I Should Go Do Yoga....Prep for Crow Pose
Crow pose (or bakasana) is my favourite arm balance, and despite how it might look, the easiest arm balance for beginner yogis to work towards. The feeling when you first catch air in this posture is amazing, and I still remember the moment I did, some 3 years ago!
That said, it’s not an easy posture, by any means, and requires a lot of upper body and core strength to really stay safe and comfortable. I’ve put together my top prep-postures for working your way up to practising crow. Start with a simple warm-up: some cat-cows and half sun-salutations and then you can get started!
From a table-top position, come into cat, with a rounded back. Hug the lower belly in and press your hands into the floor and lift your knees off the ground by a few centimetres. Hold here and continue to press into the floor and breathe for 5-10 breaths. Repeat 5-10 times.
From table-top, lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs to come into plank. Try to keep your low belly hugged in and your tailbone drawing towards your heels. Press backwards with your heels and keep your shoulders and hips in a straight line. Try not to sink into your lower back by letting the hips drop.
Press into the floor with your hands as hard as you can and squeeze everything! Keep breathing and hold for 5-10 breaths, or as long as you can. Repeat 5 times.
Chaturunga Push-up or Modified Push-Up
For arm and shoulder strength push-ups are your friend! However, most people do these incorrectly. Try to bring as much awareness into your low-belly and core as you can while you’re lowering down. Keep your elbows hugged in tight to your ribs and keep your shoulders and hips in a straight line. You don’t have to lower to 90 degrees in the elbow if you notice your hips dropping or lifting out of that straight line. Instead, just focus on lowering down as far as you can while keeping the core tight and engaged.
Start with your knees on the floor if you need to, then build up from there. Exhale as you lower down, and then press into the floor and inhale to lift back up to the top. Try as many as you can.
Hugging your knees in tight to your armpits in crow requires a lot of flexion in the hips and strength in the inner thighs. Practice lizard to help with this. From table-top or downward-facing dog, step one foot forward and drop the back knee down. Move the front foot outwards and line it up with the outer edge of your mat. Make sure the foot is in line with your hands, and your hands are directly under your shoulders.
Hug the knee in tight to touch the shoulder. Stay here for 5-10 breaths. If you feel like you have more space, go down onto both elbows instead, but keep the knee hugged in tight to your shoulder, don’t let it fall out to the side.
Practice on both sides.
This posture is going to keep those deep transverse abdominals working, as well as strengthening the arms (and the legs - bonus!). From standing, bring the knees and big toes together. Bend the knees like you’re sitting down onto a chair and balance your weight in your heels.
Squeeze your thighs together, engage your buttocks and lower abdominals. Try to keep your chest lifted and your neck and shoulders relaxed. Hold for 5-10 breaths and then rest in a forward-fold. Repeat 3-5 times.
Again we’re working the strength of the inner thighs and getting some range of motion into the hips. From standing, widen your feet to the width of the mat and turn your toes outwards slightly. Bend your knees and bring your butt as close to the floor as you can without touching it to the floor. Adjust your feet as you need to in order to feel balanced. Bring your elbows inside your knees and press them outwards, while squeezing your knees inwards. Press your palms together so the forearms are parallel to the floor. Hold for 5-10 breaths, or longer if you can.
From seated, hug the knees to the chest and hold on to the backs of your thighs. Sit up tall and straight and point your toes so your heels lift off the floor. Then tip-top your feet closer to you until you balance on your sit-bones (the bones at the base of your buttocks) and the toes hover off the floor.
Then lift your feet and bring your shins to parallel to the floor. Keep pressing your chest forwards and sitting up tall. Hug the lower belly in and if you feel stable, reach your hands forward. Relax your shoulders and breathe for 5-10 breaths.
Now we’re really getting into the core activation! This posture is also a great prep for handstand, as it’s the same position as a straight handstand, just laying down!
From laying flat, lift your arms overhead and lift your feet off the floor so your lower back presses into the floor. Lift your head and look towards your feet. Keep breathing and squeezing! Hold for 5-10 breaths and then rest. Repeat 5 times.
Now we’ve activated the core, inner thighs and upper body and have got some flexion into the hips it’s time to get into position! Start with the reclined version, so you can feel how it’s supposed to feel and what needs to be working, without having to balance on your hands just yet!
From laying down, lift your hands up towards the ceiling, and flex your palms as if to place your hands onto the ceiling. Then bring your knees up and nestle them into your armpits, or as close as you can get them. Then try to squeeze your heels to your buttocks. Lift your head and shoulders and look at your feet.
This is your crow pose, just a reclined version! Hold here and keep breathing for 5-10 breaths.
Now let’s flip it over. Start squatting and place your hands in front of you, in line with your shoulders. Try not to have them too wide! Nestle your knees in to your armpits. *Note: some people find balancing on the backs of their triceps painful. If this is you, then instead of nestling your knees into your armpits, move them outwards slightly and hug the tops of your arms with your inner thighs. This requires more inner-thigh strength, but works for some people better than being up on the back of the arm.
From here, lift your heels and your butt as high into the air as you can, and tip-top forwards. Look forwards.
Practice leaning forwards and taking a bit of weight into your hands. Then maybe squeeze one heel in towards the buttocks, and then maybe the other, alternating with one foot on the floor.
Top tips for achieving crow:
Don’t rush! Jumping or trying to hop into crow will never get you anywhere.
Keep looking forwards, don’t look at your feet!!
Think ‘chaturunga arms’ to start with (bent at 90 degrees at the elbow), and then when you get a bit of air, press with all your strength as if you are trying to straighten your arms.
Keep your butt high!
Hug your low belly in (suck in and upwards!)
Squeeze your heels in towards your buttocks
So there you have it my friends! Your route to achieving crow pose! I have taught this sequence many times in class and often get people flying for the first time! It takes patience and hard-work, but if you want to improve, or add crow into your practice, this is the way to go!
If you have fear of falling forwards, practice with your head against the sofa, or place a big pile of cushions in front of you for when you fall. And remember….you will fall! That’s ok, get back up again and keep trying.
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