Yoga for Runners: Position 21 - Ustrasana

Ustrasana - or camel pose - has nothing to do with having humps, trekking through the desert or indeed, being raced as a quirky alternative to horses.

It does have a lot to do with reversing the 'keyboard slump' that we develop in our desk-based culture: camel is the deepest back-bend of the whole Bikram series.

"Spending all day hunched over desks and computers, we don’t get many opportunities to back bend," says Olga Allon, director of Hot Bikram Yoga in London (www.hotbikramyoga.co.uk). "It's important to keep flexibility in all directions of the spine."

Ustrasana: Step by Step

1. Stand up on your knees, hip distance apart. Place your palms on your lower back, fingers facing down (as if you were slipping your hands into your back pockets). Your arms will help support your back.

2. Inhale, and on the exhale, relax your head all the way back as if you're trying to see the floor behind you.

3. Keep your elbows drawing in towards each other and let your shoulders roll back. This opens the chest, reversing the effects of slouching.

4. Inhale to lift and expand the chest, then exhale and drop the head back further. Inhale again, and on the exhale arch your torso, using the hands to support the spine. Keep your chest lifted throughout the pose to limit compression in the lower back.

5. Bring your right hand down to grab your right heel, followed by the left hand and left heel, with thumbs on the outside.

6. If your hips collapse back and you sink into the spine as you grab the heels, be patient, and stay with your hands on your hips and keep lifting the chest.

7. Hold for 20 seconds with deep breaths and allow the chest to open and lift.

8. To exit the posture, bring your right hand to right hip, then the left hand to left hip; press your knees down into the floor, and use abdominal strength to lift and straighten the spine up slowly.

Ustrasana: The Benefits

"Camel [pose]'s maximum compression of the spine improves flexibility of the neck and spine, relieves backache, and helps degenerative spinal problems," says Olga. "The high-impact nature of running compresses the spine, and this stretch allows for a 360-stretch of the spine during a Bikram class."

"Stretching the front of the torso, whilst continuing to breathe deeply and steadily helps open up the rib cage and may help improve lung function. It also stretches and lengthens the abdominal muscles; the throat; and thyroid and parathyroid glands."

Ustrasana can induce some strange reactions, so if you feel dizzy, sick, light-headed or even emotional (yes chaps, I can see that wobbly bottom lip), take it easy during the second set. 

Bikram specialist Olga Allon teaches at London's Hot Bikram Yoga.

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love this streach, do it all the time, well not ALL the time!
Posted: 25/04/2012 at 20:06

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