As we rapidly approach another Christmas holiday, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on this as a season of giving.....and receiving. Whether you're hitting the sales at the mall or crafting a homemade sweater for a loved one, keep in mind the intention of this holiday season: give from your heart. By the same token, when your next door neighbor gifts you with (another) fruit cake, receive the gift with your heart. I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't really matter what is given or received as gifts, just as long as the intention is heart focused. This yoga practice will prepare your heart for this special time of year.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Backbends in yoga are typically known as heart openers. Camel Pose is a good introductory pose for moving into deeper backbends or heart openers.
Start by kneeling on your mat. If you need more padding for your knees, please feel free to kneel on a blanket or fold your mat underneath your knees to provide more support. Gently push your hips forward so that your hips are directly over your knees. Maintain this alignment through the entire pose.
For a modified variation of Ustrasana, place your hands as fists on your low back. Gently push inward: this will maintain your hip to knee alignment. And gently press downward at the same time: this creates space in your low back since you will be moving into a backbend. As you are doing this with your hands, inhale deeply to feel a spinal extension as if you were lifting yourself off the floor. Another way of experiencing this sensation is to lift your heart and chest toward the ceiling. (If it feels alright on your neck, look up.) On your exhale, carefully and slowly lean backward. The sensation here is to feel like a pole vaulter; you are lifting upward to create length and height, then you soar over the imaginary pole. Continue this series of breaths and movements and feel how it puts you deeper into this modified version of your backbend/heart opener.
For a more advanced variation of Ustrasana, rather than placing your fists on your low back, sit back onto your heels then hold onto your heels with your hands. With a strong inhale, lift your heart upward as you rise up from your heels. On the exhale, gently press the hips forward. Continue this breath and movement sequence until your hips are aligned over your knees.
Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. Keep your breaths strong and intentional. Think of opening your hearth as an invitation to receive good things coming into your life. Also, experience this posture as a way to give of yourself openly and honestly.
As a counter posture, move into Child's Pose (Balasana) for 10-20 breaths. Here, hold onto the intentions you have set. Also take the time to reflect on this season of giving and receiving and set the intention to do so with an open heart.