In yoga, back-bending postures like camel pose can help increase your spinal flexibility, improve your posture and boost your energy levels. But as an advanced asana, it's important that you practice camel pose with a proper warmup and good form to avoid injury.
Camel pose may not be suitable for some people, but there are modifications you can try if the full expression of the pose isn't yet accessible to you. Below, we'll share how to properly practice this pose, its benefits and the best ways to build it into your yoga practice.
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- What is camel pose? Camel pose is considered an advanced asana because it's a deep backbend. Ustrasana (the Sanskrit name) literally translates to "camel pose" and represents the resemblance your body makes to a camel's hump when in this posture.
- What is camel pose good for? In yoga, deep backbends (or poses where you are bending backward) like camel pose are said to be energizing in nature. They increase circulation throughout the entire body and wake up the nervous system. Camel pose, in particular, stretches the spine and many of the muscles along the front body including the chest, abdomen, hip flexors and quads.
- Who can do camel pose? Even advanced yogis should properly warm up their spine, front body and hips before practicing camel pose to lower the risk of injury. Don't practice camel pose if you've had an injury or chronic issues with your knees, shoulders, neck or back. People with abdominal separation (diastasis recti) should not practice camel pose. Supported and modified versions of camel pose are safe to practice during pregnancy. (Here's a list of yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy.) Don't practice camel pose if you feel pain or instability in the posture, especially in your lower back.
- How long should you hold camel pose? You can hold camel pose for anywhere between 3 to 10 deep breaths depending on your comfort in the posture. If you notice you're holding your breath or feeling pain anywhere in your body, slowly lift yourself out of the pose.
- Why is camel pose so difficult? Because many of us spend long periods sitting down, camel pose can be difficult. Muscles in your hip flexors and abdomen become shortened and tight when sitting all day, which tends to pull your shoulders and neck down and forward. For this reason, it's important that these muscle groups are properly warmed up and stretched before attempting to get into camel pose.
How to Do Camel Pose With Proper Form
- Begin kneeling on your knees (you can place a folded blanket or towel underneath them if they are feeling sensitive) at the front of your yoga mat. Keep your knees hip-width (about two fists) apart.
- Lengthen your spine by slightly tucking your tailbone down towards the ground and lifting your sternum and crown of your head towards the ceiling.
- Place your hands on your lower back by your sacrum (the bone at the base of your spine) with fingertips facing down for support.
- Take a deep inhale and as you exhale, begin to lift your chin to look up and back, then very slowly, start to bend backward. Be mindful to breathe into your entire rib cage and maintain the sensation of lifting and extending your spine and not dumping into your lower back.
- Use your hands to reach for your heels behind you and take a deep inhale.
- As you exhale, push your hips forward towards the front of your mat. Engage your quads and abs and continue to breathe deeply as you bend backward. Imagine you’re drawing your shoulder blades together behind you to open up your chest.
- Breathe in the pose for 3 to 10 breaths.
- To safely come out of camel pose, engage your abs as you lift your hands off of your heels and place them back on your sacrum. Inhale and then very slowly and carefully start to uncurl your spine and lift back up to a kneeling position with your head coming up last.
To counter the pose, sit back on your heels and take a child’s pose or gentle seated twist on both sides.
Camel Pose Benefits
Camel pose is said to increase circulation and have an energizing effect on the mind and body (i.e., you may not want to practice this one before bed).
Camel pose strengthens and stretches the muscles around your abs, knee joints as well as the quads, psoas and other hip flexor muscles. It's great for stretching your chest, the muscles in the front of your shoulders and the muscles in your neck. In yoga, it's even said to benefit your thyroid thanks to the increased circulation to the front of your neck.
Camel pose is an ideal posture to practice if you live a sedentary lifestyle or sit for long periods of time, as it counteracts slouching and forward bending in your upper body.
Common Mistakes in Camel Pose (and How to Fix Them)
1. Not Engaging Your Muscles
You want to be super mindful of your lower back in camel pose and other deep backbends. If your abs and hips aren't engaged to support the vertebrae of your spine, you could end up putting too much pressure on those vertebrae and risking an injury.
Always keep your quads and abdomen engaged in camel pose, and if you feel like your lower back is taking too much weight, warm up by doing some core and hip strengthening exercises first, or opt for a modified version of camel that doesn't involve bending backward as far (more on modifications below).
2. Not Getting Your Hips in the Right Position
Depending on your flexibility and the natural position of your pelvis (anterior or posterior tilt), it's common for your hips to fall too far backward or push too far forward in the full expression of camel pose.
If any or all of the muscles in your front body are too tight and you're reaching for your heels, your hips will probably come back too far. If you're overbending in your lower back, your hips may come forward.
Ideally, you want your hips to come back very slightly, staying almost above your knees. To ensure proper form, make sure your knees are hip-width apart and that you're keeping your quads and abs engaged.
Support your lower back by drawing your hips together and lifting your lower belly up and in. You want to create the feeling of lifting your spine up and out of your hips and then bending back.
Camel Pose Variations
There are a few modifications that can make camel pose easier or help you work your way up to the full expression of the pose.
You can practice a supported camel by keeping your hands on your sacrum (not reaching for your heels) as you focus on lifting your spine up and back while keeping your quads and abs engaged.
If you can bend a little deeper, place two blocks on their highest height next to both of your feet and reach for those instead of your heels.
If you've nailed the full expression of camel pose, challenge yourself further by lifting one hand and reaching it back behind you (just make sure to do it on the other side, too).
How to Add It to Your Yoga Practice
A proper warmup is necessary when practicing deep backbends like camel pose.
Sun salutations (Surya Namaskar) are a great way to warm up your entire body, including key areas like your abs, chest and shoulders.
You want to encourage your hips to squeeze in together in camel pose to support your lower back. Postures like chair pose, bridge pose and lunges (high and low lunge) can help with this.
Lunges are also great for lengthening your hip flexors, and extending the arms up overhead or slightly back behind you will help warm up your spine and shoulders.
Other, more gentle back-bending postures like baby cobra, full cobra, sphinx pose and upward dog should also be incorporated into your routine before the deeper backbend in camel pose. Make sure to lift up through the entire crown of your head in these poses to encourage that stretch in your neck, too.
After practicing camel pose, counter it first with a gentle seated twist to reset your spine. To do this, sit on your heels and twist to either side of your body. After, practice a forward bend like child's pose with your knees wide, which will lengthen your spine, reset your pelvis and help calm your nervous system back down.
And as always, bring it all home with a nice, long savasana.