Hatha Yoga: Asanas: Practice. Ushtrasana

Asanas: Practice

Both the abdomen and pelvis are important parts of the body, because it is here that the main organs of digestion, elimination and reproduction are situated. To maintain good health it is essential that these organs, together with the associated muscles and nerves, are kept in the best possible working condition. Many people suffer from different ailments, which are directly, or indirectly, caused by the poor condition of this neglected area of the body. Almost all asanas influence these organs, nerves and muscles in one way or another and regular practice of a selected number of asanas, supplemented by surya namaskara, will help to ensure their perfect functioning. The following three asanas are simple, yet they particularly influence this part of the body. They massage and stretch the organs themselves, strengthen the muscles and stimulate the nerves.

USHTRASANA (CAMEL POSE)

In truth we are not sure why this asana is called the camel pose. It is difficult to imagine. We can hazard a guess and say that it is because the thighs, trunk and head resemble the neck of a camel.

Ushtrasana is a reasonably simple asana which gives a wonderful stretch to the thighs, abdomen, ribcage and throat.

Technique

Place a blanket on the floor. Kneel and adjust the knees and feet so that they are separated by the same width as the hips. This ensures firmness and balance throughout the movement. The top of the feet should rest on the ground. In the starting position the thighs, trunk and head should all be vertical. Lean backwards slightly. Simultaneously turn to the right side and grasp the right heel with the right hand.

Straighten the arm, allowing the arm to support the weight of the body. Then square the body and grasp the other heel with the left hand. Allow the head to hang backwards. Try to relax your whole body, especially the back muscles. By utilizing the muscles of the back, gently push the thighs, pelvis and abdomen forwards; the back muscles should remain relaxed and the hands in contact with the heels. The more the back muscles are relaxed, the further one will be able to push the body forward. While making this movement, one will find that the compression of the back will increase, especially the lower back (lumbar vertebrae). Be careful not to strain. With practice and sufficient relaxation of the back muscles it will be possible to assume the final pose as shown in the picture above. Make sure the leg muscles are relaxed. The whole weight of the body should be supported at the knees; at first this may not be possible but with practice it will be easily achieved.

The arms should bear no weight; in fact they act in the opposite sense. They should anchor the shoulders to maintain the arch of the back. In other words, the arms hold the shoulders down so that the flexion of the back can be accentuated; the arms do not hold the shoulders up.

Relax the muscles of the neck, legs, arms and back as much as possible. The optimum relaxation of the back is important, for this allows the upper part of the body to sag under the influence of gravity; this applies the best possible flexion to the back, without any muscular resistance. Breathe normally, allowing the arch of the back to accentuate during exhalation. Remain in the final pose for as long as comfortable. Then return to the starting position by tensing all the muscles and reversing the method we have already explained. Ensure that the body is supported and pivoted about one arm as the opposite side of the body is swung forwards. Do not hurry during this movement.

Beginners

People with stiff backs may find this asana a little difficult at first. If this is the case, start the asana with the balls of the feet on the ground. This raises the heels and allows them to be more easily grasped by the hands.

Some people will still find that they are unable to hold both heels at the same time. A method of gradually overcoming this problem is to merely reach back with one hand and grasp one heel. Hold this position for a second or so, release, twist the body and then grasp the other heel with the other hand. Repeat this alternate twisting movement a number of times. There should be no violent movements, only smooth, slow and relaxed ones. This simple exercise will help to loosen up the back so that one can eventually hold both heels.

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