Posture breakdown – utrasana (camel)

Utrasana (camel) is a deep back-bend that appears in ashtanga second series.  It’s not to be taken lightly, so go steady and listen to your body as always, and use the modifications suggested below if you’re new to it.

To avoid over-using the lumbar (lower) spine, it’s important to extend upwards through the spine as much as possible in order to access an opening in the thoracic (upper) spine, which is notorious difficult to open up. The breath is really important here – really use the breath to inhale into the upper chest and thoracic spine region and feel that area expand and grow as you arch back and lift your chest to the ceiling. Also, push the hips forward as much as possible in order to assist with extension through the spine.  You can experiment with tucking the pelvis under (although be careful not to over-engage the glutes if you do this) or you can work with a more neutral pelvis with sit-bones descending, which can create more space in the sacral area. You’ll find the front of the thighs and abdomen need to work hard  in order to keep the hips forward as you arch back and find your feet with your hands.

In the final posture the wrists are on the heels, with palms pressed to soles of the feet, fingers pointed towards toes.  Make sure you don’t collapse all of your weight into your hands, which will result in collapsing into the shoulder joints and compression round the neck. Create space around the ears by keeping the arms active and drawing shoulder blades together down the spine and lifting them up towards the ribs. The neck can be neutral (i.e. more or less looking diagonally up to the corner of the room), or you can drop the head all the way back like in the photo, but be mindful that this can put a lot of strain on the neck if you have issues there.

Avoid over-compressing the sacrum by trying not to over-squeeze the buttocks as you lean back and by inwardly rotating your thighs to release the outer hips as much as possible.  Push down actively through the shins and tops of the feet to help keep the legs strong.

Beginner modifications:
To begin with, just work with achieving extension through the spine and a lift in the thoracic spine and chest by leaning back as described above, but keep the hands on the hips, elbows drawing together to help open the chest. Eventually, when you feel ready to go back, you can come up on the toes to bring the heels closer to you. You can also try reaching back one hand at a time to begin with. In this case, try taking the hand to the opposite foot and reaching back with the other hand. Then swap sides.

Great front opener – stretches the whole of the front of the body, including the psoas.
Builds strength in the back.

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