The Role of Shoulder Extension in Camel Pose

shoulder Extension in Camel Pose or Ustrasana

Ustrasana (Camel Pose) is a deep and elegant backbend. It can also be quite challenging to practice, as it often causes—and requires—extreme extension in the lumbar spine. The lumbar vertebrae come together in a way that supports shoulder extension in Camel Pose, whereas the thoracic spine only extends by a few degrees because of the way its facet joints come together. So, it makes sense that the path of least resistance would be to move predominantly from the lower back. 

The role of shoulder extension in Camel Pose is crucial but often overlooked. By learning to extend the humerus at the glenoid fossa of the scapula, which creates the glenohumeral joint, you can separate the actions of bringing the arms behind you from moving directly into the lower back. 

Working on shoulder extension can be tricky if you are used to moving from the lower back. Here are a few ways to work on shoulder extension.

Working at A Wall

Camel Pose (Ustrasana) at the Wall

  1. Stand facing a wall in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your palms facing forward and your upper arms externally rotated. 
  2. Keeping your hips moving toward the wall and your tailbone reaching down, extend your arms back behind you, away from the wall, shoulder-width apart.
  3. The wall acts as a barrier to limit you from extending at your lower back. 

Strengthening Shoulder Extension on the Ground

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) prone lift shoulders only







  1. Lie face down on the ground with your arms reaching down the sides of your body with your palms facing down. 
  2. Without lifting your spine, raise your arms away from the floor, keeping the arms as straight as possible.
  3. The shoulders strengthen by lifting the weight of the arms against gravity. As with the wall in the above variation, the floor restricts movement so that the lower back cannot get involved. 

Camel Without the Backbend


  1. From a kneeling position, keep the knees, hips, shoulders, and head aligned as in Tadasana. 
  2. Externally rotate your upper arms and reach the arms behind you without moving into spinal extension. 
  3. This exercise is quite different from the others because the wall or the floor confined the spinal movement, whereas here, you must create your internal container to prevent the spine from moving. 

Once there is this clear distinction between shoulder extension and spinal extension, then add the two together for Camel Pose. 

Entering Camel with Shoulder Extension First

  1. Begin your Camel Pose similarly to the last exercise, starting in a kneeling position. 
  2. Reach the arms backward, into extension, while maintaining a neutral spine.
  3. Once you’ve reached your end range of shoulder extension, then move into your spinal extension by firmly grounding into your shins, lifting through the crown of the head, and curling the spine back.       Camel Pose (Ustrasana) with hands to chair legs
  4. Support your hands on a chair, bolster, block, or somewhere along your lower leg.

Ustrasana is a deep backbend that can feel liberating and light. By separating the actions of spinal extension and shoulder extension, you’ll be able to access more range of motion when you approach entering the pose. You may also discover there is less strain in the spine when your shoulders play a more integral role while you practice. Unlock the potential of your Camel Pose with more shoulder extension.

Alison Ray Jeraci, yoga teacher and writer specializing in using yoga props

Allison Ray Jeraci, E-RYT 500, RPYT, is a vinyasa-based yoga teacher, fascinated by the intricate relationship between the mind and body. She offers a range of alignment-focused classes touching on anatomy, philosophy, and creative propping with a mindful approach.  In addition to teaching group classes and managing the Yoga Culture studio in Danbury, CT, she also teaches at Open Door Family Medical Center in Westchester, NY, empowering mothers-to-be with prenatal yoga classes and childbirth education. You can find her @allisonschleck on Instagram and

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