This is my thirteenth year of yoga, and every time the instructor leads us into camel pose, or ustrasana, as I slowly bend backwards and try to find my feet somewhere behind me, instead of focusing on the breath all I can think is, how can this possibly look like a camel?
I can see the logic behind cat pose, in which you support yourself on your hands and knees and arch your back like an angry cat. But cow pose, in which you arch your back in the opposite direction, doesn\’t look like any cow I\’ve ever seen, though perhaps cows in India have a different repertory of gestures.
Cobra, in which those with flexible backs rear up off their mats, does remind me of the snake, minus the hiss. And down-dog is not unlike a play bow, minus the wagging tail and joie de vivre. But what does the supine pigeon pose have to do with pigeons, or the pretzel arrangement of eagle, with the imperial bird?
However, perceptions of reality vary widely between cultures. For all we know a guy in a loincloth, kneeling on the sands of Coromandel and bending backwards until his hands reached his heels looked precisely like a camel to the ancient yogis.
But not to me, which is why I\’m drawing this series of animal asanas, so I can stop obsessing about how no Bactrian or Dromedary ever looked like what I\’m doing on the mat, and concentrate on the breath instead.