By Cindy Brewer for the SNAP
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 —
Yoga poses are often expressed as metaphors for aspects of our lives. We refer to poses that open the chest as “Heart Openers.” In class I like to suggest that we think about compassion or forgiveness while practicing postures like Camel, or Ustrasana. As we shine the heart forward and open up between the front of the shoulders, we can experience a feeling of honest vulnerability that we do not get to feel in our everyday life.
Modern life tends to make us create a slumping in the shoulders and chest. There are so many activities that can shorten these muscles across the front of the body like driving, texting, working on computers, reading, knitting, cooking and riding a bike. To counter this tightness, strengthen your back and improve your posture, include Camel in your regular practice.
Camel can be a deep asana, so it is best to begin with modifications and possibly work your way into a full expression of the pose. Remember to never push yourself or progress too quickly through the different variations to avoid injuries.
Start out kneeling on your mat with your legs hip distance apart. If your knees are sensitive here, place a folded blanket under them for a cushion. Place your hands on your lower back with your fingers either facing up or down and press your hips forward with your hands. Lift your heart up toward the sky as you move into a back bend, either keeping the chin tucked to the chest if you have any neck problems or letting your head and gaze fall back. Try to keep the hips pressing forward over the knees rather than falling back over the feet.
You can remain here as a modified version, or you can place your right hand on your right heel and then your left hand on your left heel in a deeper back bend. If you can almost, but not quite, reach the heels, you can tuck the toes under as if standing on tiptoes to bring the heels closer to you. If you decide that keeping the hands on the back is the best place for you, know that you are still reaping the same benefits of the asana.
Stay here for five to seven breaths before finding your way out very carefully. If the hands are on the heels, place the right hand on the back and then the left hand on the back and bring yourself back up to a straight position of the spine.
Resist the temptation to immediately drop down into a child’s pose or any forward fold of the spine. First, sit back on your heels and let the spine neutralize for a few breaths before releasing forward to counter this heart opening, back bending posture.