Backbends: Camel Pose 101

Camel Pose

photo by Megan Resch

Camel pose is a very popular yoga pose that is considered to be one of the more challenging “back bending” poses. This pose is often thought of in the Yoga world as a “chest opening” pose. This is because the anterior shoulder and trunk musculature is working to allow for the shortening of the posterior muscle groups in the trunk. This pose can be quite difficult so there are many ways to prepare your body before attempting the position.

This pose involves a considerable amount of trunk and hip extension. Before attempting this pose, check out students’ range of motion while they are in standing. Students can compensate through the foot / ankle and the knee while moving into a back-bend when they are standing up. It is also important to note that in standing, the pose is assisted by gravity. Students could potentially display more range than they have structurally. From a prone position, the range of motion would be considerably less, as they are now picking up the weight of their body. 

Working students into Camel Pose in a variety of progressive steps and levels of difficulty allows students to protect themselves as they get stronger over time. The overall range of motion in this pose can only be considered by assessing the contribution of each joint involved in the pose. Just looking at the end position does not give any information about the the shoulder, spinal and hip joints. This is true in any yoga asana. Also note that overall length-tension relationships will always be a factor. Ranges in standing will likely be different than in a kneeling position. In kneeling, the knee flexors are in a more shortened position. These assessments give the instructor a chance to introduce individual components of the pose one at a time for specific goals.

photo by Megan Resch

 

Begin by assessing students overall strength and range in a prone position with gravity at 90 degrees to the trunk. See how much they students can perform extension by lifting their torso off the floor.

 

photo by Megan Resch

Next, add a hip extension component. Have students lift their leg off the floor one leg at a time. There may be a difference in range of motion from one hip as compared to the other.  

Next, add knee flexion, where the hip has to work even harder. 

The goal is to help students avoid falling in to camel pose using gravitational pull while violating their actual joint range. At Yoga Integrated Science, we teach that as strength improves, range of motion improves, but only as long as the individual joint structure will allow for it. Often, the goal of yoga practitioner is to work at bringing active and passive ranges as close together as possible. Structure determines function and every body is different. Having information about their active range of motion can help students make protective, mindful decisions as they progress into this pose.

 

Progression into Camel Pose:

Camel Pose

Photo by Megan Resch

Come to kneeling with hips stacked above knees. The hips are in extension and knees in flexion. Consider the space between the knees when lining up the position. Some people teach this pose with more or less abduction. The distance between the knees and the position of the hip will affect the amount of trunk extension available. The overall position is largely influenced by the orientation an individual’s hip joint.  Play around with what works for the individual.

For variation in muscle participation, try adding a frictional influence. Have students experiment with pushing out with the knees, into hip abduction. Have students pull in with the knees to feel the differences in the active muscle groups. Next have students extend through the trunk, lifting the sternum up.  

Photo by Megan Resch

Try to distribute the extension component along each spinal level, even though the cervical and lumbar regions are the best at performing this motion. Hips should push forward into hip extension. This is what we call an anterior tilt. Lean the head back, if desired, to add a cervical extension component. Squeeze the shoulder blades together into a retracted or adducted position.

Possible Progressions of Camel Pose:

Note that these progressions depend on lever lengths, joint structure, and overall neuromuscular control.  One is not better than another. They are different options for different people. Place hands on hips to support the torso.  From here, one could: 

  • Photo by Megan Resch

    Place hand position further down on posterior thigh 

  • Put hands on heels with ankles in dorsiflexion and toes tucked under / Ankle dorsiflexion, toe extension 
  • Place hands on heels with ankle in plantar flexion, toe flexion
  • Position one or both shoulders in full flexion to add load and increased workload to the thoracic extensors and possible rotation when performed unilaterally.

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Common Stresses for Camel Pose:

  • Improper hip position for the individual in the frontal plane.
  • Adduction / abduction of hips (legs too close or far apart) for the amount of extension they are trying to achieve.
  • Too much compression into the lower back without engaging hips musculature.
  • Improper distribution of trunk extension to various spinal levels, “jamming” into the joints at only one level

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You can learn more about why and when you should modify specific yoga poses on our blog. If you’re interested in learning more about how yoga works with the human body or are interested in understanding more about biomechanics and how they relate strength and range of motion, consider joining us for our Teacher Training Program. We offer RYS 200 Level and RYS 300 Level courses. Check the Events Calendar for more information about elective courses and full certification programs.