While in Camel Pose I find it uncomfortable to rest my head on my shoulders. The discomfort is in the back of my neck. Why does this happen? Do I need to modify the pose?
—Maxine Hartswick, Portland, Oregon
Sarah Powers' reply:
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) is a wonderful backbend for bringing increased vitality to the organs of respiration. It requires us to lift out of the waist, hug the inner thighs, lift the chest, and lean the shoulders back. Bringing the head back is not necessary to reap the benefits of this pose. If you can drop your head all the way back to rest on the trapezius muscles without feeling any discomfort, then great, do it. If this creates strain (as you've noticed), then don't.
I consider it quite advanced to be able to put the head back in any pose, Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) included. Teaching poses with the head back for beginners can give the wrong impression about what they should be able to do.
One reason for your discomfort could simply be tightness in your neck, which will diminish with gradual lengthening and strengthening of these muscles. My husband is uncomfortable putting his head back as a residual effect from whiplash years ago that has lessoned from yoga practice, but it is still a weak area. Try alternating between looking up and down in standing poses to lengthen the muscles and right to left in Salabhasana (Locust Pose) to strenghten the muscles.
My advice is to always come out of a pose that causes strain and to focus your attention on your breath. If your breath is strained, you may be imposing a posture onto the body that it is not ready for.
Sarah Powers blends the insights of yoga and Buddhism in her practice and teaching. She incorporates both a Yin style of holding poses and a Vinyasa style of moving with the breath, blending essential aspects of the Iyengar, Ashtanga, and Viniyoga traditions. Pranayama and meditation are always included in her practice and classes. Sarah has been a student of Buddhism in both Asia and the U.S. and draws inspiration from teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Toni Packer, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Sarah also draws inspiration from the Self Inquiry (Atma Vichara) of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. She lives in Marin, California where she home schools her daughter and teaches classes. For more information go to www.sarahpowers.com.