As an arm balance, Bakasana (Crane Pose) is a royal gateway to more advanced poses that have you standing on your hands, and for good reason: Confidence starts here. You may be hesitant even to try this pose for fear of taking an ignoble face-plant on your mat. But balance and strength arise from starting at a place of comfort and taking a risk of falling down. Balance isn't something that happens when you're standing perfectly still. It happens when you're staying strong and at ease with all of the fluctuations inside you. Practicing this pose is a good way to prove to yourself that you have it in you to face your fears, find your balance and strength, and take flight.
Preparing for and practicing Crane doesn't just build confidence. It also presents an opportunity to embrace a playful attitude as you find your balance and tap into your strength, pulling up your heels tight to your bottom and lifting off. To come into such a compact arm balance, the tailbone draws down, and the hip flexors contract. The strength of the hip flexors, core, and upper back helps you get compact and create an evenly rounded spine. Meanwhile, the arms and legs hug in toward the midline.
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In order to create a long, flexed spine that will allow you to hug in tight and lift both feet off the floor, you'll want to warm up your upper back, activate your core strength, and begin to open up your hip flexors with a somewhat vigorous vinyasa. Begin in Balasana (Child's Pose) with the arms stretched forward, and take eight breaths. Then come onto your hands and knees, and do several rounds of Cat-Cow Pose, pressing your palms firmly into the mat and rounding the upper back. Shift into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), and hold for eight breaths. Lift your right leg, externally rotate it, bend the right knee, and reach through your raised foot. Straighten your right leg, square off the hips, and step forward into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). Hold for eight breaths, and then lift your back knee and rise up into High Lunge for eight more. Repeat on the second side. Take five rounds of Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A). Now you're ready to set up and take flight!
1. Malasana (Garland Pose), variation
To prepare your lower back, come into a low squat on your mat with your inner heels and big toes touching. Balancing on the balls of your feet, part your knees slightly wider than your hips. Lean your torso forward between your legs, bring your arms out in front of you, and place your hands on your mat. Walk your hands out as far as they will reach, dropping the chest and head toward the ground. Now, start to counter this action by drawing the tailbone down to create a long, round spine. Your heels may or may not touch the ground depending on the flexibility of your Achilles tendon. If your head reaches the floor, let it rest there. Take 8 deep breaths, feeling the roundness in your spine, and then slowly walk your hands in toward your feet to come out of the pose.
2. Bakasana (Crane Pose), supported
One of the hardest parts of Bakasana is getting over the fear of falling on your face. The block is a nice safety net to get you ready for flight. Place a yoga block at its lowest height in front of you on a mat. Step onto the block on the balls of your feet with the inner edges of your feet touching. Come into a low squat with your knees slightly wider than your hips, leaving your feet in place. Lean forward, and place your palms on your mat, shoulder-width apart and several inches in front of the block. Wrap your knees around the upper outer edges of your arms as high up as they'll comfortably go. Walk your hands in a little closer to the block, and lift your tailbone. Shifting more weight onto your hands, bring the elbows forward in line over the heels of your hands, and keep your gaze forward, ahead of your fingertips. See if you can come onto your tippy toes, and round the upper back. Hold for 5 breaths, or practice lifting one foot at a time toward the tailbone. With time and confidence, practice lifting both.
After taking these two prep poses, practice coming into full Crane at least twice.
3. Bakasana (Crane Pose)
Now it's time to combine your strength, balance, and playful nature. Start in a low squat, balancing on the balls of your feet with the big toes and inner heels touching. Separate your knees, and lean your torso forward between your thighs. Bring your arms forward, and place your hands on the floor. Walk your hands in toward your feet until your palms are 6 to 8 inches in front of your toes.
Next, wrap your inner knees around your upper outer arms, and give your arms a solid squeeze with your knees. Keep this grip, but lift your tailbone high enough so you can bring your elbows in line with the heels of your hands as you lean your weight forward. Bend your elbows, and firm your forearms toward the midline to create height and support—in this pose, you want to think "in" before "up."
From here, begin to lift one foot, and then the other, toward your tailbone. Keep your gaze forward while concentrating on rounding the upper body, firming your forearms toward the midline, and breathing softly and easily. Keep rounding the upper back as you press into the floor. Hug your forearms in, and draw your heels tight toward your tailbone. To go further, find your core strength, and push down to straighten your arms for even greater height. Enjoy the lift and strength of Crane for 5 to 8 breaths before coming out and taking the pose a second time.
After you're finished, do a few backbends and hip openers to counter all the contracting of the hip flexors and the core work necessary for creating the long, rounded back in Bakasana.
First, lie on your back and prepare for either Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose). Take three backbends, and then roll up to Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). To release the hips, take Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose) for a few breaths on both sides, or come into Sukhasana (Easy Pose) and fold forward for a few breaths. Then sit and enjoy a couple of minutes of seated meditation before releasing into Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Kathryn Budig is a vinyasa teacher based in Los Angeles.