Q: Do you have any suggestions for Crow Pose? I just can't get my feet off the ground!
—Rachel Murphy, Dublin
Barbara Benagh's reply:
Bakasana, more accurately translated as Crane Pose, is the most important of all arm balances, since understanding how to do Bakasana lays the foundation for most arm balances. Arm balances are complex, and they reveal how the flexibility and strength that carry newcomers through many poses cannot replace skills mature yoga practitioners develop over years of practice.
Most people who fail at this arm balance have not distributed their weight correctly. The most common mistake I see is students lifting their hips so high that their poses are too vertical—they become diving cranes! Some people get the feet off the floor this way, but then their pose becomes very heavy on the arms. Crane Pose performed in this manner avoids the weight shift essential to understanding this asana and evolving into other arm balances. My feeling is, if you can't go forward enough to risk falling, you won't go forward enough to balance.
First, I want you to feel the abdominal and thigh action that is the core of support for Bakasana. Squat on your tiptoes and bend forward to position your shoulders or upper arms under the shins. (Some folks practice Bakasana with their knees pressed into the armpits—your choice). Strongly lift your head and chest while pressing the arms back against the shins. Without putting further weight on your arms, and keeping your chest lifted, pull your abdomen in and raise your hips to shoulder level. Though difficult, this action gives you a sense of where the real strength of arm balances comes from.
From this position, exhale, push forward from your feet, and move your elbows past your fingers so your arms slant forward. Keep your
chest lifted! When you can do this, you will feel your weight shift from your feet to your hands, allowing the body to be lifted and supported by your arms. It's as simple as that.
You can practice this difficult arm movement without the added burden of your full weight by kneeling and pushing your elbows past your fingers while scooping up your chest. If you look at a picture of someone doing Bakasana well, you will see the dramatic angle of the arms you seek.
So remember, use your abs and thighs to keep your hips at shoulder height, push forward to shift weight onto your hands, and lift your chest. When you become adept, refine the pose further by straightening your arms and pulling your feet as close to your hips as possible, letting your hips rise. Most of all, keep practicing!