By Andrea Manitsas
Backbends. I don't love doing them (though I'm learning to). But I do love how they make me feel: Completely and utterly energized. The seemingly abundant moments in life where I lack motivation, inspiration, will, zest or the energy to fulfil the day's duties, I turn to the yoga backbend and it always delivers. And not only do I feel instantly revitalized, but all the hunching over my computer screen suddenly feels okay as my heart bursts wide open.
The next time you're encountering the onslaught of sluggish, arm yourself with Ustrasana (or Camel Pose). This one position has the power to pick you up. Take that, Five Hour "Energy".
Note: Of course, backbends can be incredibly intense and require a definite warming up of the body before you practice them safely. Get things flowing with a few sun salutations first.
Now, to Camel
Physically, this pose expands your chest so your lungs are able to take in more oxygen, and the act of bending back stimulates your adrenal glands, giving you that extra charge. The whole front of your body stretches, particularly the chest, abdomen, quadriceps and hip flexors, while the back is strengthened. All good stuff.
How to Rock Camel
Kneel up onto your shins. Make sure your knees are hip distance apart and parallel. Start with your toes tucked under until you get comfortable with this pose (in which case you can leave your toes untucked).
Take your hands to your lower back, fingers pointing up and elbows hugging in towards one another. Be sure to draw your belly in and tailbone down to stabilize your lower back.
On your inhale, press your hips forward, lift your sternum. Start to bend back. If it's available to you, reach back and take hold of your heels with your hands, pressing down to create further lift in your chest. Stop if you feel any pressure in your lower back.
Only if it feels good on your neck, you can release your head back. Keep reaching those hips forward, lifting from the space behind your heart and breathing. Hold for five to 15 breaths, then come up smoothly by activating your core and returning your hands to the tops of your buttocks.
Sit on your heels to rest; repeat the move up to three times.
To release your spine after backbending, roll onto your back and take Supta Baddha Konasana. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall wide. Place one hand over your heart and one over your belly. Let the effects of backbending and heart opening infiltrate your body. Feel the zest.