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Take any second level or higher Vinyasa class and you might encounter Crow Pose—an arm balance in which you stack your knees on the backs of your upper arms while balancing on your hands with your hips lifted towards the sky. Crow is a good entry point, but all arm balancing can be challenging. Not because it takes a lot of pretzel-like flexibility (which people most often associate with yoga), but because it requires a solid amount of functional core strength and, perhaps the biggest challenge, the willingness to let go.
The position is awkward and requires a little bit of trust at first. Most people will fall while learning the posture. But, as in life, we take tumbles once in a while and more often than not, bounce back. Plus, as Outside contributor Christopher Solomon recently wrote in a New York Times story about why he’s obsessed with traveling to remote places: “The colors are always a little brighter if a place draws a little blood first.” (That’s proverbial blood, of course. You shouldn’t bleed from any stumbles while learning Crow.)
How to do crow pose:
Start by getting into a yogi squat. From standing, bend your knees and drop your tailbone towards the floor as you sit down in a squat. Make sure all four corners of your feet stay firmly planted on the floor. Bring your hands into prayer position in front of your heart and use your elbows to push against the insides of your knees, lifting the crown of your head towards the sky and drawing your tailbone towards the floor to lengthen your spine.
Now, we’ll prep for crow. Plant your hands on the floor in front of you, shoulder-distance apart—fingers pointing away from you, spread wide to protect your wrists. Make sure you aren’t tenting your fingers and that your palms are pushing against the floor as much as your fingers. Bend your elbows towards you to create platforms with your upper arms, bringing your face towards the floor just in front of your hands. Next, work your knees onto your upper arms, getting as close to your armpit as you can. Draw your navel in, keep breathing, and make sure your weight is centered over your arms. Bringing your face closer to the ground (the scary part!) will help you shift your weight forward.
Try lifting one foot off the floor, then the other. You may only be able to lift one foot for a few seconds and then the try the other. Or you may be able to hold it and try the other foot at the same time. Wherever you are in your practice is perfect for you. The further you lean your face towards the ground, the easier it will be.
Once you have your feet lifted, bring your gaze to the floor in front of you and try to straighten your arms. Your knees should be so far up your arms that they’re almost resting where your shoulders meet your triceps.
Take crow a step further:
If you want to take it a step further, you can take crow pose into a tripod stand inversion. Bring the crown of your head to the floor in front of your hands so that you create a triangle between your hands and your head. Draw your elbows towards each other so they stay parallel and don’t bow out. Pull your navel in and tuck your tailbone as you simultaneously start to lift your hips up to the sky to align them with your shoulders. Once hips are over your shoulders, bring your feet towards the ceiling straightening your legs, engage your thighs and flex your toes, pushing energy through the balls of your feet towards the ceiling. When you are ready to come out of it, try to control your descent with your core and bring your legs back to crow pose.
Trouble-shooting tips for crow:
To get more comfortable with balancing on your arms, play with lifting one foot off the floor at a time. The more you do it, the longer you’ll be able to hold it until you get both feet off the floor at the same time.
Bringing your face to the floor can be scary stuff—it looks like you’re taking a nose dive. Baby step your way there by placing a block under your forehead. That way, you can get comfortable with the sensation while mitigating the possibility of falling on your face.
How long will it take to achieve crow pose:
There’s no real way to answer this. Some people will get it on their first try and some might take six months, a year, or may never get it. That’s okay—the world isn’t going to stop turning because you don’t have crow pose in your repertoire. But, like anything, the more you practice, the more likely you are to achieve your goal. Most students can handle a second level Vinyasa class within their first year of practicing and many can hold crow pose within a few months of a regular level two Vinyasa practice.