August, the hottest month of the year, is upon us. While some use this time for last-minute beach trips or barbecues, here at Sanctuary Yoga and Mindfulness we take every opportunity nature provides to deepen our practice and commitments to ourselves. These naturally humid conditions are perfect back bending weather, and for that reason we have selected Camel to be our inaugural pose of the month.
Camel pose, or Ustrasana, is a backward bend that is performed on the knees and is interesting because you are stretching with the support of gravity. Begin by coming onto your knees, which are outer hip-distance apart, with your toes curled under (if possible) & placing both hands on your hips to create length through the entire spine vertically. Then pull all parts of you towards center: thighs in, outer hips in, belly in, shoulder blades towards one another. From there, carve the shoulder blades down the back to integrate the shoulder blades into the back body & reach both arms up aiming them towards the back of the room while keeping the arm bones back all the while. Press the upper inner thighs back and then tuck the pelvis under so the low back stays long; make sure your abs are still working to ensure this. The full expression of the posture is with the hands grabbing the outer heels but the hands can remain on the lower back above the buttocks, with the fingers pointing downward, which is less intense of a stretch and builds great back strength. Once hands secured, push your outer knees into the floor and reach your heart up to the sky to maximize the feeling of stretch while you keep your breath smooth and present.
There are numerous benefits to making this posture a regular part of your practice. Besides being an effective way to release anxiety and stress, Camel also relieves back pain, opens the front of the body, and stretches the abdominals and internal organs. It also gets us out of the common “slouching” body position that the majority us assume due to age, gravity and hunching at desks or over technology. The boons of this shape are cumulative. You will notice that the more frequently you practice, the better you will feel.
Look for new poses in the coming months. See you on the mat, friends!