So you’ve been doing yoga for a pretty long time, feel fairly strong and are ready to take things up to the next level. Enter arm balances. Arm balances provoke us to find just the right balance between what we call sukham (ease) and sthiram (effort). They strengthen the arms and wrists, engage and tone the core, and challenge us to find our breath when we feel like we want to panic and hold it in.
Crane pose, or Bakasana, is an excellent introduction to arm balances. It offers a nice challenge while still being accessible for those with an intermediate yoga practice. I can recall the first time I took a yoga class where crane was being offered. It looked a little scary to me, but I can recall being mesmerized and thinking I would never be able to master it! However, when broken down into manageable steps, you may find this little arm balance becoming a part of your repertoire.
Setting The Stage
To prepare the body to take on crane pose, be sure to perform a warm-up. Go through several sun breath sequences and Sun Salutation A (look back for a full break down of this!) before attempting. The spine takes on a rounded shape in this pose called flexion. To feel this, get down on all fours with the shoulders over the wrists and the hips over the knees. Draw your belly in and up toward your spine. It is important to keep this “navel lock” all through your practice and especially when doing crane pose. It will keep your lower back protected and your core engaged.
The yoga prep pose here is called “cat.” Press into the tops of your feet and round your spine, doming the upper back. Let your head hang heavy and free. Keep feeling the tops of your feet, the shin bones and hands rooting to the floor as your create this spinal flexion… this is the shape of the back in crane pose. Feel cat pose for several breaths before moving toward crane.
1. Start standing tall in chair pose. With your knees bent and keeping your feet together to begin, plant your hands to the floor and round the spine in that “cat” shape.
2. Part your knees, and then hug your knees to the outer, upper arms and squeeze in. An alternate option is to bring the knees nearly into the armpits, but I have never found this quite as stable as placing knees to outer, upper arms.
3. Start to transfer your weight forward, but do not look back through the legs; this will only cause a somersault! Keep your gaze just beyond your yoga mat.
4. As the weight tips forward, start by lifting one foot, and then the other, keeping your knees bent. Eventually, as you get better at this, try lifting both feet together at the same time, with the inner seams of the big toes touching.
5. If you find lift off, keep the spine round, gaze forward and knees hugging in. Lift your bottom toward the sky, imagining a string coming from your tailbone keeping you lifted.
6. More advanced practitioners can try to work toward straight arms, and exit by performing a chaturanga.
Since crane pose is such a rounded shape, you may want to counter this by doing a few backbend poses such as bridge or wheel to open up the chest. As well, feel free to get down on all fours and turn your hands back toward the thighs to release any tension in the wrist. Once you keep practicing these types of arm balances, the wrists respond and build strength. Keeping working on it!
Remember: Breathe through challenges. How we respond to challenges on the mat is often how we respond to challenges off the mat. Let your yoga practice be a good prep to face the inevitable ups and downs of life! Namaste.
Model: Lana Russo, RYT 500, lululemon Ambassador
Photos by Kim Hurst and Jacquelyn Annunziata