The Sanskrit word “ustra” translates as “camel” and the basic physical shape of ustrasana mimics the shape of a camel. Viewed from the side, the chest of the practitioner lifts toward the ceiling, just as the hump of the camel rises up toward the sky. The practice of ustrasana creates physical space in the thoracic chest and the area around the heart. When the practitioner presses the lower legs into the earth and raises the top chest up, there is a meeting of earth and heaven. Like the camel, which replenishes her energy by metabolizing her reserves, ustrasana revitalizes us when we feel dull or fatigued, and lead us to the well of energy that dwells inside us.
- Kneel on the floor or on a firm blanket with your knees and feet hip bones’ width apart – about 8 inches for most of us.
- Place the shinbones parallel with each other with the toes pointed straight back and make the thighs perpendicular to the floor.
- Put your hands on your hips and lift up through the front of the torso.
- Press your shins, ankles, feet, and toes down into the floor.
- Broaden the back thighs away from each other, bring the tailbone into that space, and compact the buttocks to stabilize the pelvis.
- Move the shoulder blades down your back and deep into the front of the chest to lift the chest up toward the ceiling as you take your hands down to the feet, fingers pointed back toward the toes.
- Press the hands down, rise up through the inner arms and broaden the collarbones as you coil the spine in between the shoulder blades.
- Lengthen the neck and take the head back without dropping the chest.
- To release from the pose, raise the chest and head up, bring the hands to the hips and come to an upright position.
- Sit back between the heels in virasana (hero pose).
Using a Wall
Begin the pose in the basic kneeling position so that your front thighs touch a wall. Press down through the shins and feet. Press the thighs and pubis into the wall as you lift the chest, bring the hands back and complete the pose. Do not let the thighs come away from the wall. This may require that you use blocks or a bolster on which to place your hands. You’ll quickly discover if you lean back into the pose instead of lifting up because the thighs will come away from the wall. Be honest.
Using a Chair and a Bolster
Place a chair at a wall so the back legs touch the baseboard. Put a bolster straight up on the chair seat and lean it onto the back of the chair. Scoot your shins under the chair and bring your buttocks to the front edge of the chair seat so you can kneel for ustrasana. Press the shins down, lift the chest up, and bring the hands to the chair seat or front legs of the chair. Lift the head up and extend the neck to rest the head on the bolster. You may need to add another bolster or some blankets to allow for the head to be fully supported. Breathe easily and enjoy being there.
Ustrasana prepares the body and mind for other back bending asanas. According to Geeta Iyengar in Yoga in Action: Preliminary Course, “Ustrasana is the only back bending taught to beginners that gives an anti-gravitational lift to the spine and spinal muscles. It is a preparatory asana yielding the basic intelligence required to proceed further for the rest of the back bending asanas.”
Precautions: Avoid the classical pose during menstruation or pregnancy unless using support. If you have a tension or migraine headache, hypertension, or a heart condition, practice a supported version.