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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

Softly place your knees onto the outside of your upper arms, as close as possible to the armpits. You are now ready to come up into Bakasana.

To lift your head, it helps to imagine your head and your buttocks as two ends of a scale. It's important to bring the buttocks down if you hope to raise your head off the floor. As you shift your buttocks down, the weight on your head will lighten. This is the moment to raise your head from the floor and to shift the chest slightly forward through the arms to come into balance. As your head comes off the floor, press your shins against your upper arms and puff your back up so your spine is strongly rounded. Keep the inner edges of your feet together and flexed to maintain the compactness of your body and make it easier for your center to connect with and control your legs. Finally, if you can, straighten your arms.

You really need your sense of humor when you're lowering your knees onto your upper arms and bringing your head off the floor, because it's not uncommon to topple over in your first attempts. Consider each tumble as a valuable aid in teaching you what not to do the next time. If you do tip over, take a few moments to assess why you fell, so your next effort can be more skillful. Common errors include: allowing the feet to fall apart and the knees to slide off the arms; allowing the feet to hang limply instead of actively flexing them and thus engaging the abdomen; allowing the elbows to drop in or out; bringing too much weight forward towards the head; and raising the buttocks too high or hanging the buttocks too low. Decide which of these errors you made, and focus on correcting that one action in your next attempt.

Bringing your head back down to the floor into Sirsasana II may require a little more finesse than lifting up into Bakasana. Gently shift your weight forward and lower your head to the floor. Because your seat is heavier than your head, it's crucial to swing the buttocks up into the air a split second before you lower your head. Proper timing of this swinging action allows you to raise your pelvis over your chest with the least amount of muscular effort.

Now raise your legs back up into Sirsasana II. Stay for a few breaths, finding a steady balance once again before you lower the legs together to the floor, keeping them as straight as possible.

The moment your feet touch the floor, bend your knees and come into a deep Malasana position, stretching your hands back behind you. Gently curl your fingers back into your palms to provide an essential counterpose for your wrists. Stay for at least 10 breaths, allowing any tension in your face, jaw, and eyes to melt as you rest.

You can now return to Uttanasana and come back up to standing, ready to begin your next Suryanamaskar. Congratulations! You have completed one full arm balance cycle. You can repeat it as many times as you like, continuing to practice either Bakasana or other arm balances of your choice.

When you first attempt this practice regimen, you may find that you tire after the initial Suryanamaskar/Malasana/Standing Posture series. Over the course of weeks and months, you'll find your strength and stamina gradually growing. Once you've grasped the basic movements of the cycle, concentrate on making your transitions smooth and even, with each asana reaching its fullness before you flow into the next. At first, you may be able to manage only one Bakasana cycle, then two, and then before long you'll be able to add even more—until you're finally able to work through the whole repertoire of arm balances in a single practice. By then, you'll have discovered that you don't need magic or superhuman strength to master this cycle; you only need determination and the willingness to be present with yourself each step of the way.

Donna Farhi is a registered movement therapist and international yoga teacher. She is the author of The Breathing Book (Henry Holt, 1996), and Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness (Henry Holt, 2000).

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