In my experience, Crow Pose seems to be the gateway pose of yoga. It’s that first pose that gives students the experience of flying and opens up a whole new world of arm balances and inversions.
It is also the fool-proof check whether or not you have been doing Chaturanga correctly. If yes, then Crow will fall into place easier than expected. If not, then you may experience unsteadiness and a fear of falling on your face. Because of this, I encourage students to try for Crow early into class, and especially early into their yoga practice.
You don’t need years of yogic experience to find your Crow; you just need courage and alignment. Here are five yoga poses that'll help you prepare for Crow pose and lift off.
Because Chaturanga is the basis of Crow, take some time to make sure you are doing yours correctly. You can use a mirror, ask a teacher, or self-assist with a strap tightened in a loop around the upper forearms, just below the elbows.
How to Do It: Starting in plank, shift forward onto the tips of your toes so that your chest passes your wrists. Bend your elbows in toward your sides and lower halfway down. Important: Your elbows must hug in towards your side, making contact with the ribs. Do not let your elbows splay out sideways.
Use your triceps to dip the elbows backwards. The biceps make a right angle with the forearms as your chest hovers above the earth. The chest does not pass the elbows. This right here – these right-angle arms, elbows hugging in – is the base of Crow. Hold for three breaths.
Low Crescent Lunge is one of my favorite poses of all time, mostly because it works to remove the tension in our hip flexors that we gather from sitting around. A Crescent a day keeps the doctor away! Give yourself time to breathe and be here, stretching the muscles that we use for Crow.
How to Do It: From Downward Dog, step your right foot between your hands. Lower your back knee to the earth. Since we’re focusing on the stretch in this one, place your hands on top of your right thigh, pressing the leg forward so your pelvis can release down and slide in front of your back, left knee.
Find a place that is uncomfortable, NOT painful, and hold for three to five deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3. Prasaritha Padottanasana
An unexpected addition to Crow preparation, but necessary to simulate the sensations of Crow. Focus on how you react to being upside-down. As your Crow advances and your sit bones lift higher, your body will also tilt upside down as your hips lift higher than the head.
How to Do It: Step your feet to either end of your mat with your toes slightly inverted, heels outward. Bring your hands to your hips and pull up on your kneecaps to contract the quadriceps. Hinge at the hips, lowering with a flat back, until, at the last minute, you place your hands on the ground (or blocks) underneath the shoulder blades.
Walk the hands slightly backwards to make a Chaturanga shape in your arms, biceps parallel to the ground and elbows over the wrists. Use the bend of the elbows to lower the crown of your head closer to the ground. Continually roll more weight onto your toes while lifting your sit bones higher, elongating through your hamstrings. Stay and hold for five, deep breaths.
Think of Chair Pose as a perched Crow Pose. The legs remain bent and contracted in both. Take time in Utkatasana to analyze where your legs feel constricted. Sit deep into the strength that will fuel your Crow.
How to Do It: Standing at the top of your mat, step your feet together, big toes touching. Bend your knees and sit back into an imaginary chair. Reach your arms overhead, biceps in line with the ears. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor.
Contract your belly in and up. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, softening the muscles of your neck. Broaden through your chest, reaching your heart toward the ceiling. This is a fiery pose. Stay in it. Hold for five to ten breaths. Continue sitting deeper without collapsing the chest.
Yogi Squat is the pose we often use before transitioning into Crow. It is deep, difficult, and low enough that we can take flight easily. Depending on your hip flexibility, this pose may be easily accessible or incredibly frustrating. Close your eyes and feel the body opening.
How to Do It: Step your feet to either edge of your mat. Heels in and toes out. Keep your heels grounded as you sit low. If your heels lift, step your feet even wider, maybe onto the floor outside of your mat, or sit up onto a block to help stabilize your posture. Bring your hands to your heart, press the thumbs into the chest, and use the strength of the elbows to press the thighs away from the midline.
Imagine your knees stretching to opposite sides of the room. Then imagine there’s a string attached to the top of your head and, as it lifts you higher, it gives your pelvis space to sink deeper. Pause here, close your eyes, and hold for five to ten breaths.
Time to Fly!
Now the pose you’ve been waiting for: Bakasana or Crow Pose. From Malasana, plant your hands forward in front of your feet. Shift forward, coming high onto the tips of your toes. Bend your elbows and find your Chaturanga arms, those right-angle arms that will serve as your base with your elbows drawing inward and aligning over your wrists.
Remember that crows perch on branches, just as your toes will start by perching on the earth. So, feel free to stay here as you are building strength, or slowly bring one knee at a time onto the back of your triceps, specifically that meaty part between the deltoid and the triceps, about one-third below the shoulders.
Important: You must lean forward to find your Crow! There you go – glide into it. Lean into the fear. Know that if you have a strong base, you will not fall on your face.
Your toes can stay on your perch as you practice strengthening the triceps in and up, reaching your sit bones higher, using the abdomen to stabilize your torso. Or the feet can lift one at a time, heels traveling towards your glutes, as your Crow flies.
Practice with any props you would like: a strap around the arms, a pillow underneath the head, blocks underneath the feet. Remember that Crow takes time to learn, and even more time to master. But it's a pose that teaches us to overcome fear. Lean into it.