Lessons from the Mat: Get Your Best Stretch Ever with Camel PoseArticle posted in: Fitness
By: Eliza Darling
For many of us, physical health and strength alone, are not enough. We want to be challenged, inspired and fulfilled in a multi-dimensional way. We seek to meet the needs of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. In essence, we search for a way to live a purposeful and enlightened existence during our time on this earth.
You may hear people in the yoga community stress the importance of understanding that the physical aspect of yoga, the asana, is one of eight limbs of yoga (as outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra). To practice yoga in its entirety, we must also apply the principals of the other seven limbs. During the next eight weeks, I will explain what the eight limbs are and how we can apply them in our modern lives.
These principals are complex and diversely interpreted, and, if you find a deep interest in one or all of them, I encourage you to do further research into the principals that can be explained in great depth elsewhere. What I offer will be simple explanations.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra—known to many as the holy grail of yoga—there are five moral principles known as the yamas, or moral restraints. Collectively, these principals make up the first of the eight-limbed tree of yoga.
Yamas: Moral Restraints
Ahimsa (or non-violence) brings to light, not only the violence in the world around us, but when mindfully practiced, it asks us to restrain from harming our internal self (or the ego) by avoiding destructive behavior and thoughts. When we practice ahimsa, we are kind and compassionate to ourselves and others. We avoid actions or reactions that could be physically, mentally or spiritually harmful. When we become aware of the violence around and within us we have the ability to neutralize it.
Satya (truthfulness) in its most basic form is “not-lying”, but like ahimsa, there are many layers of that can be peeled back to understand its meaning. When we practice satya, we commit to seek and speak truth at all times. However, ahimsa comes first, and if the words we speak will cause harm, we must not speak them. Living truthfully creates respect, honor and integrity, and allows us to see more clearly the path of the yogi.
Astenya (non-stealing) can seem simple enough—not taking what is not freely given. On a personal level, it asks us to restrain from physical theft and also from committing or approving of others doing so, with the mind, words or actions. On a social level, practicing Astenya means living in opposition to exploitation, social injustice and oppression.
Brahmacharya (continence) to the ancient yogi meant abstaining from sexual relationships with the self or with others. Modern yogis have interpreted as control over physical impulses of excess and addiction, requiring us to harness courage and will.
Aparigraha (non-hoarding) asks us to relinquish that which we don’t need, eliminating from our lives physical, emotional and spiritual baggage. It is the clearing out of thoughts, patterns of behavior, relationships and physical things that we hold onto, but bring toxicity to our wellbeing.
Practicing the yamas is not an easy task, but, by allowing them to guide the way we live, we can eliminate or reduce the accumulation bad karma, and have the tools we need to avoid living an unconscious understanding of our life.
POSE OF THE WEEK: USTRASANA (CAMEL POSE)
Ustrasana is a backbend or chest opener that, when practiced with patience and precision, allows the yogi to experience length and expansion in both the front and back body, as well as an empowered vulnerability through the willingness to open and expose the heart.
- Can strengthen the entire front side of the body, the ankles, thighs and groin.
- Stretches the abdomen, neck and chest.
- Stretches the deep hip flexors (psoas).
- Strengthens the back muscles.
- Can help simulate the organs contained in the abdomen and neck.
- May help improve digestion.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Begin in Child’s Pose.
- Move onto the knees (at hip distance, or with a two-fist-sized distance between them).
- Bring the hands to the lower back.
- Use the hands to press the tailbone down, lengthening though the lower back.
- Lift up through the sternum.
- Hug the elbows towards each other to open and lift the chest.
- Keep the hips parked over the knees and begin to lean back through the upper body.
- Either keep the chin tucked into the chest and the gaze forward, or trace the gaze across the ceiling letting the head drop back.
- If you’re new to this pose, keep the hands at the back for support. Otherwise, lower the hands simultaneously to the heels.
- Avoid letting the ribs protrude by drawing them together as the front of the pelvis lifts up towards the navel.
- Continue to lengthen the tailbone down and lift up through the sternum to distribute the bend into the upper back, instead of dumping pressure into the lower back.
- Hold anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.
- Come out of Camel Pose the same way you went into it.
- Sit the hips back on the heels and return to Child’s Pose.
TIPS & MODIFICATIONS:
- Because this pose stimulates the vein that runs across the heart, it can cause dizziness and/or nausea.
- Avoid widening the knees by firming in with the outer hips.
- If the heels are slightly out of reach, begin with the toes tucked under to lift the ground up a few inches.
- For a milder variation, place two blocks (the tall length) on either side of the hips, and, instead of reaching for the heel, place the hands on either block.
*Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.