In honor of National Yoga Month, we’ll be rolling out a brand new yoga workout every Wednesday in September!
Then, you’re introduced to crow pose, and your entire yogi world is turned upside down (or sideways, or however the heck you’re supposed to tackle that pose!).
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, every aspiring yogi has been right there with you. When you can’t automatically hop into crow pose like your graceful instructor, it can feel incredibly frustrating. You try and try (and try), but no matter what, you can’t seem to keep both feet propped up against your arms for more than half a second. What’s worse, you may have fallen flat on your face while trying. (Not that we’re *ahem* speaking from experience.)
“If there’s one thing we hear around the studio often, it’s ‘I really just want to get crow!’” says Lauren Porat, certified yoga instructor and founder of YogaSpark. According to her, crow pose, like any yoga pose, requires strength, flexibility, focus, and preparation. “Most people can’t just pop into it—even if you can, you risk injury.”
(For full-length yoga workouts, try WH’s With Yoga DVD!)
But before you throw in the yoga towel, there is some hope, yet. Porat has created a step-by-step sequence that will help you (finally) master the dreaded crow pose. Practice these moves once a day, and you’ll be ready to fly through crow in no time.
How to: When prepping for crow, it’s important to work your trapezius (the muscles between the shoulder blades). To do so, stand in a forward fold (upper body bent over your legs) with your feet inner-hips distance apart. Bend your knees as deep as you need to in order to press your palms on the mat. If they absolutely can’t reach, put blocks underneath your palms. Start to round your upper back to stretch the upper traps, simultaneously pressing your hands into the ground. Play with shifting more weight weight between your hands. This pose will wake up your upper back muscles, mimicking the crow shape, and help you get used to that weight transfer.
You can also opt to interlace your fingers behind your back, and start to draw your clasped hands out and straight towards the ceiling, for a good stretch between your shoulders.
How to: Stand with feet as wide as the mat (or wider), point your toes out, and sit your butt between your heels. Keep your elbows inside your knees and hands placed at heart center (a.k.a. the middle of your chest). If there’s any pain in your hips or knees, place one, two, or three blocks underneath your butt for support.
Keep your spine straight with your pelvis tucked. Imagine zipping an imaginary zipper from your pelvic floor through your navel area all the way to the top of your head. Continue to open your hips by pressing elbows inside knees. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
This pose will stretch the inner groin muscles and start to engage the core. It also creates connections—between elbows and knees; navel and spine; mind and body—that are essential for arm balancing.
How to: Find a downward-facing dog shape, like an upside down “V” with your hands and the balls of your feet pressed into the ground. Raise one leg to the sky to open up your hip (a). Take a deep breath in and on your exhale, move your body into a plank position, and bring your knee to your elbow. Inhale and kick the leg back to a three-legged plank position (b). On your exhale, bring your knee to your nose in plank.
Inhale and step your foot back to a standard plank pose. Then make your way back to downward-facing dog. Complete the same sequence on the opposite side. Repeat two to three times on each side.
This will continue to create connections between body and mind, strengthen the arms and shoulders, and begin to fire up the core, which you will need to take flight.
After you feel strong performing the exercises above, whether on your own or within your normal yoga practice, it’s time to tackle crow again.
Come back to a forward fold but this time bring your heels together and toes apart. Bend your knees and plant your hands on the ground underneath your shoulders. Raise your heels off the ground and bend your elbows straight back. With your toes still on the ground, bring your knees inside your armpits, and rest your shins on your triceps. Tilt your body weight forward. Gaze two inches in front of you. Focus on rounding your upper back and engaging your core.
Time to to fly! Bring one foot off the ground and then the other. That’s your crow!
Modify or ease your way into the pose by placing your hands on blocks. Or you can place a block underneath your feet—this will bring your feet exactly in place to float.
The last thing that crow requires is practice. “I practiced yoga for 10 years and never thought I would balance on my arms,” says Porat. “Then one day I just told myself, ‘I’m just going to try every night and see what happens.’ I gave myself the permission to try the pose and not get it—to practice for the sake of practice. Ten days later I had it. Now I practically live on my hands.” And according to Porat, crow pose is just the gateway pose to a whole slew of difficult balancing postures. “So be careful what you wish for, yogis!”