There are three kinds of yoga poses: Easy, challenging, and “You gotta be kidding.”
Camel pose, or ustrasana, hovers between challenging and YGBK. You start from a kneeling position, bend back — way back — and take hold of both heels. I followed the teacher’s instructions to ease into the pose, but my back and neck just didn’t want to go there. There was no pain, but every time I tried it, my intuition very kindly but firmly told me this was not good.
It reminded me of when I did a backwards somersault in the pool years ago to show my godson (and myself) I could still do it. Yes, I could, but not without a sharp pinch on the lower right side of my back. Or was it a pop? A twinge, maybe? Whatever it was, I took it as a reminder that my back had more important things to do, such as keeping me upright and mobile.
Backbend poses are great for opening the heart center, strengthening back muscles, counteracting the shoulders-forward hunch we can develop at a desk job, and more. But how many of us bend over backwards to please or appease someone else, or because we have a vague notion that we should? We may think “You gotta be kidding,” feel a pinch or twinge, or hear our intuition tell us no, but we do it anyway, often paying for it with our well-being. Even if we don’t regret it later, we will probably wish we’d thought it through, eased more carefully into it, or asked for support.
One of the great things about yoga is that it is challenging, but non-competitive. No one is asked to prove anything or take one for the team. No (legitimate) yoga teacher will ever ask you to push through pain or ignore what your body and/or intuition might tell you. Ever. Most yoga classes end with a bow and “Namaste” — meaning, the divine in me recognizes the divine in you.
So now when I encounter camel pose, I bend as far as my back and neck will safely allow. Do I reach my heels? No. Do I get the benefits of a backbend? Absolutely.
When we feel compelled to bend over backwards, we have every reason and right to pause and consider whether doing so will benefit us or anyone else. We can give it a try, or not. We can go for it and surprise ourselves. We can negotiate or set limits on how far back we will bend. We can choose to remain upright, or even walk away.
It’s up to us and how we choose to honor the divine in ourselves and one another.