One-legged crow pose has a reputation for being one of the hardest arm balances to get into (let alone sustain!). It requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength, and because you’re perching one knee on one arm, instead of two knees on two arms, negotiating your balance can be tricky. And if on top of that you have tightish hamstrings (hi, fellow runners)—well, that can make this pose even more frustrating.
So what’s an arm-balance-loving yogi to do?
In my own journey toward eka pada bakasana (one-legged crow), I have found three things to be of equal and immense benefit:
1. Practicing prop-supported variations of one-legged crow.
2. Strength drills!
3. Exploring various ways of getting into the pose. Truly, often just approaching it from another (literal) angle can make all the difference.
In this article, I explore in detail the use of props to get into one-legged crow. Below are three of my favorite strength drills that can prepare you for eka pada bakasana, along with three approaches for getting into the pose without props. You’ll probably notice that each drill is closely related to one of the approaches for entering the pose; however, all three drills are, in general, great for building strength for one-legged crow.
I recommend incorporating these drills into your regular yoga or strength-work practice (personally, I “love” inserting the first one into a high-intensity interval training session). Practice them, and your one-legged crow, only after you’ve warmed up adequately. In addition to your favorite warm-ups, do a few hip openers and hamstring stretches, wrist stretches, and perhaps some core work—whatever prepares your body for arm balances.
Keep in mind that these drills can be pretty intense, so make sure you don’t wear yourself out before you try them! Case in point: I was pretty sure I would never be able to do the second drill, which I usually sequenced near the end of my arm-balancing practice (when I was already pretty spent). Then one day, I sequenced it closer to the beginning of my practice and, lo and behold, I could do it!
Explore these drills and see what works for you and what doesn’t. Try sprinkling one or more, and/or some one-legged crow approaches that resonate, into your practice a few times a week (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing all three drills in a row!).
If your yoga teacher is teaching an eka pada bakasana-focused class, odds are good that you’ll probably be doing a drill or prep similar to this one—and for good reason! It’s pretty dang effective for building the strength and stamina needed to rock one-legged crow pose.
From downward facing dog, as you inhale, lift your right leg up into three-legged dog.
As you exhale, draw your right knee toward your chest and bring it to tap (or come as close as possible to tapping) the back of your right upper arm. Breathe here. Press your hands into the floor as if pushing the floor away and see if you notice an engagement in your belly. Round your back and slide your knee as high up toward your armpit as you can. Gaze just in front of your thumbs. (Later, we’ll explore transitioning from this position into one-legged crow.)
On an inhale, slide your right knee down toward your wrist (but don’t touch the floor).
On an exhale, slide your knee back up toward your armpit. Repeat two to four more times (three to five reps total), sliding your knee up as high as you can each time. After your final rep, return to downward dog and switch sides.
As you build strength, add more repetitions—working up to ten on each side, or doing as many as you can on each side for 30 seconds.
Knee Hovers From Crow
These knee hovers are no joke! In fact, once you get the hang of eka pada bakasana, it may seem easy by comparison. This is an especially great drill if you want to move into one-legged crow from crow, which can also be a nice way to sequence one-legged crow into a vinyasa flow (more on that later).
Start by coming into crow pose:
Come into a squat with your feet together, knees apart, and heels lifted so that you’re on the balls of your feet. Plant your hands on the floor, about a foot in front of you and shoulder-width apart, with wrist creases parallel to the short edge of your mat, and fingers spread evenly and comfortably apart; root down into your finger pads and finger knuckles.
Then, lift your hips above your shoulders and place your knees high up onto the backs of your arms. Shift your weight forward and float your feet off the floor. Press your hands into the floor as if you’re pushing it away from you, engage your abs to round your back, and gaze slightly forward.
Okay, here comes the “fun” part: Take an inhale here in crow, and on your exhale, shift a little more weight into your left hand, sliding your right knee off your right arm, and squeezing it in toward your chest. Inhale, replace your right knee on your right upper arm (as high up as you can!), returning briefly to crow. On an exhale, shift a little more weight into your right hand and slide your left knee off your left arm, squeezing it into your chest. On an inhale, return your left knee to your left upper arm. Repeat two more times on each side.
The higher up on your arms you can get your knees, the easier the switches will be!
• These are pretty tough! When I first learned them, after sliding one knee off my arm and squeezing it in toward my chest, I had to lower my feet to the floor to come back into crow pose before switching sides. It’s totally cool if you need to do that.
• You can also do a slightly less intense version of this drill with your feet on a block. Or you can do it with your feet on the floor instead of a block—the block, however, will give you a little extra lift that you may find advantageous.
To try this, come into a squat standing on a block at its lowest horizontal setting. Lift your hips, and work your knees high up onto your upper arms, as if preparing to come into crow. Keep one foot on the block as you squeeze your opposite knee into your chest, and then place it back on your upper arm and return your toes to the block. Alternate sides as described above. Eventually, over time, you may find that you no longer need the block.
Knee Lifts From a Block
This drill is particularly useful for coming right into one-legged crow from a squat.
Come into your squat to begin. Place a yoga block, at its highest setting and narrowest width, a few inches in front of your toes; plant your hands in front of the block.
Then, lift your hips and work your left knee high up onto your left upper arm; and, with the ball of your left foot still on the floor, bring your right shin to rest on top of the block.
Lift your left foot away from the floor.
Press your hands into the floor, contract your abdominals to round your back, and squeeze your left heel into your seat. Shift a little more weight into your fingertips, and see if you can bring your right knee into your chest, drawing your shin off the block.
Lower your shin back to the block, and then see if you can lift and lower a few more times.
Aim for three to five reps total, and then switch sides.
Approach 1: One-Legged Crow From the Knee-Slide Position
This approach can be particularly useful if you plan to sequence eka pada bakasana into a vinyasa flow. You can, for example, use this entrance to transition into one-legged crow from a down dog, lunge, or other standing pose, and then step or (lightly) jump back to chaturanga from your one-legged crow.
There are two main ways to get into one-legged crow from this position. The first way tends to be a little more common (at least in my experience), but I find the second way a bit more accessible.
From downward facing dog, on an inhale, lift your right leg up into a three-legged dog.
On an exhale, tap your right upper arm with your right knee.
Good news! You don’t have to slide your knee up and down your arm this time! Instead, keep your right knee where it is and hop your left foot forward a few inches—just enough so that you can secure your right knee up high onto your right upper arm. Bend your elbows as you do this. If you like, you can bring the ball of your right foot to the floor to work your knee up onto your arm—this can help you to get your bearings, and perhaps also to get the knee up a little higher.
Once your right knee is as high and secure on your right arm as it’s going to get, lift the ball of your right foot back off the floor (if it’s on the floor).
Press your hands into the floor, gaze forward just slightly, and begin to lean forward until your left toes feel light on the floor—maybe until just your left big toe is on the floor! If you lean forward a little more, you may even be able to lift all of your toes off the ground, and to float your left leg up and back behind you!
Aim to stay for a breath or two—maybe more—and then gently lower your left foot to the floor and transition to downward facing dog. Switch sides.
• Not to sound like a broken record, but lean forward! Leaning forward is key in this pose, but particularly when coming into it this way, as it helps to counterbalance the weight of your straight back leg. If you’re concerned that you might face-plant, place a bolster or stack of blankets in front of you that can serve as a “crash pad.”
• This entrance can be easily adapted if you also want to come into one-legged crow from a lunge—just lift your front heel and start to work your front knee up onto its corresponding upper arm.
While I have come to enjoy the previous option, it seemed impossible in the beginning. Sure, I could hop my back foot up and down a few times, but it would not stay lifted. What made all the difference for me was bending my back leg as I lifted it, and once it was airborne, then straightening the leg—as opposed to trying (and failing) to lift a straight back leg. Note that this can be a particularly useful option for yogis with tighter hamstrings. Here’s how to do it:
As in option 1, from downward dog, lift your right leg up and bring your right knee to your right upper arm. Hop your left foot forward a little bit so that you can more easily bend your elbows and work your right knee up onto your right arm (placing the ball of your right foot on the floor if you like). Then, hop or step your left foot in even closer—about halfway to your right foot (your left knee will be bent).
Lift your right toes off the floor if they’re not already lifted.
Push your hands into the floor, engage your abs to round your back, and gaze slightly forward. Shift your weight forward, allowing you to get light on your left toes. Then, continuing to lean forward, see if you can lift your toes away from the floor and squeeze your left heel in toward your seat.
From this bent-knee variation, you can explore extending your left leg up and back.
In my experience, not only is this variation easier to get into initially, I also find that I’m able to lift my back leg up higher when I come into the pose starting with a bent back leg. How high you do or don’t lift the back leg isn’t really that important, but that extra little lift is pretty exhilarating! Aim to stay for a breath or two, then gently lower your back foot to the floor and switch sides.
Approach 2: One-Legged Crow From Crow (i.e., From a Knee Hover)
One-legged crow is also commonly taught from crow pose. This can also be pretty easy to incorporate into a flow if you wish. And, as I mentioned earlier, if you’ve been practicing your knee hovers for a while, simply coming into a one-legged crow from crow (as opposed to shifting back and forth) may feel like a welcome reprieve! Here’s how to make it happen:
Begin in crow with your knees high up on the backs of your arms.
Then, as in your knee hovers, shift a little more weight into your left hand and slide your right knee off your upper arm and squeeze it in toward your chest.
From here, lean your weight forward a little more to counterbalance, and extend your right leg up and back behind you. Push into the floor, round your back, and gaze slightly forward. Stay for a couple of breaths if you can.
When you’re ready to come out, you could try bending your right knee and placing it back on your right upper arm, returning to crow; or you can simply lower your right toes to the floor, followed by your left, and then return to a squat before switching sides.
Approach 3: One-legged Crow From a Squat
This entrance is, in my experience, the easiest, although it’s a little harder than the others to incorporate into a flow. It’s also a bit reminiscent of the block hover drill, because you’re essentially coming into the hover position minus the block, and then transitioning into one-legged crow from there.
Begin in a squat with your feet together, heels lifted away from the floor, and your hands planted on the floor in front of you.
From here, lift your hips high, keep your right foot where it is, and begin to work your left knee high up onto your left upper arm.
Once it’s as high as it’s going to get, lift your left toes off the floor.
Then, lean forward a little more, press your hands into the floor, and see if you can lift your right toes away from the floor and draw your right knee into your chest. (It might feel similar to—maybe even easier than—lifting your shin off the block in the drill.)
Then, squeeze your right heel into your seat, and, continuing to lean forward to counterbalance, see if you can stretch your right leg back and up to come into one-legged crow.
Aim to stay for a breath or two before lowering and switching sides.
My hope is that these drills and approaches to one-legged crow will assist you in accessing the pose and making it work for you. As you try them out, please let me know (in the comment section below) which you find most helpful. Are there good ones that I’ve missed?
Photography: Andrea Killam