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Side Crow Pose | Side Crane Pose: The Complete Guide

A challenging arm balance, Parsva Bakasana can help you build a better sense of balance, greater upper-body strength—and stronger confidence.


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Side Crow (or Side Crane) Pose is a twisted version of Kakasana (Crow Pose). You have to pay attention to all the same things—hand placement, arm position, activation of the abs, and balance. But Parsva Bakasana requires you to engage your obliques, the muscles in your side body, to twist to the side. Your legs, knees, and ankles align and stack on one of your elbows before you lift your feet off the ground and work to move into exquisite balance.

Aim to find balance, if only for a second, in this pose. Put your blocks to work: Place one on the floor close to your face if you’re worried about pitching forward. Put another under your feet to make it easier to lift your feet off the ground. Once you find the fulcrum, hover like a graceful bird.

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Side Crow and Side Crane basics

Sanskrit: Parsva Bakasana (parzh-vuh buk-AHS-uh-nuh)

parsva = side, flank

baka = crow

kaka = crane

Note: Crane and Crow poses are very similar in appearance and execution; the main difference is the bend (Crow) or extension (Crane) of your arms in the final asana.

Pose type: Arm balance

Targets: Upper-body strength

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Benefits

Parsva Bakasana is an energy-boosting, confidence-building posture that can improve your awareness of your body in space. This pose strengthens your thighs, core, chest, arms, and the back of your wrists. It also stretches the palm sides of your wrist (your wrist flexors), your hips, and side body.

Other Side Crane (Crow) perks:

  • This pose helps fights fatigue.
  • Twisting may aid digestion.
  • It stretches your thighs, particularly your outer thighs (abductors), buttocks (glutes), and the backs of your thighs (hamstrings)—which is helpful for people who sit a great deal.
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Step-by-step instructions

  1. Facing the long side of your mat, come into a squat with your feet and knees together.
  2. Inhale, lifting your left arm to the ceiling. On an exhalation, twist to the right, bringing both hands to the floor on the outside of your right foot.
  3. Place your hands on the floor shoulder-distance apart. Make sure your wrist creases are parallel to each other and to the edge of the mat.
  4. Extend your sternum away from your navel to create space and length in your torso. Shift your body forward, bending your elbows to a 90-degree angle so your elbows stack over your wrists as if you were in Chaturanga Dandasana.
  5. Roll the heads of your upper arms back and up away from the floor.
  6. Deepen the twist by shifting your hips to the left. Perch your right outer thigh on the shelf of your left upper arm. Draw your elbows toward each other keeping them close to the body.
  7. Lift your feet and heels off the floor, keeping your knees and feet stacked.
  8. To secure your balance, lower your forehead onto a block or bolster as you lift your feet.
  9. Hold for 3–5 breaths, then either release your feet to the floor or open your legs into Eka Pada Koundinyasana I (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya I).
  10. Repeat on the other side.
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Explore the pose

  • As you tilt your trunk forward over your hands, lengthen your spine like the long neck of a crane.
  • Meanwhile, keep your upper arms parallel to each other, and your collarbones parallel to the floor.
  • Don’t allow your elbows to splay outward—this allows you to collapse along the collarbones and sink into the pose. This can put too much stress on your outer arms. To avoid a plummet, keep your elbows shoulder-width apart and drawn in. Your shoulder girdle should stay lifted and move very little, says yoga teacher Tias Little, founder of Prajna Yoga, and the author of three books, including Yoga of the Subtle Body.
  • Power Yoga creator Beryl Bender Birch says the more you can draw yourself into a compact ball when lifting into the pose, the easier you’ll find it to lift up and hold the posture. Use your hip flexors and abdominal muscles in the same way they’re engaged in Marichyasana I (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I) to get your legs higher on your left arm.
  • Take your time as you make your way into the arm balance. Inch your way forward into the balance until you find the ideal balancing point. As you launch your center of gravity upward, pin your feet together and spread your toes.
  • To avoid compressing your wrists, warm them up with Marichyasana I. When you’re ready to enter Side Crow/Crane, spread your fingers wide to provide stable support for your wrists, arms, and shoulders.

Be mindful!

Avoid or modify Parsva Bakasana if you have wrist arthritis, wrist pain, or carpal tunnel issues; a shoulder injury, including a rotator cuff injury; or a hernia, hamstring tear, or groin tear. Use caution or avoid the pose if you are pregnant.

Use caution or avoid if you have osteoporosis, disc bulging or herniation, or other back pain or issues.

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Side Crane (Crow) variations

Photo: Christopher Dougherty
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Side Crow with straight legs

For more of a challenge, after getting into the pose, you can try to slowly straighten your knees for more of a challenge. Make subtle shifts to readjust your center of gravity and maintain your balance.

Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Side Crow with a block

Try starting with a block under your feet to allow more space to get into the pose.

Come into a squat with your feet on a block. Turn your body sideways. Create a shelf with your upper arms by placing your hands flat on the floor and bending your elbows. Place your outer thigh on your upper arms and lean forward, engaging your abs and bringing most of your weight off the block and onto your arms.

Hold for as long as you like, then carefully come down.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty
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Side Crow in a chair

Mimic the pose in a chair to get the same benefits of the twist. Sit tall in a chair and lift your right leg off the floor. Twist to the left. Bend your elbows, and squeeze them in close to your sides. If you don’t have osteoporosis, spinal disc bulging, or herniation, or any pain in the pose, lean forward and to the left to bring your elbows and upper arms toward your left outer thigh. Take a few deep breaths, then return to center. Repeat on the other side.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Play with both twists and arm balances throughout your practice to prepare for this posture.

Preparatory poses

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Kakasana | Bakasana (Crow Pose | Crane Pose)

Marichyasana III (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III)

Malasana (Garland Pose)

Counter poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

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Your body in Side Crow (Side Crane) | Anatomy

In Parsva Bakasana, the contact point between the side of the leg and the arm is the cornerstone for balance and also a point of leverage for deepening the twist, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher.

Several things help achieve and maintain the final asana. Your hips flex to a point of active insufficiency. This means that the prime mover of this action, the psoas, cannot generate much additional force for holding the legs on the arms because it is already fully contracted. Therefore the abdominals combine with the hip flexors to bring the legs onto the arms, and then other muscles are used to lock the legs in place. It is your core strength that makes the pose possible.

The muscles that press the leg into the arm also turn the lower body away from the upper body in the twist. This action links to the opposite arm, which straightens to turn the chest and upper body. The lumbar spine connects the chest and pelvis. Contracting one side of the abdominals increases the stretch of the other side. Activating the abdominals on the lower side of the body stabilizes the pose by drawing the outer thigh tighter against the arm.

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

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Your hands are the foundation of this pose. Connect them to the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Pronate the forearms and press the palms of the hands into the mat, using the pronators teres and quadratus as well as the wrist flexors. Maintain stability in the hands and wrists and then contract the triceps to lift the body upward by straightening the elbows. The front deltoids and pectoralis major assist in lifting the body. Use the lateral deltoids to press the arm against the thigh, locking the hips into flexion and twisting the torso.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

 

Press the thigh against the upper arm in abduction, which engages the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles of the hip. Squeeze the upper arm against the thigh, using the triceps to straighten the arm and the lateral deltoid to abduct the shoulder outward. These actions create a point of contact that stabilizes the pose and assists with the twist. Squeeze the knees together, locking them in place, by engaging the adductor muscles.

(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

Twisting the body connects the shoulders and hips and draws on the work of the upper-side back muscles (the erector spinae and spinal rotators) and quadratus lumborum with the oblique abdominals. The oblique abdominals are like sheets of muscle that slide over one another.

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

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Put Side Crow or Side Crane into practice

Ready to put this pose into practice? Here are a few flows to try:


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.