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Some people kiss toads and get princes. Think that’s magic? Then you haven’t seen what happens when a yogi kisses Frog from Camel.
I’ve been on a bit of a backbend bender lately. Nothing makes me feel better than a huge front-body release, but I’m always open to new and exciting ways of making that happen. Camel Pose is an old buddy of mine, and I have plenty of fun variations that I like to teach and play with in my personal practice. This hybrid marries two great front-body openers—Frog (Bhekasana) and Camel (Ustrasana). Some people kiss toads and get princes. Think that’s magic? Then you haven’t seen what happens when a yogi kisses Frog from Camel.
WARM UP This is a rather intense backbend, particularly with the use of the hamstring and hip flexor. While this sequence will help warm up your body for the pose, I highly recommend a fuller practice focusing on front-body opening before attempting this pose. Plenty of Sun Salutations with a focus on long Cobra or Up Dog holds, standing side bends, and hamstring release should do the trick.
Upward-Facing Dog Pose
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
We’re gearing up for a massive backbend, so first things first—Upward-Facing Dog. You can transition into this pose from Chaturanga or pressing from the ground up. Either way, make sure your shoulders are stacked directly over the heels of your hands. (Avoid letting them shift forward, which can cause wrist pain). Draw your shoulder heads back to expand your chest (I like to think of my collarbone smiling). Lift your sternum bone up. Keep your gaze neutral. My teacher says to imagine a tiny elephant sitting on your lower back, but keep your lower belly lifting to keep the back protected. Engage your legs, keep feet hip-width apart, and press all 10 toes into the mat. Take 8 breaths.
King Pigeon Prep
We’re not trying to go into full Rajakapotasana here. The goal is to wake up the hamstrings and teach them how to play nice. Keep the actions in your chest from Upward-Facing Dog, but simply bend your knees. You’ll need to engage your hamstrings for this action (pivotal in our peak pose), and if possible get the toes to point straight up to the sky. Don’t worry about bringing the feet together. Hold here for 5 breaths.
Half Frog Pose
Release down onto your belly and prop up onto your forearms. Bend your right knee and reach back with your right arm to grab the foot. If this is enough, stay here. Otherwise, pivot the heel of your hand on the top of your foot so that your toes and fingers all point in the same direction. Your elbow will fan up to the sky and pull tight into your midline. Gingerly press the heel of your hand into the top of your foot as you fan your toes and press the foot into your hand. Encourage your foot to drop but no forcing. Take 5-8 breaths per side.
Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose
Parivrtta Janu Sirasana
Lateral flexion is key to prepping for our peak pose. Come into a wide-legged seat, and bend your right knee drawing the heel in to your body. Walk your left arm to the inside of your left leg. You can drop your forearm to the floor or, if that’s too much, simply place it on your leg. Reach your right arm up to the sky, externally rotating it and reach it toward your left foot. If it’s available, grab the left foot with both hands. Focus on revolving your chest open and rooting your right hip into the mat. Take 8 breaths per side.
Low Lunge, Variation
Time for more hip flexor love. Come into a Low Lunge with your left foot forward. Focus on a slightly longer lunge than normal. If you have sensitive knees, you might want to double up your mat first. Place your left hand to the inside of your left foot and reach back with your right hand to catch your foot. Gently draw your heel in toward your body in the same vein as Bhekasana. Hold for 8 breaths.
See also Kathryn Budig Challenge Pose: Camel
Low Lunge, Variation II
Anjaneyasana, Variation II
Keep the same actions as in the last step, but press your foot back into your hand until it straightens your arm. Lean back and open your chest. Take 8 breaths. Return to the last step and switch sides.
To come into Camel Pose, stand on your knees with your feet and knees hip-width apart. Drop your tailbone. as you lift your lower belly up. Continue to draw this energy into your chest, lifting your sternum toward the sky. Drop your hands back to hold onto your heels. Amplify the lift of your heart as if 100 helium balloons were attached to it. Relax your head back. Take 8 breaths and repeat 2-3 times.
See also Nix Neck Pain in Camel Pose
Camel-Frog Hybrid Pose
You’ve arrived! If you have a thin mat, you’ll definitely want to double it. I’m a huge fan of practicing this on the sand at the beach or in grass when possible. If you’re indoors, thicken up your mat and let’s go!
Drop your right hand back to the ground behind your right foot (you’ll be in a side bend). Cross your left arm in front of you like a seat belt to grab your right foot. Manually draw your foot up your arm as high as you can until your toes can rest on the back of your arm directly below your armpit. Place your left hand on your hip and creepy crawl your right hand in until it’s stacked below your shoulder. Hold here or bring your left hand to your heart or extend it overhead and back. Release your head and massively lift your heart. Hold for a few breaths and switch sides.
About Kathryn Budig
Kathryn Budig is the yoga teacher behind AIM TRUE, a regular writer for Yoga Journal, and a presenter at YogaJournal LIVE!