Lina hit you all with a quick stress-buster workout earlier this week for these busy, freezing, post-holiday days. Today, I’m going to give you something to add to that — a pose that will counteract the ways that stress manifests in us, especially in the winter. You know what I’m talking about — walking the windy streets with hunched shoulders and bent heads to brace against the cold, huddling closer to the heating vents in chilly spaces, crouching over your laptop trying to simultaneously catch up and get ahead in the new year. While it feels natural to do these things, all the hunching and crouching and huddling puts an incredible amount of tension in the neck and shoulders, tightens up the chest muscles, and just is generally no good for your overall well-being. How do you start to undo all that damage? A little ustrasana, or camel pose.
Now, camel pose is a pretty intense backbend, so it’s important to warm up and move at a pace that’s comfortable for you. If you’ve been out in the cold all day or sitting at your desk all day, don’t just throw yourself into camel. Start standing on your knees with your knees about a fist-width apart. You have the option of tucking or untucking your toes — tucking them just brings your heels closer to you so that the backbend is slightly less deep. Place your hands on your lower back (fingers up or down, your preference. As you inhale, grow tall through the crown of your head, and as you exhale, start to extend back. Keep that up — slowly — growing through the crown of your head on each inhale and bending back more with each exhale. Picture your back arching over a barrel — you want to create space in the spine, rather than crunching back. If it’s available to you and feels okay, reach for your heels (not your calves, like I am erroneously doing in this photo). Pay attention to your shoulders — they should be pulled down away from your ears, and your shoulder blades should be squeezing together and pulling down. Broaden across the collarbone and open your heart.
If you don’t feel like getting into the full expression of this pose, you can take a backbend standing or even just sitting at your desk. It’s a perfect move to help balance out the way you hold your body all day long. Take a minute or two each hour and make it part of your routine. The most important thing is to create an awareness of how you use your body each day, as opposed to how its natural alignment is. Namaste!