Crow Pose | Crane Pose: The Complete Guide

A compact arm balance, Kakasana and Bakasana tone your abs and arms, strengthen your core, and sharpen your mental focus.


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Bakasana (Crane Pose) or its sibling Kakasana (Crow Pose) are often the first arm balances that yoga students attempt, but they also offer a great deal of room in which more experienced yogis can explore. These poses challenge your strength, balance, and confidence, which may be why yogis feel such a sense of accomplishment when they are able to hold the pose.

“For the first time, instead of feeling like a fumbling newbie, I felt like my body was actually capable of some of the amazing things I’d seen other yogis do,” says yoga teacher Erin Motz, co-founder of Bad Yogi. “The simple act of trying and kind of getting it gave me the confidence to keep at it.”

Technically, Kakasana and Bakasana are two different poses. You practice Crow by bending your arms and allowing your shins to rest on your upper arms. Crane Pose is a straight-armed asana in which the knees are pulled in tight and high and tucked into your underarms. (To remember the difference, think of a crane’s long, straight legs.) In this way, these closely related poses offer as much flexibility as they require. You can practice different arm and knee positions to find what works for your body.

Both poses—and their variations—require you to create connections between your elbows and knees and your abdominals and spine. There are three main actions in Crane (Crow) Pose:

  1. Flexion (rounding your spine, bending your knees, and flexing your hips to bring your legs in towards your abdomen)
  2. Adduction (squeezing your legs together to keep them together in your midline)
  3. Protraction (moving your shoulder blades away from your spine and down your back to stabilize your joints and engage your back muscles.

Together, these actions strengthen your abdominal muscles, arms, and wrists; they stretch your upper back and inner thighs.

Crow and Crane encourage body awareness, but beyond the physical aspects, the poses motivate you to face any fear of falling on your face. Once you find the balance of holding on while letting go, your confidence will soar.

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Crow Pose and Crane Pose basics

Sanskrit: Kakasana (kahk-AHS-ah-nah); Bakasana (bahk-AHS-ah-nah)

baka = crane

kaka = crow

Pose type: Arm Balance

Target area: Upper body

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Benefits

Crow Pose and Crane Pose improve focus and stretch your buttocks (glutes), front of your thighs (quadriceps), and the palm sides of your wrists (wrist flexors). These poses also strengthen your core, upper back, chest, front of your hips (hip flexors), back of your thighs (hamstrings), arms, shoulders, forearms, and back of your wrists (wrist extensors).

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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Begin in a squat with your feet together and your knees wide apart. Place your hands on the floor shoulder-distance apart and 6–8 inches ahead of your feet.
  2. Come onto the balls of your feet and lift your hips high to rest your knees and shins as high on your upper arms as possible. Grip your outer shoulders with your knees.
  3. Shift your torso forward until your elbows stack over your wrists.
  4. Engage your abdominals while stretching and rounding your back, descending your tailbone toward the floor.
  5. Continuing to reach your chest forward, come high onto your toes, grip your outer shoulders with your knees, and lift your feet toward your buttocks.
  6. Roll the heads of your upper arms back and up, away from the floor.
  7. Your knees can either grip your outer shoulders or balance on your triceps.
  8. In Crane Pose, press your arms as straight as possible while bringing your feet and buttocks toward each other.
  9. Hold for for up to 5 breaths, then either release your feet to the floor or kick back into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose).
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Explore the poses

Modifications and props

Some students have a difficult time lifting into Crow Pose or Crane Pose from the floor. It’s often helpful to prepare for these poses by squatting on a block so that your feet are a few inches off the floor.

Deepen the poses

The full poses sometimes cause varying degrees of pain in the wrists. Instead of spreading the fingers on the floor, curl them slightly. This should take some of the pressure off the wrists.

Create a strong connection between your arms and legs and legs by pressing your knees/shins into your arms and your arms into your knees. Keep the elbows pulled in close to the body. If your elbows jut out, you may have more difficulty coming into the pose.

Be mindful!

Avoid this pose or use caution if:

  • You have vertigo, dizziness, or certain eye conditions
  • You have wrist arthritis, wrist pain, or carpal tunnel problems
  • You have any back pain or back injuries, including surgeries, osteoporosis, disc bulging or herniation, or arthritis.
  • You have a hip replacement or experience hip pain in the pose.
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Variations

Because Bakasana and Kakasana are so closely related, these poses offer a great deal of  flexibility in finding “your” pose. You can practice subtly different arm and knee positions to find what works for your body. You can also work with props to help support you in lifting into the pose.

Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Crow prep

Press your arms into your knees and knees into arms to find strength and stability. Shifting your body forward, come up on the tips of your toes. Engage your ab muscles as you lift one leg at a time.

 

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Crow with a block

Try placing a block underneath your feet. This enables you to bring your shins higher on your upper arms, even if you have tight hips; this increases the likelihood of you getting into the pose. Consider putting some pillows in front of you for cushioning if you fall forward. Lift one foot at a time. Work toward lifting both feet.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Supine crow

To get a feel for rounding your back in the pose, try coming into Crane or Crow on your back. Bring your shins to the outside of your upper arms, and press the shins and arms together. You can keep your head down or lift it for a few breaths.

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Preparatory and Counter Poses

Preparatory poses

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Malasana (Garland Pose)

Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Plank Pose

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Angled Standing Forward Bend)

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Counter poses

Purvottanasana (Reverse or Upward Plank)

Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

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Your body in Crow and Crane Pose | Anatomy

Alignment is as important as strength in these arm balances. Engaging the correct muscles provides the necessary force required for stability, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher. Bakasana and Kakasana connect the upper and lower extremities at the inner thighs and upper arms. The adductors in the inner thighs grip the upper arms. The arms direct the center of gravity down to the mat. The abdominals activate to flex and lift the trunk upward. Flex the hips and draw the feet up, and evert the ankles (turn them out) to open the soles of the feet.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Crane or Crow Pose: Bakasana
Illustration: Chris Macivor

Squeeze the thighs against the outer arms using the adductor group of muscles along the inner thigh. Draw your lower legs up by engaging the hamstrings. The gluteus minimus also helps draw the hips into flexion.

Engage the deltoid muscles that lie over your shoulder joint, especially the anterior and lateral thirds, to lift the body and press outward through the arms and into the legs. The main stretch in this pose is of the rhomboids and middle third of the trapezius, due to abduction of the scapulae. The serratus and pectoralis muscles create reciprocal inhibition of the rhomboids and trapezius, resulting in some degree of relaxation in the stretch.

Crane or Crow Pose: Bakasana
Illustration: Chris Macivor

Press the palms into the floor by activating the pronator teres and quadratus and the wrist flexors. Then spread the weight from the inner side of the palms across the hands. Externally rotate the upper arms to create a coiling effect through the elbows, into the wrists, and connecting with the hands.

Crane or Crow Pose: Bakasana
Illustration: Chris Macivor

Bring the feet together. Dorsiflex and evert the ankles. This uses the tibialis anterior and peroneus longus and brevis.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions by Ray Long.

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Put Crow and Crane Pose into practice


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.