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Bakasana Vinyasa (Crane Pose Performed from Tripod Headstand)

Arm balances don't require enormous strength—just patience, concentration, and a sense of humor.

By Donna Farhi

So if your practice lacks ebullience and you've been resting on your laurels of late, consider offering yourself up to a challenge. It need not be this particular sequence of asanas, but let there be some part of at least one practice session each week in which you learn a new skill. We all need these little challenges to keep us alive and kicking.

(CAUTION: This approach requires you to be confident of your balance and technique in Sirsasana II (Tripod Headstand). You should experience no strain whatsoever in your neck during or after the pose. If you can't practice Sirsasana II with ease, work on it under the guidance of an experienced teacher until you can. Then you'll be ready to attempt this Headstand-Bakasana cycle.)

When I practice arm balances, I start with a long series of Suryanamaskars (Sun Salutations), ending each cycle in a variation of Malasana (Garland Pose). The Sun Salutations warm up the whole body, and the long repetitions of Malasana open the groin and back, easing the way for the arm balances. In between the Sun Salutations, I work through a series of standing postures to further open the hip joints.

Warm-Up Vinyasa

Begin with a Sun Salutation. At the end of the cycle, when you are bent over your legs in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), come into Malasana with your feet hip-width apart and your arms draped in front of you on the floor. Breathe deeply into your abdomen and allow your hips and heels to release toward the floor. Stay in Malasana for 10 breaths, then return to Uttanasana and finish the Sun Salutation by coming back into Tadasana (Mountain Pose).

After your first Sun Salutation, practice Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) on each side. When you're done, return to Tadasana and begin your second Suryanamaskar. When you reach your final Uttanasana, squat into Malasana again, but this time bring the inner edges of your feet together. Release your knees out to the sides and reach your arms in front of you on the floor. Focus on lengthening your spine and deepening your hips toward to the floor.

After 10 breaths return to Uttanasana, come into Tadasana, and move into Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose). Proceed into your third Sun Salutation, again ending with Malasana. This time bring your arms underneath your shins. Reach back strongly with your palms open to the ceiling and your thumbs stretching away from your little fingers.

Continue to alternate Sun Salutations with standing postures, ending each Salutation with a long stay in Malasana. You can choose any of the standing postures; in addition to Trikonasana and Parsvakonasana, a well-rounded selection for opening your hips might include Virabhadrasana II, Ardha Chandrasana, Parivrtta Trikonasana, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, and Prasarita Padottanasana.

Sirsasana-Bakasana Cycle

When you've completed the final standing pose in your warm-up vinyasa, place a folded blanket on top of your mat, so your head will have a little padding during the Headstand-Bakasana cycle. (CAUTION: It's essential to do arm balances on a hard floor. Do not practice on soft carpet, because your wrists will collapse below the level of your fingers, overextending the wrist joint. This can weaken the wrist and contribute to problems such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.)

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