Ustrasana, camel pose

Natural Energy Boost with Yoga: 7 Steps to Practicing Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

By: 
Kathryn Boland, RCYT

Most of us work too much and rest too little.  If you feel tired and lethargic, or even just a late afternoon energy dip, yoga can often provide a natural energy boost. A good option for this is Camel Pose.

Revitalize with Yoga Backbends

This is especially the case for yoga poses involving back-bending. Where yoga forward bends have a calming effect on body and mind, yoga backbends can be invigorating and enlivening and for this reason are the best yoga poses to boost your energy during the day.

Unlike too much coffee, energy drinks and sugary foods, back-bending yoga poses, when done correctly, boost energy without negative health effects. They also don’t lead to low blood sugar crashes a few hours later (as they say, “what goes up must come down”). In backbending yoga postures, we work deeply into the spine, while also opening up the heart space. That can bring greater breath awareness to many areas in the torso, and simply feel exhilarating and energizing.

On the other hand, because we're so closely working into the spine in backbends, there’s potential for injury. It’s important to approach backbending asanas with anatomical awareness and listen to our bodies’ unfolding sensations. If you have neck or spinal complications (chronic or recent), heart disease, or high blood pressure, it’s best to take prop-supported versions of these yoga poses. Work with a qualified yoga instructor or yoga therapist to safely and comfortably set up such supported backbends.

Yoga Energy Boost: 7 Steps to Practicing Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

 Ustrasana, camel poseIf you are a beginning yoga student, it's best to start with easier backbends, like Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) or Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana). However, once you have become familiar with the basics of yoga backbends, you can move on to more challenging - and invigorating - backbends. For a natural energy boost, try the yoga pose known as Camel Pose or Ustrasana. This can be a challenging pose, so let's look at back-bending fundamentals in Camel Pose (Ustrasana). 

  1. It’s best to warm up before attempting the posture. Shoulder opening and quad stretches are a good place to start.

  2. When you’re ready for the pose, come to stand on your knees, and make sure that your hips are directly over them so that your thighs make a number “11.” Stacking your joints in this way will increase your stability in the posture. Engaging your inner thighs towards your midline will help to stabilize you and keep your joints safe. 

  3. It’s best to begin with your toes tucked under, as opposed to the tops of your feet resting on your mat. Even if you’re used to going into the full expression of the pose (without toes tucked), your spinal muscles might not be as ready for that today as they have been on other days. You can always untuck your toes while in the posture if your spine tells you that it’s ready (e.g. there’s no pain or excess tension).

    Conversely, if you know that you have some congestion in your spine (today or typically), put a block in between your heels. You can put your hands on it when you come into the backbend. That’ll likely be closer than your holding onto your heels, making sustaining the posture less intense, if that's what's better for your body today. If you have any knee pain or discomfort, fold your mat or blanket and place under your knees and shins.

  4. Place your hands on your low back as you come into the backbend. Feel your elbows drawing back and into each other, as if a string is pulling them together. Be sure not to push into your low back. Use your hands for support only. Your hands there can also offer information on your hip and low back placement. You'll feel your low back pressing into your hands more if you’re leaning back.

  5. Leaning back will put your body at an angle where it will have to fight gravity far more than if you fully stack your joints. Engage your low belly and quads to prevent that. Recruiting your low belly will also help protect your low back. That’s important to do in back bending. Focusing the back bending in the upper (thoracic) spine also helps avoid compressing the low back. Imagine making a candy-cane shape with your spine, mainly straight and bending at the top.

  6. To create that shape in your spine, feel your low and mid-back lifting up rather than dropping backwards. Also feel your mid-ribs and pubic bone knitting together. Then imagine there’s a string attached to your sternum (the heart space) lifting it up to the ceiling. Your backbend might not be as deep, but you’ll know that you're working with your spine rather than injuring it. 

  7. Above all, pay attention to the sensations arising in your body. How’s your breath? How’s your heart rate? Are your muscles, tense, tight, and shaking, or working in a smooth, integrated way? If your body is telling you to lessen the degree of your backbend, it’s the best thing for your practice—and for you—to do just that. If you choose that option, you’ll still enjoy an exhilarating lift in your energy. In a complete and balanced asana practice, that could turn your day around for the better.

Other Backbending Yoga Poses for an Energy Boost

Ustrasana, Camel PoseThat holds true for other backbends, including Standing Backbend, Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) (see photo left), and Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), which are also great yoga energy boosters.

In all of these, remember to lift your heart space and keep of the rest of your spine aligned. Let your breath and other physical sensations guide how deeply you go. Perhaps while your colleagues, friends, family members drag, you’ll shine from your heart space and lifted spine. They’ll wonder where you got the energy. You could tell them about your back bending, or just smile to yourself and thank your yoga practice yet again. I say that beats caffeine highs and lows any day! 

From YogaUOnline and Doug Keller - How to Protect Your Neck In Backbends.

A Restorative Bridge Pose from YogaU and Charlotte Bell: Relax and Replenish.

Foundations of Teaching & Practicing Yoga: Forward Bends and Backbends with Natasha Rizopoulos.

Kathryn Boland is a RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans - all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!

 

 

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