Let's face it...camels are not easy to love - with smelly breath, dirty teeth, a tendency towards spitting as well as being stubborn as all hell, there's just not a lot that endears us to love this long necked humped creature. For most of us, practicing the asana named after this arid animal - USTRASANA - is not a lot different, except perhaps without the smelly breath and dirty teeth!
The predominance of back bends, especially with ustrasana is not so much in going back as we would be lead to believe, but rather blossoming forth. Have you ever tried to get a camel to go backwards? It's - nearly impossible!
Although it's considered to be an 'intermediate' backbend, ustrasana is accessible to beginners and advanced students with an attitude of patient coaxing, rather than the use of force to open the space around the heart, chest and thoracic spine.
In our journey towards camel, we start with standing asana to create strength and build heat in the thighs and hips to properly support and align the spine and help anchor through the pelvis. From here we open the chest and the shoulders creating an uplift of energy; twisting deeply through the torso we expand our breath and our periphery wide into the space of the rib cage, harnessing the power of prana to expand, to rise, and fully bloom into the space of our hump-like heart.
Backbends by nature are energising as they stimulate the central nervous system; from a therapeutic point of view, helping to ease anxiety and promote better respiratory function. Because of their uplifting nature, ease off on your backbend practice before bed ( or you'll not sleep a wink) or if you're prone to headaches. Instead include these in your morning practice to energise and invigorate your day.
And keep in mind that camels move slowly, with little if no grace at all, listen to yours and if it starts to spit - stop, take rest and start again. The journey is the destination.