Vinyasa 101: Why Down Dog Is the Secret to Crane Pose

Eddie Modestini, a longtime student of K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar who leads YJ’s online course, Vinyasa 101: The Fundamentals of Flow, reveals the secret to mastering Bakasana.
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Eddie Modestini, a longtime student of K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar who leads YJ’s online course, Vinyasa 101: The Fundamentals of Flow, reveals the secret to mastering Bakasana.
Eddie Modestini performs Crane Pose.

Eddie Modestini, a longtime student of K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar who leads YJ’s online course, Vinyasa 101: The Fundamentals of Flow, reveals the secret to mastering Bakasaa. (Sign up for this essential guide to vinyasa yoga HERE.)

Arm balances are fun poses, but they can be more advanced. The best way to prepare for arm balances like Crane Pose (Bakasana) is to practice Downward-Facing Dog and hip openers like lunges.

Downward-Facing Dog may seem basic because we practice it so frequently, but it is the single most important linking pose in vinyasa yoga. It also gives you an opportunity to strengthen your arms for arm balances. It gets you ready for Handstand—and Handstand gets you ready for Crane Pose (often called Crow Pose).

In addition to Downward-Facing Dog, lunges can help you prep for arm balances because they open the hips, and you need that openness in the hips to do arm balances like Crane. The reason why Crane is often called "Crow" is because many people can’t do Crane -- they bend their arms and put their knees on their elbows. Their knees only reach their elbows because their hips are so stiff. If you look at the above photo, my shinbones are on the backs of my armpits, my knees are above my shoulders, my arms are straight, and my ears are level with my sacrum. Done correctly, Crane is much more advanced than Handstand, because you can do Handstand with stiff hips. Crane is impossible with stiff hips.

To open the hips for Crane and other arm balances, I prefer lunges to hip openers like Pigeon. That's because in the common Western version of Pigeon, all the pressure is on the knee, which makes it one of the riskiest poses. (To practice Pigeon safely, use a foam block underneath the hip so the pressure goes to the hip instead of the knee.) Practicing Downward Dog and lunges can help you move from Handstand to Crane to more advanced and fun arm balances.

See also Vinyasa 101: 3 Key Segments Every Vinyasa Class Should Have

Eddie Modestini is the co-director and co-owner of Maya Yoga Studio in Maui. Sign up here for Modestini's Vinyasa 101 course, which covers the anatomy of the spine, how to adapt asana for various body types, and much more.