Ushtrasana (camel pose)
1. Sit in vajrasana.
2. Stand on the knees with the arms at the sides.
3. The knees and feet should be together but may be separated if this is more comfortable.
4. Lean backward, slowly reaching for the right heel with the right hand and then the left heel with the left hand. Do not strain.
5. Push the abdomen forward, trying to keep the thighs vertical, and bend the head and spine backward as far as possible.
6. Try to relax the whole body, especially the back muscles, into the stretch. The weight of the body should be evenly supported by the legs and arms. The arms should anchor the shoulders to maintain the arch of the back.
7. Remain in the final position for as long as is comfortable.
8. Return to the starting position by slowly releasing the hands from the heels one at a time.
Note: While holding, maintain normal breathing.
Breathing: Normal in the final position. Do not try to breathe deeply because the chest is already stretched.
Duration: Practice up to 3 times as a dynamic asana. Hold the final position up to 3 minutes as a static pose.
Physical - on the abdomen, throat, spine or natural breathing.
Spiritual - on swadhisthana or vishuddhi chakra.
Sequence: It is important that this asana is followed by any forward bending asana, such as paschimottanasana, to release any tension in the back. The most convenient counterpose is shashankasana since it may be performed immediately from vajrasana without unnecessary body movement.
Contra-indications: People with severe back ailments such as lumbago should not attempt this asana without expert guidance. Those suffering from enlarged thyroid should also take care.
Benefits: This asana is beneficial for the digestive and reproductive systems. It stretches the stomach and intestines, alleviating constipation. The backward bend loosens up the vertebrae and stimulates the spinal nerves, relieving backache, lumbago, rounded back and drooping shoulders. The front of the neck is fully stretched, toning the organs in this region and regulating the thyroid gland.
Practice note: To accentuate the asana, the right heel may be grasped with the left hand and the left heel with the right hand.
To begin with this asana may be practised with the balls of the feet on the floor.