting on your mat with your legs out in front of you and your back straight, then lift your legs and recline at a 45-degree angle with your arms straight alongside your body. Breathe through the exercise.
Precautions for Camel pose
As with any posture, if you push yourself too far you could end up with an injury. Pay attention to how your body feels throughout your practice. If you feel any pinching or discomfort in your lower back or neck, then come out of your pose slowly. Never collapse onto your lower back if you feel yourself collapsing into the posture.
Don’t perform Camel pose if you have a neck injury. If you have stiffness in your neck, keep the chin tucked in towards the chest or follow the recommendations of a healthcare professional. If you are experiencing back pain, talk to your doctor before attempting this pose.
It is always best to learn this pose and other deeper backbends with your yoga teachers before attempting them on your own. At the end of your practice, take some time in savasana or “corpse pose” to rest your body and relax your mind. Remember that everyone is a beginner at the start, and you won’t be there forever.
Other deep backbends
If you have mastered Camel pose or you love deeper backbends and you are looking for another challenge, try one of the poses below.
This advanced inversion combines a balancing forearm stand with a deep backbend. For it, you’ll need sufficient shoulder and core strength. To start, find your way into a forearm stand, then bend your knees so they are shoulder width apart, and guide your feet towards your head.
Wheel pose is a total body stretch. It consists of lifting your body off the ground, so you are on all fours with your ribcage and pubic bone pushing up towards the ceiling. It requires a degree of strength and spinal flexibility but is extremely rewarding and invigorating when it is achieved.
Counter poses for Camel pose
Counter poses are advised to help balance your body after a particular posture.
This yoga pose is great for relaxation and gently stretches your thighs, hips, and ankles, as well as lengthening your spine. The bend is opposite to what you experience in Camel pose. Your knees will be bent, with your forehead on the mat and your arms out in front or along the length of your body next to your heels. Relax into this posture with your eyes closed.
Happy Baby pose
Happy Baby pose consists of lying on your back with your thighs hugged in towards your armpits, your knees bent so your shins are at right angles to your thighs, and your hands holding the outer edges of your feet. Feel free to rock gently back and forth. This pose will open your chest and stretch your hamstrings, thigh, and groin.
How to deepen your yoga practice
Committing to your practice is one of the best ways to deepen it. Practicing Ustrasana daily, along with other poses, will keep your body supple and your mind clear. Explore the other 7 limbs of yoga (or our 7 Fs) and invest in yourself by signing up for regular classes.
Through regular participation and commitment to your own health and wellbeing, you will experience moments of peace, joy, acceptance, introspection, and gratitude. You’ll also be rewarded with tips and tools to help you navigate life in a richer, more abundant, empowered way.
Explore Yoga Seven’s online and in-person memberships to never lose sight of your practice. You’ll also have access to an on-demand video library from anywhere, on any device, wherever and whenever you want.