If you view a photo of someone doing a pose called camel, you’ll notice it looks uncomfortable and it is. Along with it, you’ll frequently see a list of physical benefits that happen over time when doing the camel pose.
I’m certain that the combination of the backward bending camel, alternating with forward bends healed my back. I’m aware, from my own experience, how camel posture feels and how it works toward physical healing.
The benefits of doing a camel pose are improved breathing, fatigue relief, increased torso and hip flexibility, strengthened back and glutes, toned thighs and hips, stimulated endocrine glands, tensed organs in abdomen, pelvis, and neck, correction of slouching posture, opening of respiratory system to better oxygen use.
In my book YOGA SONG (Rochak Press June 2022) I treat camel – and yoga- from the inside out. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 5 where I write what happened to me during a pivotal moment in my practice doing camel in Hawaii. You see, yoga is an inside job, and there’s a lot going on under the surface and it’s hard to describe. But that’s why I wrote YOGA SONG. It’s yoga from the inside out in 23 lyric narratives.
Excerpt from YOGA SONG on camel pose from the inside in Chapter 5 “Making Heroes.”
The workshop leader said a deep backbend is a heart-opening pose and reminded us that an emotional reaction to camel pose is normal because the posture can make us feel vulnerable. Pointing to his heart as the organ which should be at the highest position during camel, he may have even said, ‘lift up your hearts’ when stressing the importance of making one’s heart the highest point.
Hearing this, I recalled my days as a ritual and religious leader, and I heard my voice chant ‘lift up your hearts’ to the accompaniment of an organ. This phrase has been chanted or spoken in the Christian Liturgy since the 3rd Century as a preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.
Following the teacher’s directions, I arched my back and let my head hang while pushing forward with waist and thighs where I paused to check the tuning of my body and then deepened my pose pushing my head further back, lifted my chest to the ceiling, and pushed forward with my waist.
From a deep place, the grief and celebration of my life hit me hard and fast: I heard the single notes of an organ, and in my mind, I was moving to an old song-chant; yet in yoga, it became my new song.
For a moment, I was at an altar chanting and envisioned Abraham lifting the body of his son, poised to strike a dagger into his exposed heart; but in my body there and then, I was sweating in a Hawaiian hot yoga room, an embodiment of camel.
In that deep bend, I felt tears come to my eyes and roll down the side of my face. I forced my gaze to the back wall, eyeballs rolling up in their sockets. My heart was open and poised to receive healing and fresh oxygen; adrenaline pumped through me and my back was stressed. Drops of sweat camouflaged my tears. I was a hero on his knees actively working to know the truth of his story.
It was emotional pain coming forth to the surface of my consciousness matched by the physical stress of the moment. I wanted to come out of the pose and escape, but I stayed, and in those mighty seconds yoga became my kneeling prayer, an embodiment of spirit and flesh.
Then I heard yoga-gospel in the word ‘change,’ yoga’s signal to come out of the pose. Releasing from camel pose, I realized some of my old pain was still in me, but I also felt a relief deep in my back that I had not known.
This ‘lifting up,’ through yoga’s camel posture, had become a healing moment; and in that moment, my yoga had become my embodied liturgy of truth matched by a new song and healing for my back.
Today I lift my heart and chant in a new liturgy, a new song, one built on a foundation of trust in the journey. This lifting up is the hero’s song of yoga, one that has molded me like a palm tree swaying in strong wind, formed to bend, but not break.