Did you know that each vertebrae in our spine is individually shaped to perform a specific range of movement? And contrary to what many think, our spines are made for movement. In fact that’s what keeps our discs healthy and supple. To that end, today I want to share how to do camel pose, Ustrasana. Plus modifications and some tips and tricks about alignment.
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However, for exclusive longer format videos sign up for my Patreon community. Patrons also get early access to all my videos, along with other benefits. In fact, this month’s 60-minute class was all about camel pose. We released tight muscles needed to fully explore the variations of camel.
How to do Camel Pose
Camel pose is a kneeling asana, so my first MAJOR tip for this pose is to place a folded towel, blanket, or cushion under the knees. Have the knees hip-distance apart. Tuck the toes under. Make fists with the hands and place the fists on the back of the pelvis. Draw the shoulders back, then lean the torso back.
The full expression of the pose has the heel of the hands resting on the heel of the foot. However, this is a strong backbend and this progression may not be available for many. So let’s look at some modifications.
Modifications for beginners
For beginners, my first modification would be to try camel pose against the wall. Simply kneel with the thighs, knees, and pelvis against the wall. Then use the same principle with the fists and lean back. This really helps the alignment of the hips remaining above the knees. As soon as the thighs leave the wall, then you’ve leaned back too far.
Secondly, after the wall, a chair is a great way to explore camel. With a chair behind you come into the same position. This time rather than fists you can place the hands on the chair behind you. The chair provides stability and support through the asana.
Thirdly, another modification is to use blocks. Bear in mind that blocks are less stable than a chair, and not as easy to lean on. Place the blocks between the ankles. Of course, all of these variations can be used together too.
If using blocks I highly recommend starting with the blocks stacked. As shown above. This provides a little more height, which means less stress and strain. It’s much better to start high and go low, than be over reaching for a block that’s too low.
Common mistakes & how to fix them
When looking at yoga poses there are often a few common errors in the poses. So let’s look at camel pose common mistakes and the fixes! The first is that when people back bend they seem to think that throwing their head back means they are in the pose. The opposite is usually true as this throws our awareness into thinking our body is further back than it actually is.
Instead keep the same distance between the chin and chest in kneeling as in camel. To do this create and “L” with the index finger and thumb (see picture above right). Place the “L” as shown between the collarbones and chin. Keep that space as you lean back.
The second common error is that people don’t actually backbend but instead lean back from their knees. This is why I recommend starting at the wall. Using the wall for tactile sensory information we can feel immediately when our thighs leave the wall and we lean back from the knees rather than the spine and hips. Below: left picture shows the lean from the knees with no backbend vs the right photo with the backbend.
Again, I cannot over-emphasize how useful the wall variation of camel is for the alignment of this pose. The last common mistake is that the backbend comes only from the lower back. The work gets dumped into the lumbar vertebrae because of the collapse of the shoulders and chest (left photo).
Instead draw the shoulders back and lift the sternum. Try and find the small backbend through the upper back. This allow for a more wholesome backbend through Ustrasana.
Want to explore more in camel pose?
This is just a small slice of the content I put on Patreon each month. Camel pose was the focus of the 60-minute class I did for my private Patreon community this month.
We released the tight muscles that would prevent a full range of movement before exploring the variations of camel. Then we finish with a cool down and relaxation. Come more about camel pose with me on Patreon, and discover a whole new way to practice yoga.
- Do you enjoy backbends?
- Which variation of camel is your favorite?
- Have you used a wall in yoga pose before?
Leaning back is considered bad for this? It’s the only way that I can even reach my feet in this pose.
Also for the “do you like backbends” question, I have to be honest, I actually despise them since I can’t do them very effectively. I’d most likely enjoy them if I had a decent level of flexibility in that area. I’d be grateful for any recommendations or advice.
depends where you are leaning back from, Leaning back with the thighs no, leaning back from your spine yes.
Thank you for the reply. Sorry for my lateness.
What I meant in my previous comment was that I bend back using my thighs and knees, as I have near zero flexibility in my back, so a spine bend is impossible. As such, entering the pose that way allows me to try and bend backwards “opening the chest” to give a good stretch.
That’s why reading your post saying it’s bad was a surprise to me.
I’m trying to find ways to make backbending enjoyable and make progress.
Thanks again for any advice.
Instead I’d suggest use the chair or blocks. Bending back from the knee you’re not offering a full stretch along the front body or effectively opening the chest. Reaching the feet is not the goal! Like you said, it’s about a back bend and chest opener. So I’d suggest modifying and trying those variations to FEEL the difference
leaning back from the knee is not recommended. Leaning back from the hip/back is totally fine. My question for you is: if you despise back bends how are your forward folds? Usually we fall into one or the other. I’m a back bender and forward folds are tougher for me
Thank you for sharing these tips and modifications on how to do the camel pose. I am not sure if I am strong enough to do this. Will try it this weekend.
try the modifications first! Wall, chair, blocks!
Start from the wall…got it. That is where I’ll be starting from. I’ve done this pose before and didn’t quite like the rush of blood to my head, so I’ll ease into it slowly.
The rush of blood usually comes from tipping the head back, moving from the neck rather than the hips, lower/upper back.
I think I would need to do the modified version of camel pose to begin with. I really like the modifications using the wall or a chair as they make the position more stable.
yes!!! I wish more people would realize the benefits of using the wall, and chair as props!
I have been struggling with camel pose when I just started. i wish I had you around for help!
Better late than never lol!
These are some useful modifications. Camel pose is harder than it looks!
It is! Using props is so important!
Indya | The Small Adventurer
Oof, yeah I can definitely see me needing the chair for quite a while before I felt confident enough to try this pose without it! I’ve had back issues for over 10 years and don’t know if I’d ever have enough faith in it to hold me up in this position honestly It DOES look like a good pose though, and one that, if I was to get it right, it would definitely benefit me!
Definitely use a chair! And yes it would help your back!!!
This was really interesting. I had seen others doing the camel pose before, but I hadn’t tried it myself. That being said, with the modifications that you’ve included here, it should be much easier to work up to confidently doing the pose. Thank you!
Yes, the full pose can be challenging so start with the modifications and work up!
Good thing there are photos lol. I thought this one was literally for the animal lol.
Hahaha many yoga poses are named after animals
Thanks for this I struggle with yoga poses! Going to try this one out.
Lots to work on in this pose, it’s a deep backbend