Sunday, January 31, 2016

Opening the Heart with Ustrasana, the Camel Pose







The Camel Pose is an invigorating backbend, heart opener, and throat opener.  It invites a deep extension of the entire spine and expansion in the chest. On an energetic level, this pose opens the heart chakra (anahata), and the throat chakra (vishuddha).  If you are feeling fearful and guarded in your heart center, or holding back from your full self-expression, try this posture to open up those energetic and psychological blocks. What we invite into our bodies has a transformative effect on our brain chemistry.

Please note that the full-on version of Ustrasana, with the head dropping back toward the feet, may not be appropriate for you if you have any neck pain or injuries of the cervical spine, or if you experience dizziness. Read on to learn how you can modify to accommodate sensitivity in the neck. First and foremost, listen to your body!

Prepare for the pose by warming up the spine with increasingly deeper backbends. Start with Cat/Cow, cobra, bridge, and bow pose.  If those feel comfortable, you can then proceed to camel.


Cat/Cow



Cobra


Bridge





Bow

1. From Child or Hero pose, come up onto both knees, placing them hip width apart. Place the palms of the hands on the sacrum with the fingers pointed down.
2. Inhale and press the knees down reaching the crown of the head up to lengthen the spine. Exhale and press the hips forward, squeezing the buttocks and thighs and supporting your weight with the arms as you bend backwards. Point elbows back behind you.
3. Very carefully reach one hand down to the heel at a time, if you cannot reach the heels keep the hands on the sacrum. If it feels safe drop the head all the way back.
4. Holding tightly on to the heels with each hand, actively press the hips forward, lifting the chest up towards the ceiling. Keep the hips stacked over the knees, with your thigh bones vertical.
5. Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths.
6. To release: slowly bring one hand at a time back to the sacrum. With both hands on the sacrum, slowly inhale up, letting the head and neck be the last to come vertical.



7. After resting for a few breaths in child’s pose, follow up with the rabbit pose for a delicious counter stretch.



Suggestions for Modifying:

--If your hips tend to fall back toward your heels rather than staying stacked over your knees, try practicing with the front of the pelvis pressed into a wall:



--If allowing the head to drop back is not appropriate for you, try folding a blanket like a long scarf and wrapping it around the neck. It should fit snugly, crossing at the heart:




--Or, refrain completely from letting the neck bend backwards:


--If your heels are too far to reach, try flexing the feet and tucking the toes to lift your heels:







--Or, place blocks beside the ankles to support you:




--It is also fine to stay with the hands on the sacrum, simply focusing on lifting the spine and gently opening the front of the body. This preparatory pose is quite beneficial in an of itself!





Contraindications: Hernia, or recent abdominal surgery. Recent or chronic knee, shoulder, neck or back injury or inflammation.

 Benefits: Camel Pose stretches the entire front of the body, the ankles, thighs and groins, opens the chest and throat, stretches the deep hip flexors (psoas), tonifies the kidneys and stimulates the respiratory, circulatory, nervous and endocrine systems. Camel pose makes you feel good all over!

On an energetic and spiritual level, the practice of Camel pose cultivates the ability to give and receive love, and to live our lives in full expression of our creativity and inner truth.  May we be fearless and authentic in our loving and our expression of that love.














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INSPIRATIONAL WORDS

INSPIRATIONAL WORDS
Poetry, readings & words of wisdom from modern and ancient sources