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Camel pose (Ustrasana)

This is an excerpt from Big & Bold: Yoga for the Plus-Size Woman by Laura Burns & Laura Burns.

There’s something about a good backbend that feels really satisfying. Or maybe it’s just me? Camel pose is one of those backbends that’s so good at stretching not only the back but also the entire front of your body. What a multitasker! Camel is traditionally done from a kneeling position, but check the Pose Options section to see how to practice the pose from a chair. It’s important to remember that the backbend here and in most other poses comes from lifting your chest, not from pressing your hips forward.

Alignment Checklist

  • Come to a kneeling position with a folded blanket or kneepad under you. Make sure your knees are hip-width apart and your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly, but gently, into the floor to stabilize you and spread the weight of your body.
  • Bring your hands to your back, palms resting below the dip of your lower back with your fingers pointing down.
  • Inhale, lifting your chest straight up and letting your shoulders move back and down. Squeeze your elbows together any amount and lift your chin to keep your head in line with your spine (see figure 4.8).
  • Hold here, noticing what the pose feels like in this position. Try not to press your hips forward to intensify the backbend. You can stay here for the duration of the pose.
  • If you’d like, move your hands away from your body and reach the right hand toward the right foot and the left hand toward the left foot. If this works for you, hold here with your chest lifted. If reaching your feet doesn’t work for you, tuck your toes under to raise your heels up a bit and see if that helps. If not, bring the hands back to your body and hold for a few breaths.
  • Stay in this pose for a few breaths or as long as you feel comfortable. Come back to center by pressing off your body with your hands and gently lifting the head and torso up, leading with the head. If you feel dizzy, tuck your chin to your chest and hold there until the dizziness passes.

Pose Options
It’s very likely that reaching your feet with your hands won’t be in the cards for you. Take heart! Many seasoned yogis struggle to reach their feet, so don’t feel bad. Also, don’t ever feel bad for making a yoga pose your own. You can do that here by tucking the toes under to lift the feet higher as I described earlier. Also, here are other options to make the pose work for you in different ways depending on what your body needs:

  • Try placing blocks just outside each heel, at their highest height, and bring your hands to the blocks.
  • Place a bolster or stack of folded blankets directly on your calves or feet, and bring your hands to the top (see figure 4.9). You can stack support as high as you need to be able to reach.
  • You can always bring the whole thing up to a chair! Sit toward the front of the chair seat and follow the previously mentioned directions. Instead of bringing your hands to your feet, reach for the chair back or chair seat.

Figure 4.8 Camel pose.
Figure 4.8 Camel pose.
Figure 4.9 Camel pose with bolster and blocks on legs.
Figure 4.9 Camel pose with bolster and blocks on legs.

Accessible Challenges
Try bumping up the challenge by bringing your thighs, calves, and feet closer together.

Tips for Plus-Sized Bodies
If you feel unstable, check in with your thighs. Sometimes pressing them too close together can push you out of alignment and cause you to feel unstable or uncomfortable. Step your knees farther apart and see how that feels.