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Uplift Your Mood with a Heart Opening Yoga Pose
For many years I disliked backbends and I struggled to hold even a gentle backbend for 5 breaths. I know I’m not alone in this!
I know from my experience in teaching Yoga for many years that many people find backbends challenging.
My least favorite backbend was the Wheel Pose. I remember feeling embarrassed and discouraged in my Yoga teacher training because I wasn’t able to execute Wheel Pose well never mind holding the pose!
Wheel Pose is still not my favorite backbend. But the more I incorporate different types of backbends into my daily Yoga practice, the more I start to enjoy backbends and how they make me feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
One of the reasons that many people tend to find backbends challenging is that we are so used to sitting at a desk all day (or scrolling down our Instagram feed on the phone!) which encourages our shoulders to round.
It’s also our body’s natural response to danger to curl in and protect our most vulnerable part of the body – our heart.
Whereas, backbends force us to do the complete opposite action by opening up the heart centre, which we are not used to doing!
Energetically, as backbends help with the opening of the chest and upper shoulders, it stimulates the Heart Chakra. If you are new to the Chakra system you can read my previous blog here.
Different types of backbends
There are mainly 3 different types of backbends in Yoga. I’ll list the backbends that are accessible for beginners.
Face down backbends (backbends on the belly): Sphinx Pose, Locust Pose, Low/Baby & Full Cobra and Bow Pose. This family of poses are primarily about strengthening the back.
Kneeling backbends: Camel Pose and lunging backbends
Reclined backbends: Bridge Pose and Wheel Pose
What types of backbends are balancing for Vata, Pitta and Kapha Dosha (Ayurvedic mind-body type)?
Gentle uplifting backbend poses for example Cobra, Locust Pose, Fish Pose and Bridge Pose are recommended for Vata and Pitta Dosha or if you have Vata and Pitta imbalances.
For Kapha Dosha or if you have Kapha imbalances, backbends that build heat and energy whilst opening the lungs for example Fish Pose, Wheel Pose, Bow Pose and Camel Pose are recommended.
If you don’t know your Dosha, make sure to take my Dosha quiz here!
In this blog, we will focus on the Camel Pose (Ustrasana in Sanskrit) as it’s a great backbend for balancing Kapha and to practice in winter (Kapha season) which we are in at the time of writing this blog.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana) is accessible for beginners but it can be challenging at first if you have a tight back (like me!).
Warm up first!
It’s really important to warm up before practicing energetic backbends such as Camel Pose and Wheel Pose – both as in warming up your body with heat and also preparing your body for the energetic backbends.
In my backbending focused Yoga class, I begin my students journey with gentle backbends such as Sphinx Pose and Baby Cobra. I then incorporate lunging backbends, lunging quad stretch, Eagle Pose, Locust Pose and Bow Pose in my sequencing before I get to the Camel Pose. I also get my students to prepare with some side bending and twists.
Lunging backbends and lunging quad stretchs help lengthen the front of your shoulders, chest, hip-flexors and quads which is a great preparation for the Camel Pose.
Eagle Pose (which is not the backbend) is a great shoulder opener to include to prepare for the backbends.
Locust Pose and Bow Pose will help open the front of the shoulders and chest in preparation for Ustrasana.
How to execute Camel Pose
1) Come to your knees with the knees and feet a hips distance apart and your thighs perpendicular to the floor. And press down the shins.
2) For beginners, I recommend tucking your toes (ball of your feet down) with your heels pointed up towards the ceiling. For seasoned Yoga practitioners, you can have the tops of your feet down on the mat with your toes reaching back.
3) With your chin slightly tucked towards the chest, place your thumbs on the top of your gluteus maximus region (imagine holding your hips, but raise your hands slightly above them) and with your thumbs lengthened down your buttocks. Pullull your hip points up. Then create an arch in your back.
4) Keep your chin slightly tucked in, lean slightly to your right and place your right hand on your right heel. And then lean slightly to your left and place your left hand on your left heel. Your fingers should be pointing towards your toes.
5) Engage your thighs slightly and push your thighs forward to bring your hips above the knees (your thighs should be vertical) but if you have tight hip flexors or quadriceps it will create lower back hyperextension and may put pressure on your lower back. Therefore if that’s the case allow your hips to move slightly back.
6) Engage your glutes slightly. If your neck allows, slowly drop your head back and take a big inhale and lift your sternum. If you are a beginner or have a neck problem, just keep your chin slightly tucked in towards the chest and look forward.
7) Hold the pose for 3 to 5 breaths. To come out of the pose, engage your core and lift your chest and slowly bring your hands to your lower back and come back up and slowly lift your head back up.
8) Slowly move into child pose and rest.
If you have these conditions then I recommend you dont carry out this pose:
- Back injury
- High or low blood pressure
- Strengthens your back muscles, back of your thighs and glutes
- Stretches the front of your thighs (quadriceps), hip flexors, chest, abdomen, chest and shoulders
- Helps relieve lower back tension
- Helps improve flexibility especially in the spine
- Helps improve digestion and constipation
Heart opening and back bending postures lift your mood as you open the heart. As you expand the chest and open the heart, it creates the space around the heart which allows you to be more open to new possibilities, grow in compassion and feeling connected.
It also creates space in your lungs to breathe fully and as you breathe deeper, it brings calmness to your mind.