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Crow Pose, With a Twist: Parsva Bakasana

Bakasana is often translated as Crow Pose, but baka is actually the Sanskrit word for crane and kak for crow. While the two are used interchangeably in many yoga classes, some yogis consider Bakasana the bent-arm variation, while Kakasana has the arms straight. To keep it simple, we’ll go with the more commonly cited Parsva Bakasana, for our Side Crow Pose.

Surprisingly, the twisting variation of Bakasana is not necessarily the more challenging one. Most people assume that upper body and core strength are key for arm-balancing postures, but I’ve seen strong men struggle with Crow Pose while softer female forms slide effortlessly into the same pose. And while a strong torso might play a supporting role, the real determinant of success has more to do with the physics of flight.

Engineer and yoga teacher, Zach Beach, provides us with an important physics lesson: “An object is stable as long as its centre of gravity is in line with the BASE of the object.”

In Crow Pose, your base (foundation) becomes your hands and not your feet (as you’re accustomed to), which means you must shift your weight forward from the feet to rely increasingly on your hands for support. No amount of crunches or shoulder press exercises will do this for you. With that being said, if you’re super strong in those areas, you might over-compensate with the shoulders and abdominals to stay in the pose. Note: this is far more difficult and won’t provide the “sukha” or “comfort” that we seek to establish in each asana. Play with this change in the centre of gravity by rocking back and forth, each time taking more and more weight into your hands to get a feel for the shift. Once you have this physics concept down, the steps for moving into the posture are relatively simple:

  1. Start in Parivrtta Utkatasana (Twisting Chair Pose). Hold here for five deep breaths and repeat on the other side. Take this posture again, drawing the armpit down a little bit closer to the outer knee, if you can.

  2. Lower your palms to the floor about shoulder width apart and on a diagonal. Rise up onto your toes to get into this position. Then begin shifting weight out of the toes and into your hands.

  3. Remember our physics lesson, which requires that you line up your ‘object’ (here, your body) over your base of support (your hands), and begin to rock the weight forward, getting light on your toes. At first, you might keep your tip toes on the floor, but with practice, you will eventually lift off.

Use the back of your arm (the triceps) as a shelf against which to rest your thighs (one leg stacked on the other).

Note: In Step 3, squeeze your knees together to contract the inner thigh muscles and help to engage mula bandha.

Modify: In Step 2, you can use the block to “raise the floor” a few inches, enabling you press firmly into each hand.

Success in Parsva Bakasana has a little to do with strength and a lot to do with gravity, practice, and a little yogi luck.

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