Get Your Own Back in Backbends: Part 3 Ustrasana (Camel)

"The whole spine is stretched back and is toned. This pose can be tried conveniently by the elderly and even by persons with spinal injury." -Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar

GROUND YOUR ANKLES: The foundation of this pose can be found in the press of the top ankles into the floor. For most of us the weight moves onto the knees in this pose. Instead, squeeze your outer ankles in (I could be doing a better job of this in the photo!) and press the tops of your ankles down, extending your toes back along the floor. If you have trouble getting your ankles down, use the fold of a blanket so you have something to push into. What is the effect on your hips and pelvis?

RELEASE YOUR GROINS: Having established your foundation in the ankles and legs, keep your lower back long and enable an extension of your upper body start by releasing the inner groins of the legs. I am self-adjusting the pose by using my fingers to spread my inner groins apart. Practicing going back this way a couple of times. Is one groin gripping more than the other? What is the effect on your lower back, knee and even on your neck and shoulder?

ENGAGE YOUR SHOULDER BLADES: One of my favorite ways to practice and teach this action of the shoulder blades in Ustrasana is using a chair. Kneel in front of the chair and "back it up" so that your buttocks or thighs touch the front edge of the chair (depending on your height). Your shins will now be underneath the chair seat. Practice the actions above with your hands now on your hips. Then, arch your chest up towards the ceiling and place your hands on the back of the chair seat, palms down. Pull the chair towards you with your hands to bring your shoulder blades into your ribs. Bend your elbows slightly and pull your elbows apart to create space between your upper shoulder blades that will allow your neck to extend back. Finally, hug your bottom, outer shoulder blades in towards the spine to create a doming lift in your upper chest. Now try this same action with your hands on your feet or if you cannot reach, a bolster over the ankles or two blocks on the outside of your ankles.

ASCEND UP: "The great rooted tree by the flowing river." If you look at a statue of the Sage Patanjali, the lower half of his body is a snake with three coils and the upper part of his body is human. The three coils of snake are think and solid and stable as his human form rises up. Can you embody these virtues in Ustrasana (camel). The hips and legs representing the "great rooted tree" while the spine and upper body "flows like a river". To uplift your heart, squeeze the vertebrate on either side of your spine right behind your spiritual heart and lift straight up towards the ceiling while extending the front of your throat and keeping the nape of your neck moving away from your ears. 

Now, what other poses are these actions preparing you for? 

Get Your Own Back in Backbends! Part 1: Bhujangasana (Cobra)

“Bhujanga means a serpent. In this posture, lie flat on the floor, face downwards, lift the body up from the trunk and throw the head back like a serpent about to strike.” -Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar

PRESS YOUR ANKLES: Let's start with the foundation in the legs. The fronts of the thighs stay on the floor in this pose and the front ankles and shins press strongly into the floor. If you have tight ankles, take a small roll under your ankles in order to feel the sensation of pressing into something. As you press your ankles into the floor extend the fronts of your thighs towards the knees but bring your sit bones down towards the floor, tilting the pelvis so your lower back remains long.

RELEASE YOUR GROINS: To keep the lower back long and enable an extension of your upper body release your inner groins of the legs. Do this by turning the back of your upper thighs from inside out, moving the sit bones away from your tailbone. This will cause an internal rotation of the femur bone and if your groins are tight the lower back will arch again. Work on keeping your groins soft AND tilting the pelvis so your pubic bone moves up towards your navel and your sitbones move down towards the floor.

ENGAGE YOUR SHOULDER BLADES: Take your hands by the sides of your chest with your elbow bent and pointed towards the ceiling. Push your hands into the floor, turn your bicep from inside out to bring your outer shoulder blades in towards the spine. Attempt to release the inner shoulder (upper trapezius) area at the base of your neck, spreading the top tips of the shoulder blades away from C7 at the base of your neck.

ASCEND UP: Work on these double actions in the legs and arms: release your groins of the legs apart while pressing the ankles down and moving your sit bones towards the floor; hug your bottom outer shoulder blades in towards the spine while spreading the upper tips of the shoulder blades apart. Then, find the vertebrate right in the middle of your back around the bra strap line. Grip this vertebrate firmly at the spine, evenly on both sides and extend the back of your skull straight up towards the ceiling.

VISUALIZE: Yourself as a striking cobra. Your tail and lower body firmly rooted to the earth while your crown of the head ascends up towards the sky. 

TOMORROW, PART 2: Bringing these actions into Dhanurasana (bow pose)