How to Do Camel Pose (Ustrasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Camel Pose
Ben Goldstein

Targets: Chest, abdomen, quadriceps

Level: Intermediate

When we talk about backbends in yoga, most people probably picture Full Wheel. But Camel is a more accessible pose for a lot of yoga students. Full Wheel is undeniably a backbend, but it's also a lot about arm strength and shoulder flexibility. If you don't have those things, you can't get the full benefits of this pose. Camel allows you to experience deep spinal extension without having to support your weight with your arms. It's also a much more flexible pose. With props, you have a lot of options for your arm position. In a sequence it would often be done following Table, Hero, or Child Pose. After performing Camel, you might go on to Gate, Half Circle, or Child.

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Watch Now: How to Stretch with Camel Pose

Benefits

Camel Pose stretches the front of the body including the chest, abdomen, and quadriceps. It improves spinal mobility as much of the day you are likely to be sitting or slouching and bending your spine forward. By doing a backbend you are flexing it in the opposite direction and it may help you develop better posture. It is said to open the heart chakra, which is your energy center for love, caring, and compassion.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The usual starting position for Camel Pose is kneeling on the yoga mat or floor.

  1. Kneel with body upright and hips stacked over the knees. Take padding (a blanket or fold your mat so it is double thickness) under your knees if they are sensitive.
  2. Draw your hands up the side of your body until your thumbs reach your armpits. Hook your thumbs into your pits for support as you start to open your chest toward the ceiling.
  3. Maintain the position of your chest as you reach your hands back one at a time to grasp your heels. If you need a little more height, tuck your toes under. Otherwise, the tops of the feet can be flat on the floor.
  4. Bring your hips forward so that they stay over your knees.
  5. If it feels good, let your head come back, opening your throat. If that doesn't work for your neck, you can keep the chin tucked instead.
  6. Release by bringing your chin toward your chest and hands to your hips. Firm your abs and support your lower back with your hands as you slowly bring your body to an upright kneeling position.

Common Mistakes

One of the most common problems in camel is keeping the thighs upright. As you take the chest back, you want to make sure that your thighs are not following it and ending up slanting back instead of staying fully vertical. To check if this is happening, take your pose over to a wall. Set up with the front of your thighs on the wall. As you reach back, make sure that your thighs and even your hip points stay in contact with the wall the whole time.

You may find that you can't reach your heels as easily when you really monitor you thigh position. If this is the case, adjust your grip by taking one of the heel variations described below. This is a good exercise for both beginning and advanced students.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

  • Use blocks on either side of your feet if you need a little more height for your hands.
  • You can keep your hands on your low back if reaching back for your feet or using blocks doesn't work for you. This is known as the easy camel. Your fingers should be pointed down and you will be squeezing your elbows towards each other.

Up for a Challenge?

  • Try taking hold of opposite ankles.
  • You can also try a variation where one arm holds your heel while the other one reaches toward the ceiling.

Safety and Precautions

You should not do Camel Pose if you have had an injury or chronic problem with your knees, shoulders, neck, or back.

Don't force your body into the pose before it is flexible enough to do so without straining. Bend back only as far as you can naturally. With continued practice, you will gradually build your flexibility to achieve the pose.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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