the camel : ustrasana

conserving inner resources for what lies ahead in ustrasana

photo credit: trine mikkelsen

What does it take to walk the spiritual path? The journey can be long, the load heavy and fantasies quickly dispelled like mirages. But with time and practice, we can learn to trust our inner resources and keep on going, like a camel in the desert. I am discovering that the bliss is in the work and in tapping the spring of sustaining energy that sees me through the challenges. Cultivating a spirit of adventure, I can build on what I know and move with more confidence into whatever lies ahead.

What can the camel teach us? My knowledge of camels is elementary, based on memories of “ships of the desert,” and Christmas cards of three wise men, and scenes from old movies like Lawrence of Arabia. How do camels withstand heat with very little water – water being such a primary element in sustaining life? What ingenious adaptations allow them to survive?

I search the internet and learn that when given access to green vegetation and moderate temperatures, camels do not need to drink at all. But bring a camel to water, and it can drink up to twenty-five gallons in one sitting. The camel’s hump is a reservoir of fat, not water, as I’d thought. When vegetation is sparse, the camel draws on this tissue for sustenance and in the process metabolizes water. Camels adjust their body temperature to withstand extreme ranges, sweating only at high temperatures to avoid unnecessary water loss. Their heavy coats prevent evaporation and maximize cooling by keeping the moisture close to the skin.

The camel is a wonderful symbol for the stamina needed to cross through dry times and adapt to extremes – to take what is needed when it is there and use it later. When we move into the Camel, the pose stretches us and can give a feeling of exposure to the elements. What would it be like to be so perfectly adapted and so wise in the use of our own inner resources?

I find my way into this pose gradually. I keep trying it out slowly until I feel secure. The pose forces me to enter the unknown. I bend backward, finding by feel the connection of hands to feet and adjusting my neck and head so they feel safe. I keep an open dialogue with my body, gradually gaining confidence that the position will support me. I don’t literally follow the instruction of Geeta Iyengar to “throw back the head,”¬? but I test the spirit of it by abandoning a kind of mental caution. With my head back, I gain a radical perspective of the world. As I hold the pose, I feel strong but vulnerable, trusting that I can draw on an innate intelligence to fulfill my needs.

Many years ago, when Swami Radha initiated me, she fed me a sweet and said that I would always have spiritual food, always. She gave me water, and said my spiritual thirst would be quenched. In the dry times on the path, in the challenging times, the Camel teaches me to limit output and to conserve what is within. Sometimes the work itself – Karma Yoga – is the best remedy. Just keep on going. Inspiration is the oasis. Soak it up when it comes. Store it and use it wisely later.

how to do ustrasana:

the camel pose

how to do the pose

1. Thoroughly warm your whole body with the Sun Salutation, Downward Dog and gentler backbends like the Cobra. Please note: If you have not done this pose before, work with a teacher or with a modified version. The Camel is not recommended for those with back or neck injuries.

2. Beginning version: Come to kneeling on a mat with the knees hip-width apart. Lift up so the thighs are perpendicular. Place the hands on the lower back for support and gently bend back, opening the chest and keeping length through the lower spine. Curve the mid-back as far as feels right for you. Breathe. Lift back to vertical. Rest in the Child’s pose.

3. Second Modification: Bring one arm back so the hand rests on the heel and the other reaches toward the ceiling. To ease the stretch, bend the toes so the heels are lifted. Either keep the head upright or gradually release it back without creating undue strain on the neck. Hold for a few breaths, lift the arm up and the body back to vertical. Repeat with the other arm.

4. Final pose: Bring both hands back to the heels. Maintain a smooth arc in the spine – keeping the hips forward, the chest open, the lower back lengthened. Release the head to look behind you. Come out by lifting one arm overhead, then the other. Tuck the chin and lift back to kneeling. Release in the Child’s pose.


1. Write your key words and associations for “camel.” Bring one of the camel’s qualities into the pose, observing your physical, mental and emotional responses. How does this quality relate to you?

2. Reflect on the camel’s remarkable ability to endure extreme temperatures without water. As you do the pose, ask yourself: What sustains me through the dry times on my path?

3. Consider how the camel is so beautifully adapted to conserve water and maintain its internal integrity. Ask: What supports my spiritual survival? How can I conserve my inner resources and draw on them when needed?

Swami Lalitananda's latest book,The Inner Life of Asanas,is a collection of her hidden language hatha yoga columns, from timeless books . She is a resident teacher and part of the collective at radha yoga & eatery - a yoga centre, cafe, arts and events venue at 728 Main Street in Vancouver, BC. Contact her at .

   read more of swami lalitananda's past columns

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