Crow pose (Bakasana) is a foundational yoga asana that will help you build the strength, tenacity, and confidence to move into more challenging arm balancing postures, inversions, and creative transitions.
From Light On Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, Bakasana is shown in two variations, crow and crane. In the crow pose, the arms are slightly bent in the modified version, whereas in the crane pose the elbows are straight.
The Sanskrit name translates from Baka = crane and asana = posture.
Bakasana is an intermediate yoga asana classified as an arm balance and inversion. These postures are from the Hatha Yoga tradition and are featured in many modern yoga classes such as Vinyasa, Power, and Rocket. Bakasana requires strength, agility and focus.
In the Ashtanga tradition, the intermediate sequence builds towards Bakasana B, which is the variation where the practitioner jumps from a crane pose to a downward dog.
Keep reading to see the benefits, counter poses, contradictions, and sample vinyasa yoga classes to build toward Bakasana (crow pose), Eka Pada Bakasana (one-legged crane pose), and a transition from crow pose to tripod headstand.
Table of Contents:
About Bakasana – Crow Pose
Crow pose is similar to full crane pose. The two postures look very similar and yet are different. In the crow pose, the arms are bent to create a little shelf for the knees. In a crane pose, you push your arms to become more straight.
Bakasana requires more core and inner thigh stability to recruit the strength to sustain the pose. In crow pose, the shelf of the arms with the elbows bent means that the legs’ weight doesn’t fully rely on the core strength to hold them up.
Both postures strengthen the abdominals, inner thighs, arms, and hands.
Arm balancing requires flexion at the wrist, so stretching the forearm muscles and winding out the wrists beforehand may bring more ease and agility to your pose.
Bakasana is also considered an inversion as the hips are higher than the heart.
Strength, agility and focus are necessary to achieve Bakasana. A strong core, inner thighs, and arms are needed to sustain the posture. Agility is necessary as this posture requires that you balance the two heaviest points on the body, the head and the pelvis. Focus is the final part of the pose as it is a difficult posture to maintain.
Leaning forward in arm balances helps with the weight distribution. Balancing the weight between the head and the tail requires less arm strength.
The engagement of Mula Bandha (root lock) helps to fly the feet away from the ground. The bandhas are locks or energetic seals we create in the body to direct the flow of energy.
Mula bandha is the first of the three bandhas and involves contracting the perineum muscles; when these muscles are contracted, we draw the energy upwards and contract the deep core muscles of the abdomen—the stabilizers—that assist in arm balancing.
Physical, Mental and Emotional Benefits
The physical benefits include:
Builds strength in the abdominals, deep core stabilizers, and adductors to alleviate and help with lower back pain.
Strengthens the wrists, hands, arms, chest, shoulders, and upper back.
Stretches the upper back and groin
The mental/emotional benefits include:
Improves mental clarity, focus, and concentration
Enhances self-awareness and perception.
Boosts confidence through overcoming challenges and fears
The Best Crow Pose Prep
Oil riggers by Ana Forrest are a challenging method to build strength to come into Bakasana or Eka Pada Bakasana.
In this variation, we’ll use yoga blocks under the feet to help lift the hips as you extend one leg.
7 Steps to Perform Oil Riggers:
Plant your palm firmly on the ground.
Set a block on the lowest height behind one palm and step a foot onto the block.
Bend your elbows slightly and press your fingers into the ground to stabilize.
Take the knee of the leg on the block into your upper arm.
Bring the weight into the foot on the block and lift the heel.
Inhale and lift the other leg (the extended leg) towards the sky.
Exhale and lower the leg toward the ground and tap the toes.
How to Get Into Crow Pose –
The Most Straightforward Way!
Watch the crow pose tutorial with a block.
Using a block when practicing crow pose helps lift the hips so they’re higher than the heart.
How to use a block to come into crow:
Place your block on the lowest height in the middle of your mat.
Step both feet onto the block.
Lift your heels high and perch with your knees wide.
Take your hands to the ground, a bit wider than your shoulders.
Claw the mat with your fingerpads and lift your pelvis toward the sky.
Take your knees towards your upper arms into the armpit pocket.
Squeeze your knees tight to either side of your upper arm.
Keep your pelvis high and look forward.
Puff up the back body with your breath and hug the belly in and up.
Draw the weight forward until you feel your hands on the ground and come to your tiptoes.
Practice lifting one foot from the block and holding it for a few seconds. Then do the other side.
Perhaps try to take both feet up at the same time.
Tip to Sustain Crow Pose
Breathe into your mid-upper back. Send your breath into the back of the lungs.
You will not be able to breathe deeply into the belly or front body owing to the spine’s shape in this posture, so send your breath into the back of the lungs and round your mid-upper back.
Contract the lower abdomen and engage mula bandha to ignite the deep core stabilizers.
Activate the Bandhas for Arm Balancing
The Bandhas are locks in the body used to direct the flow of Prana (energy).
Bandha translates as ‘to tighten’ or ‘lock.’
There are four bandhas we work with in yoga:
- Mula Banda – root lock located at the perineum
- Uddiyana Bandha – the middle lock located at the diaphragm
- Jalandhara Bandha – the top lock located at the throat
- Maha Bandha – the master lock with all three bandhas engaged
Mula Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha are the locks that seal the energy at the top and bottom of the spinal column where the Kundalini resides. Mula Bandha prevents the energy from moving downward. In arm balancing postures, you want the energy drawing in and upwards to sustain the pose, so engaging Mula Bandha energetically seals the Prana (vitality) and draws the life force upwards.
Engagement of the bandhas also improves focus, mental clarity and concentration.
Mula Bandha is needed when practicing crow/crane postures. Mula “root”, bandha “lock/seal”. When engaged, supports the pelvis and lower back by engaging the pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles.. The technical location of Mula Bandha is at the root chakra at the base of the perineum, which is the area between the anus and genitals. This area is also called the pelvic floor muscles.
How to tell if you are engaging Mula Bandha?
Mula Bandha functions like a kegal exercise. It is the action of lifting the pelvic floor. Stopping your urine mid-flow will give you a gauge of what Mula Bandha feels like in your body.
Manipura – The Chakra to Aid Crow Pose
The chakras represent a map of the subtle body. Chakra translates as ‘wheel’ or ‘circle.’
Seven chakras traverse the spine from crown to tail. Each chakra symbolizes how energy moves and expresses itself through themes, colours, symbols, and sounds.
Manipura chakra, the third chakra, is located at the solar plexus. Its location is below the ribs and above the navel. On a physiological level, the solar plexus is a complex system of nerves and ganglia (nerve bundles). It is part of the sympathetic nervous system and helps regulate and control various organs around the abdomen to keep functioning properly. The solar plexus also communities with the brain, sending and receiving intricate signals to and through the rest of the body.
Also known as the ‘City of Jewels, ’ Manipura is symbolic of the digestive fires (Agni), transformation, power, vitality, and strength.
Our gut is where we process and assimilate information. The stronger our Agni, the healthier we are. When Manipura is balanced, we absorb nutrients back into the body more efficiently.
Inversions and arm balances can bring up fear as an obstacle.
Bring your attention to Manipura chakra, the space that requires the transformative power of fire, to overcome your angst and discomfort! Manipura is activated during the crow/crane pose and asks that we use our body’s strength, mental concentration, and emotional resilience to sustain the pose.
Prepare Your Body for Bakasana
To prepare your body for crow pose, you will want to strengthen the core (front and back body), inner thighs, and arms.
You will also want to lengthen the muscles along the back body to create a deep arch in the spine and the muscles along the inner thighs to get your knees hooked up high into your armpit.
Postures that will help you prepare for crow/crane include:
Navasana (boat pose).
Phalakasana (plank pose).
Utthan Pristhasana (lizard pose).
Malasana (yogic squat).
Ananda Balasana (happy baby pose).
5 (short!) yoga classes to prepare for crow pose:
Contradictions to Bakasana
People recovering or who have hip injuries, wrist injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, or migraines should avoid doing crow pose until cleared by a doctor.
People who are pregnant or menstruating, and those who suffer anxiety, should also avoid this arm balance and take malasana (yogic squat) or baddha konasana (bound angle pose).
For those with neck injury/sensitivity, those who are not taking the arm balance/inversion, and those with knee sensitivity, you can take malasana (yogic squat).
Poses to Counter Bakasana
Similar to a plank pose, arm balances ask that you push the ground away from you to engage the muscles to sustain the posture.
The shoulders, pectorals, upper back, and arms work very hard in arm balancing postures. This includes the pectorals, deltoids, lats, rhomboids, trapezius, and biceps muscles. The abdominals and inner thighs also work hard to sustain crow and crane pose. The psoas, aka the hip flexor, is the muscle that helps draw the legs into the armpit.
To counter crow and crane, you will want to stretch the front body to lengthen the muscles across the front of the shoulder, chest and abdomen. Stretching the inner thighs and front of the pelvis/hips is the other way to release the muscles worked in the crow and crane pose.
Backbends are a great counter pose to crow as back bending opens the chest, abdomen, and front of the pelvis/hips. A backbend will release and lengthen the muscles that worked to bring you into the arm balance.
Poses to come into after crow:
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge) – or a supported bridge with a block under the sacrum.
Supta Virasana (reclined hero)
Matsyasana (fish) – or supported fish using blocks or a bolster
Supta Buddha Konasana (reclined bound angle)
Ustrasana (camel pose)
Beginners Tips for Crow Pose
Place a cushion (flat pillow or a blanket) in front of your face, so you have a little extra padding should you fall. Or, practice outside on the grass where it is softer.
Take the same shape on your back, on a different plane, to put the shape in your body. Use your core strength to hug your knees toward your armpits, draw the belly in, and press your palms toward the sky.
Use blocks to help get your hips higher than your shoulders.
Place your knees a little outside your arms and hug inwards. The traditional way to do crow is with the knees in the armpit at the back of the arm. This tends to create bruising and can be uncomfortable in the beginning. Cheat a little by placing your legs around your arm and hug in and up.
Resources for Further Learning
Classes for advanced yoga practitioners:
Drishti (60-min) Vinyasa features a crow pose into a tripod headstand.
So Hum (60-min) Vinyasa features the use of a block between the thighs to build strength in the deep core stabilizers.
New Chapter (60-min) Vinyasa features a crow pose into Eka Pada Koundinyasana A (flying splits).
Crazy Eights (60-min) Vinyasa features a dynamic vinyasa practice with Crazy Eights moving from Koundinyasana II (flying splits), Astavakrasana (eight angle), and Surya Yantrasana (compass) as the peak postures.