Crow pose—or, in Sanskrit, Bakasana—is a great introduction to arm balances. Once you’ve mastered crow pose, you’ll have the foundation for postures like side crow, running man, and flying pigeon.
This pose can be daunting for beginners, but don’t worry! You don’t have to take flight right away—there are lots of baby steps to help get you there. On the other hand, if crow is old hat for you, don’t check out. You might be surprised how much there is to discover.
These exercises will wake up your core and prepare you for crow pose. You can do them as stand-alone preparation, or you can enter crow directly from one of them.
Start on your hands and knees, walking your hands forward three to four inches in front of your shoulders. Curl your toes and lift your hips as high as you can without pressing them back. Bend your knees, press the floor away through your hands, and pull your thighs towards your chest and your chest towards your thighs. Stay high on your toes. Nothing actually moves; you’re just engaging the muscles gently.
Relax the muscles, and walk your feet forward a few inches. Engage again. Repeat this up to five times, walking your feet in closer each time. The weight is even between your upper and lower body. Your abdominals draw in strong. If you can’t keep the weight even and find it all falling into your legs, walk your feet back a bit. By the time your feet are just a few inches away from your hands, you should feel so strong in your arm that you could almost float up into a handstand.
awkward 3 isometric
Separate your feet to hip width distance, turned in slightly. Lift your heels high, bend both knees, and squat with a flat back. Stop when your thighs are just above parallel, hips just above your knees. Round forward, bringing your elbows inside your knees. Gently press your elbows to your inner thighs, resisting your inner thighs back into your elbows. Suck in your stomach.
how to enter: There are multiple ways to enter crow pose, but a forward bend is a good place to start. Stand high on your toes, abs tight, and flare your knees just wider than your shoulders. Round forward, keeping your hips high.
Place your palms on the ground about mat width distance apart. You can experiment with the placement of your hands. Yours might need to be a little bit wider or narrower; you can also experiment with pointing your middle fingers directly in line with your wrists vs. angling your hands very slightly in. Spread through your fingers to increase your base and try to anchor your fingertips and the heels of your palms.
Suck in your stomach and round your back like in cat pose. Lift your hips. Bend your elbows and walk your feet forward until you can nestle your knee caps into your armpits. If your shoulders start to roll forward, re-engage your ‘cat’ muscles, visualizing your back broadening.
Look forward, shifting your weight forward into your hands with your eye gaze. As your weight shifts forward, your feet will naturally start to lift. In the beginning, it will probably only be one foot at a time, or even one toe. Just let it happen. Keep looking forward and breathing; try to hold it for five steady breaths.
- eye gaze: Look at the floor, but choose a point a foot or more in front of you, not below you. Lift your chin. Try to find this spot before you even enter the pose and keep your eyes steady as you lift off. The body goes where the eyes go, so don’t look down!
- hands: Your base is always important, and in crow pose, your hands are the base. You should have very little weight in your wrists. Instead, push your weight into the front of your hands, “clawing the mat” with your fingertips. Pushing off from almost-cupped palms will engage your forearms and keep you from resting in your joints.
- feet: As you advance, squeeze your heels up toward your tailbone and your feet toward each other.
- elbows: Squeeze your elbows toward each other; don’t let them flare out! Think of the arm and elbow placement in chaturanga. (Note: The straight-armed version of this posture is crane pose, or kakasana. In crow pose, the elbows are bent.)
- core engagement: This is a very active pose; keep your entire body, arms and core, present and engaged. If your triceps hurt after doing crow pose, you might be “sitting” your weight on them instead of holding yourself up with your core. There should be very little weight in your knees. Squeeze everything toward your midline!
how to simplify
- face your fear:Sometimes the problem is not physical, but mental. If a mental block is keeping you grounded, try putting a pillow or soft foam yoga brick on the ground in front of you. You can also practice with your head just touching a wall, or use a spotter. Liberation from the fear of falling might be enough to help you find the balance point.
- start small: Practice holding the posture with your feet still on the ground, but engaging through your upper body and core as if they were not. You can also try resting your shins on your triceps instead of your knees.
- get a boost: Enter the posture squatting on a block; this elevates your feet and hips, usually making it easier to work your shins toward your armpits.
how to advance
- alternate entry/exit: The possibilities are endless! Float into crow pose from plank (and out of crow pose back into plank); transition from crow to easy pose by crossing your legs and slowly lowering (not dropping) to a seated position; transition from crow into tripod headstand by gently lowering your head to the floor in front of you and then bringing your legs straight overhead (keep your core engaged—don’t let your head take on your weight once it touches the ground). You can even lift straight up from crow pose into handstand!
- hover your knees off your triceps, holding yourself up just with core strength.