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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

Kneel with your knees against the front edge of the blanket and place your hands shoulder-width apart, with the tips of your fingers resting just in front of the blanket's edge. Place your head on the blanket in front of your knees. Slowly lift your hips into the air, straightening your legs. Your head, hands, and arms will form a tripod, with your forearms perpendicular to the floor. If your hands are too close or too far away from your head, the foundation of your pose will be unstable. Come down and adjust the placement of your head if necessary. Then slowly walk your feet towards your head until your hips are over your chest. Maintain an upward lift through your back and lightly lift both legs off the floor to come up into Sirsasana II.

Stay in Sirsasana for 10 breaths. Check the position of your elbows: Make sure they are not splaying out wider than your shoulders, as this will destroy the stability of the foundation created by your arms, neck, and head. But don't just squeeze your elbows together; instead, carefully roll the shoulders back, shrugging them away from your ears, and draw your elbows away from your torso into the space in front of you.

(Note: If you find the pressure on your wrists stressful, place a small wedge under your palms to decrease the angle of extension. You can purchase wrist wedges from most yoga prop stores, but you can also use a strong wooden board covered with a mat. Raise one side of the board with a folded mat. This homemade device offers you greater versatility and better support than a foam wedge because you can vary the diameter of the folded mat to change the angle of extension, beginning with a steep angle for weaker wrists, and slowly lowering the angle over a period of months as your wrists and forearms grow stronger. You can also use the slant board for all postures where your wrists bear weight, including Adho Mukha Svanasana, Handstand, and other arm balances. I don't recommend the common practice of placing the base of your palm on a folded yoga mat. Mats are too spongy to offer the support the fragile wrist joint needs. Especially if you're recovering from wrist problems such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, take the time to make yourself a slant board.)

As you balance in Headstand, begin to relax your abdomen and allow your knees to fold into your belly. Let your navel be the center of your intelligence. Feed the legs back into your core by softening rather than gripping your abdomen. Feel the contents of your belly shift back against the spine so that the abdomen feels hollow.

Now come the trickiest parts of the cycle. How can you lower those knees to rest on the outside of your upper arms and then lift your head off the ground? As you lower your bent legs, continue to draw your thighs in toward your belly. Let your back round slightly, and allow your head and neck to gently shift so that your weight is more towards the back of your head. When you round your back, you can't safely maintain a vertical position with your neck; the contradiction between your rounded back and your straight neck can easily result in injury. Also, if you try to hold your head and neck in the same vertical alignment you use for Headstand, you won't be able to draw your body into the compact ball necessary for Bakasana. At this stage in the cycle, it's especially important to maintain the support of your arms so you don't drop too much of your weight onto your head and neck in this vulnerable position.

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