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Challenge Pose: Eka Pada Bakasana

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Eka Pada Bakasana (One-Legged Crane Pose): A pose that strikes a chord of fear in the heart of all arm-balancing yogis. This pose is freakin’ hard. It is similar to its cousin, Eka Pada Koundiyasana I, but fiercer. It’s definitely the pose that would knock you off the monkey bars.

That being said, how do you deal with a bully? With kindness and strategy! Realize that this pose takes patience, strength, awareness, and time. You cannot give up on this one even when it seems like it’s forcing you to. Bundle up your core awareness and keep coming back to this pose. If you want to achieve Eka Pada Bakasana, it needs to be put into a regular routine. So, start here and keep coming back for more until you’re soaring high above the monkey bars and into the future!

Step 1

There’s no need to even contemplate one-legged Crane Pose if we can’t rock it with both legs. Start in a low squat balancing on the balls of the feet with the big toes and inner heels touching. Separate the knees wide and walk the arms forward until they are straight. Stay low but walk the hands back in, wrapping the inner knees around the upper outer arms. Give the arms a solid hug with the knees. Keep this grip but lift the bottom. Bend the elbows and firm the forearms in. (A very important step. Arm balances are hard because we bear our body weight on the arms, which makes them buckle. Prevent this by firming to the midline to create height and support.)

Shift the elbows over the heels of the hands and lift one foot to the bottom. Follow by lifting the second as well. Keep the gaze forward of the finger tips. Find a huge rounding in the upper body, keep the forearms firming into the midline and a soft, easy breath.

Step 2

It’s time to build strength on asymmetrical posing! I want you to imagine there’s a Thigh Master in between your thighs. Draw the inner thighs towards each other to create tension. The knees will slowly move toward the midline along the arm. Choose one leg to pull over to meet the second arm. Once it gets there, you will hold the arm in-between the two knees.

There is a huge rounding of the upper back that prevents you from falling out through the center during the transition. Get a good grip under the fingertips and strong firming of the bent elbows in. Set this down or try to bring the original knee back into Crow. This will be a faster movement and don’t worry about it being pretty.

Step 3

The most common roadblock to this pose is not dealing with the hips. They have to remain HIGH. If we try to create the full pose with the hips low or parallel to the ground, the pose becomes extremely heavy. The higher the hips, the more extension and direct line of energy. Start in a slightly shorter stance of Downward-Facing Dog. Lift the right leg up into the air. Bend the knee and land it as high up the outer edge of the arm as possible.

Keep the gaze forward and bend both elbows as you continue to firm them to the midline. Buns remain high in the air. Drag or slowly hop the back foot in to gain height in the hips. Hold this position for 5 breaths and rest or continue to Step 4.

Step 4

More than anything, it’s time to get confident. This is a STRONG POSE. Honestly, it’s probably one of the most challenging arm balances out there. When you enter the pose, there is no time for doubt. Trust yourself, your strength, and your abilities. Will you face plant? Possibly to likely, but you’ll get back up and do it again.

Let’s pick up where we left off in Step 3. The hips are high and we want them to stay there. Keep bending the elbows as they draw in to create a platform. If it doesn’t bother your toes, drag the back foot in on the top of the foot (toenail side down) until it won’t drag anymore and must lift up. If this bothers your foot, do the hop variation.

Once the back foot is close and needs to lift, you’ll feel a tug from the lower belly. Keep the lower belly engaged and extend the back leg as soon as it leaves the ground. It will feel as if your back leg has taken 8 espresso shots. Make that leg as straight as an arrow and spread the toes. Expand through the back of the knee. Keep the gaze forward, elbows tight and a round in the upper back. Shoot it back or set down and take rest in between sides.

Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MBG, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook or on her website.