By Eric Salazar
These days, nailing crow pose or any fancy arm balance seems to be the progression of choice for yogis who want to test their strength on the mats. So we grit our teeth, clench our jaws and tense all parts of our bodies just so we can get into the shape of the pose, but more often than not, because of the lack of ease, we can’t seem to find the ability to hold the pose for long.
Arm balances may be a natural progression in our asana practice, but they should not feel forced or strained. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, poses should be done in ease and comfort – ‘sthira sukham asanam’. In arm balances, ease comes only from building strength and muscle coordination through consistent practice.
Ready to crow? Here are a few poses that will prepare you for balancing on your hands.
PLANK POSE – this pose strengthens the entire body, allowing us to develop necessary strength in the arms, legs and yes, CORE, to prepare for flight. Start out by holding this for 5 to 10 breaths, and then work towards a one-minute hold to develop a sense of grounding and connection to your body.
TIGER CURL – While in downward facing dog, lift one leg up (three-legged downdog) with hips square and then shift more weight onto the hands as you curl the knee to the chest. This orients the body in the shape of a crow pose. It reminds the body to ground the hands down, keep arm muscles active and round the back (bringing flexion into the spine), and acquaints us to the sensation of shifting our body weight forward onto our hands.
MALASANA – this squatting pose opens the hips and prepares the body for the shape of crow pose. Instead of straightening the spine, let the spine curl and round a little. Remember, you want the body to remember the shape easily. Flexion of the spine (rounding the spine) helps lengthen the back line of the body.
After nailing all these three preparatory poses, you are ready to take flight! Remember that with anything new, the body will need time to get used to it. Learning the biomechanics of the body – understanding how your weight shifts forward and back – is crucial in finding your balance.
Your journey to crow
Spread your fingertips and knuckles to ground your hands down on the mat. Start bending the elbows a little bit (at a wider angle than chaturanga arms) as you hug in the midline and touch your knees onto the outside of the arms (triceps) or underneath the armpits. If you’re touching the knees outside of the arms (triceps), remember to squeeze the knees to the triceps and triceps to the knees – it’ll help with muscle activation. Should you decide to put the knees under the armpits, ensure that the knees are glued all throughout the posture to ensure stability.
Stabilise the shoulder girdle and keep the collarbones wide as you round your spine. Gaze forward, about four inches ahead, so you can use the head as a counterbalance in the pose. Remember that you’re not required to lift the toes off the mat just yet. Feel the shifting of your weight, leaning forward and back, and imagine your arms as a fulcrum.
Once you get used to putting weight on your hands, calm the breath and start bringing your heels to your bum one at a time, curling forward into a ball. All this time, engage your core so the knee doesn’t become heavy as dead weight. Keep the other foot grounded down for support. Repeat this with the other foot.
Whenever you feel ready, start exploring by lifting both feet off the ground slowly. Be patient and go slow, as moving too fast may cause us to lose the feeling of connection to our body. Keep your gaze forward and keep breathing.
It may not happen all at once, but stay patient and you will find yourself soaring one day! Remember that practice is key. Consistent practice and letting the body take its time are two of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. The body will tell you when it’s ready.