Camel pose, known as ustrasana in Sanskrit, strengthens the back of the body while stretching the front. This intense back bending and heart opening pose builds muscles in the arms, back, and buttocks while improving flexibility in the neck, chest, stomach, thighs, and ankles.
- Kneel with your knees planted hip distance apart on the mat. If you feel any pain in your knee joints, double the mat over to create a cushier surface. Point your toes and press the tops of your feet down into the mat.
- Place your palms on your lower back, fingers pointing down. Roll your shoulder blades back and bend your elbows straight backwards.
- Scoop your pubis towards your navel to bring your tailbone forward. Maintaining this pelvic tilt throughout the pose builds length in the back and, ultimately, strengthens the lower back muscles.
- Exhale and, supporting the weight of your upper body with your arms, slowly bend backwards. Keep your hips directly over your knees, so that your thighs are vertical to the floor. As you bend back, keep your head up and your chin slightly tucked.
- If you have the flexibility, bend backwards until you can twist slightly to the right and place your right palm on the sole of your right foot. Then, twist slightly to the left and place your left palm on sole of your left foot. Square your hips to the center and spread your weight evenly between your legs and arms. Push up towards the ribs with your hips while pulling back with the ribs to create length in the spine.
- Keeping your mouth closed, slowly release your head back.
- Breathe and hold the pose.
- Place your palms on your lower back once again. Inhale and slowly come out of the back bend leading with your chest. Raise your head last.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Weak Knees Modification. To prevent knee strain, double your mat over under your knees or kneel on a folded blanket.
Stiff Back Modification. If the full pose is too intense, tuck your toes under instead of pointing them. This brings your heels higher and makes it easier to reach your feet.
Props for a Stiff Back. Place a block on the outside of each of your feet before practicing camel pose. When you lean back, place your hands on the blocks, instead of on the soles of your feet.
Half Camel Pose (Ardha Ustrasana). Before bending backwards into full camel pose, inhale and raise your right arm above your head. Bring your thumb and pointer finger together in chin mudra. Exhale and lean back. Twist slightly to the left and place your left palm on the sole of your left foot. Square your hips to the center, breath, and hold the pose. Inhale and lift up. Exhale and release your right arm. Repeat on the opposite side.
Practitioners with severe back problems like lumbago should not attempt intense back bends.
Before attempting camel pose, warm up with less intense back bends like cobra pose (bhujangasana) and bridge pose (setu bandhasana).
A forward fold is absolutely necessary after an intense back bending pose like camel pose. A seated forward fold, like prostration pose (naman pranamasana) or seated forward bend (paschimottanasana), is a perfect counter-pose for camel.
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae muscles are closely linked with posture. Back bending poses, like camel pose, engage the erector spinae.
Gluteal muscles. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. To tone the glutes in camel pose, avoid clenching the buttocks. The gluteal muscles should be firm in the pose, but not hard.
Triceps brachii. The triceps brachii is a large muscle on the back of the upper arm responsible for straightening the arm. Push exercises, like planks and push-ups, build tricep bulk, as does camel pose. In camel pose, spread your body weight evenly between your legs and arms to work the triceps.