“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” —Peter Pan
Kakasana, or crow pose, is one of the foundational arm balances in yoga practice. Mastering this posture will open the door to a world of arm balances and fun transitions on your mat. Not only will your physical practice progress, but by persevering and maintaining the concentration necessary to fly, your newfound skills will aid you in countless ways off the mat. Crow pose is no easy task; it takes a great deal of strength and bravery. However, there are several tricks and techniques that may allow you to lift off with more ease.
Mastering crow pose will open the door to a world of arm balances and fun transitions on your mat.
Try adding these six simple tips into your practice of kakasana as you move toward flight.
1. Set Your Foundation
A strong foundation creates the basis of a strong posture. Never underestimate the power of the basics! The phrase “tadasana (mountain pose) in every asana” is a cliché, but accurate. Your foundation stabilizes your posture and allows you to build your pose safely and steadily. In crow pose, the foundation is in your hands—after all, you are balancing on them.
Begin by planting your palms shoulder-width apart, with your fingers spread wide and spaced evenly. Press down into all four corners of your palms (the mounds, index and pinky fingers, and the inner and outer heels of your hand) to evenly distribute your weight. You may need to apply more pressure to the inner side of your hand (the mounds below the index fingers and thumbs), since your weight typically shifts toward the outer edges of your hands. Then, grip the mat with your fingertips as if you are a cat clawing at it. Keep the roots of your fingers and the pads of your fingers firmly grounded, so that if someone were to try to pluck your fingers off the mat, they could not move them. Imagine that the center of your palm is a suction cup lifting off the floor, but still sealed to the mat by the corners of your palms.
2. Squeeze Into the Midline
The adductor muscles (which run along your inner thighs and, when contracted, draw the legs toward each other) are some of the strongest players in kakasana. In order to take flight and stay lifted, these muscles need to be fully engaged. Targeting the adductors is actually quite simple: just hug your legs in toward the midline of your body.
Once you have a solid base, keep the balls of your feet planted on the floor, and slide your knees as high onto the backs of your arms (toward your armpits) as you can. Although another variation of crow pose requires you to squeeze your inner thighs against the outsides of your upper arms, the focus of this particular variation is to draw your knees up the backs of your upper arms while hugging your legs toward each other. So, with your knees lifted as high onto your arms as possible, squeeze your legs in toward each other.
Activating the adductors will keep your knees firmly planted on your arms, preventing them from sliding down. Continue squeezing into the midline throughout the pose.
3. Engage the Bandhas
The bandhas are locks created within the body to facilitate the flow of energy, or prana, to either be released or constricted. In the case of crow pose, you want to constrict the flow of energy to the lower body so you can more easily shift your weight against the force of gravity. The two major bandhas most helpful for this posture are mula bandha (the root lock) and uddiyana bandha (the upward flying lock). As you might tell from their names, these locks create a root foundation and allow for the action of flight.
Begin by engaging your root lock, located at the base of the pelvis. Gently contract and lift your pelvic floor. The best way to think about isolating this movement is to imagine that you desperately need to use the bathroom, and you’re engaging those muscles to hold it in. The primary goal is to engage the perineum (the space between the anus and the genitals). By isolating and activating this bandha, it is said that we are able to make the body less “earthbound” (and for crow pose, that means the ability to take flight). Next, activate the upward flying lock by drawing the pit of the belly (the distance of about two fingers below your navel) in toward your spine and up toward your rib cage. These two bandhas work in conjunction with one another to prepare your body for liftoff.
4. Round Your Back
With the bandhas engaged, you can truly begin to tap into the power of your core. The core is the single most important aspect of every arm balance. To awaken your core strongly in crow pose, round your spine. Think about creating a “cat pose” shape with your back by protracting your shoulder blades (widening them apart from each other), hugging your belly button in toward your back body, and actively pressing the floor away from you with your hands. Create a C-curve shape with your whole spine. Rounding the back is what allows you to lift your hips.
5. Lift Your Hips
The action of crow pose is always moving away from the floor: pushing it away and allowing gravity to work in your favor. Instead of letting the weight of your body melt toward the mat, press the ground away from you while keeping your hips high. Think of leading with your hips as you float up into crow pose, always reaching them toward the sky.
6. Look Forward, Lean Forward
A wise teacher said, “If you’re looking down, you’re going down.” Where you focus your energy and attention (also known as your drishti) is very important in yoga practice. When flying your crow pose, keep your eyes focused on where you want to go—forward, not down! People often believe that arm balances are all about strength in the arms. While, of course, arm strength is a key factor, you may be surprised to learn that practicing these poses is more about counterbalancing your weight than just brute strength. As you lean forward, your legs become light; and if you lean far enough forward while maintaining strength and alignment, your feet will become so light that they simply lift off the floor. From here, the peak is to draw your heels in toward your seat and enjoy the thrill of the flight!
Kakasana is a fun and invigorating asana that helps to build strength as well as confidence. Crow pose may seem daunting at first glance, but if you focus on the individual components of the posture, you will one day find that these little pieces easily add up to the whole. The power of setting a strong foundation, squeezing your legs in toward your body’s midline, engaging the bandhas, rounding your spine, lifting your hips, and looking forward as you lean will really surprise you. With enough practice, patience, and perseverance, you may soon find yourself lifting up into the arm balance. (One day you may even surprise yourself by straightening your arms and finding bakasana, crane pose!)
Take your time, enjoy the process, and have fun along the way as you learn about your body and expand your mind—all the while finding the lightness to take flight.