In crow, you prop your knees on the shelf created by your upper arms. Once you’ve mastered this posture, you may feel ready to try the straight-armed crane. By removing the shelf, you can soar a bit higher. The straight arm version deploys substantial core strength to sustain height and stability. For many of us, attempting to transition from bent to straight arms causes us to fall out of the posture, while coming into the asana with straight arms right from the start gives us the stable perch we need to take flight.
The sequence below will wake up key muscles used in bakasana, and it includes a useful prop trick that may make a straight arm-crane easier than you think! Have a block or two handy.
Begin on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart, and shins relatively perpendicular to the ground. Place a block (at its narrow to medium width) between your thighs, and take a few breaths here. With each exhalation, hug your inner thighs around the block until you feel the muscles of your inner thighs and pelvic floor lift and your lower abdominal muscles engage. Release on inhalation. Continue for 6 to 10 repetitions.
Take a few bridge rolls with the block between your thighs. On an inhale, starting from your tailbone, begin to lift up one vertebra at a time. As you roll up raise your arms overhead so that the backs of your hands touch the floor at the peak of your inhalation. On your exhale, descend in reverse order—first returning your upper back to the floor, and lowering your tailbone last. Bring your arms back alongside your torso as you lower, touching your palms to the floor at the end of your exhale.
Extend your arms out to a "T" and begin drawing figure eights with your knees—exhaling as your knees move to the side, and inhaling as they return to center. Your head will turn in the opposite direction of your knees (As your knees go left, your head turns right and vice versa). Keep this movement contained and fairly gentle; it’s just to wake up those sleepy core muscles. Try a few repetitions and then reverse directions. It’s harder than you think!
Picture yourself in the pose, with your arms straight and knees hugging tightly near your armpits. Your spine is very rounded. Now do the pose on your back, as though the floor were above you.
Begin in phalakasana (plank pose) with weight evenly distributed across your palms. On an inhale, lift your left foot away from the floor so you're in a one-legged plank. On an exhale, draw your left knee to your nose; inhale, and re-extend your left leg; exhale, draw your left knee to your left outer armpit; inhale, and re-extend your left leg; exhale, draw your left knee across your body to your opposite (right) elbow; inhale, and re-extend your left leg. Then return to plank, and repeat on the other side. Do two rounds on each side (but not so many that you tire out your wrists before your apex posture!)
Ready to try the upright variation of crane? Here’s a trick to give you a boost. Tiptoeing on a block or two or a sturdy bottom stair is a particularly great way to get sufficient height to allow your arms to be straight. (If you have a bottom stair available, I recommend using that, as it will be more stable than blocks.)
Begin in a wide knee squat on the block(s) or bottom stair (think “malasana on a perch"), with hands on the floor in front of you (fingers wide and weight distributed evenly across the palms). Just like you did in crane on your back, keep your arms straight and your knees hugging tightly near your armpits as you shift your weight forward, eventually lifting your feet off of your support. You can also place a cushion in front of your face to help with courage in shifting forward for lift-off.
The hug of your inner thighs to your triceps (preferably skin-to-skin to prevent slipping) and strong engagement of your abdominals are key for maintaining straight arms in this elegant asana.
Once your body understands what muscle engagement is needed for the pose, you may find that you can move gracefully into crane—even without the block or stair!