A difficult pose that teaches us a lot about the nature of backbends. The kinetic chain is fully open at the front and back of the body with only our knees and feet on the ground the lower back becomes vulnerable. I love working with camel pose as it is one of those poses that I found very hard at the start of my yoga journey with a lot of discomfort on my lower back and absolutely no room for breathing.
Teaching different class levels has inspired me to write this post on how we can reproduce the shape of camel pose and still enjoy its benefits ( stimulating for the kidneys, stretching for the abdomen, strengthening for the lower back and the shoulders etc...) without the obvious strain on the lumbar spine that could prove too much for many people.
Here are some creative alternatives :
Camel on a bolster :
also known as reclined hero , this is a lovely relaxing backbend, it stretches the abdomen and the quads ( front of the thighs) effectively and gives you a chance to experience the pull of gravity you get in the full pose with the support of a sturdy prop. Hold for several minutes gradually relaxing more and more into it and focusing on your breath.
Camel on a chair :
a great modified version and several ways to use this prop.
Version 1 focuses on one of the most common misalignments where the pelvis moves back and all the load gets transferred to the quads, the knees and the lower back.
The chair seat prevents you from leaning back and assists the good alignment of the pelvis
Version 2 is all about the shoulders, as you stretch back with your arms your chest can only remain open if you allow your shoulders to release towards each other behind you.
Version 3 puts these two elements together allowing you to get into a deep backbend supported by the chair and assisted in your pelvic alignment.
Try these three versions with care as we are using the pull of gravity to go into the backbend and this can put a lot of pressure on the lower back and the neck if you let your head hang back. Always make sure you release the shoulders back and keep your lower ribs tucked in.
Camel and other props
a couple of very useful options for you prop lovers out there!
Using a couple of bricks by your ankles will help you keep your form instead of collapsing into your lumbar spine, position the bricks carefully and make sure they are steady.
Start with one hand on one brick at a time then move on to two. The free arm can stretch up to the sky and back. The bricks are a great props to use when you feel almost ready to take the full unsupported pose.
TIP : try and enter the pose both ways ie stand tall on your knees and reach back towards the bricks or start in thunderbolt pose sitting on your heels,put your hands on the bricks and slowly lift into camel pose by straightening your legs, bringing your pelvis forward and letting your chest open last.
The second prop can be found anywhere, it is the humble wall, an invaluable practice companion, the wall does not lie when it comes to alignment.
You can use the wall in conjunction to the bricks, you are aiming to keep your pubic bone against the wall as you lengthen your spine into the backbend, imagine you are rolling over a barrel to ensure you don't compress the lower back.
Camel but not camel
Sometimes we want to experience the "shape" of camel but perhaps with less intensity or without the pull of gravity!
You can take camel on the floor and yes they are technically different poses but look at the shape similarities! They are remarkable!
This is bow pose or camel on your belly , ideal if you want to focus on strecthing the big muscles of your legs and the hips as well as your shoulders, I like this version as it maintains some of the breathing challenges of camel pose. Backbends are notorious for how they change how we breath due to the stretched position of the diaphragm. In this version we add to that the pressure of the body over the belly.
The humble bridge pose, often used as the closing inversion at the end of practice and yet add a strap and you have a lovely backbend that opens the chest and stretches the abdomen with an emphasis on the role of the legs and plenty of space to breath! For extra focus on the legs you can add a brick to squeeze between the knees.
TIP : Make sure you follow any of these deep backbends with some twisting and forward bending to compensate.
Have fun experimenting.
Thanks for reading