It took me six years of consistent practice before I managed to lift off my toes in bhakasana. The first time I came into the pose I was practicing yoga on the cement walkway in my backyard. Previously, I had always tried to pick my toes off the mat purposefully. On this day, however, I decided to track a little ant making its way towards the top of my mat with my nose. I leaned forward over my flat hands, covering the ant with the shadow of my head, causing it to speed forward towards the sun. I leaned forward more, and… POP! My toes pulled right off the ground, just as I looked up to see the ant trekking along in the sun, about 10 inches above my mat. Did I breathe? Did I balance long? The only lingering memory is the elation of having lifted into bhakasana for the first time, and the eagerness to do it again.
So, I play a little game with myself every time I practice Crow. Midway through my asana practice, I set up for Crow and tell my feet, “Hey toes, don’t come off the ground.” In my mind, in my voice, I say those words to myself, “Hey toes, whatever you do…don’t come off the ground!” Its playful, it’s silly. After all, crows are the pranksters of the animal kingdom. Crows caw in a way that’s practically a laugh out loud. They delight in shiny objects and trinkets, and won’t hesitate to swoop down and grab a bobble right off your picnic table in front of your face. This pose is all about fun. I’d been too serious in my earlier attempts at Crow. In the spirit of jest, I say, “TOES! Do not lift off the floor!” And, POP! There they go again! Toes up and at ‘em, Crow in motion, I smile and look up to see not an ant, but the smiling faces of my yoga students as I play my little game aloud while teaching class.
Crow is contagious. You know, they rarely fly alone. When one person “gets it,” or masters the pose, and can explain the how-to, crows begin to pop up on yoga mats throughout the class, throughout the entire yoga studio, even. Bhakasana practice is so beneficial; especially to build upper-body strength, even if the toes, truly, do not come off the ground. And that is fine! Maybe it’ll take you six years to “get it,” like me. But, nah! I did those years of groundwork as a service to all of us. If you’re ready lift off into Crow, play the game the little ant taught me! You’ll gain Crow pose, and so much more…but let me not get ahead of myself!
Spend five to ten breaths in malasana, squat pose, while practicing mulabhandha. Mulabhandha is a concentrated contraction of perineum muscle applied on the exhale. This engagement feels similar to withholding the flow of urine. Release mulabhandha on inhale, drawing the breath down the length of the spine. Apply this same breath technique throughout the practice of Crow.
Now, position yourself: Flatten your palms on the ground shoulder distance apart with spread fingers. The elbows should bent inward, towards the ribcage, with the upper arms parallel to the floor. Lift the hips high, lift the heels up, and place the knees on the upper arms. Use the upper arms like tables to support the knees.
PLAY THE GAME:
Now you’re ready to play! Crows are flyers! Let your eyes follow an upward path, look up as much as you can, and begin to lean your body’s weight forward into your hands, arms and shoulders. Look up! You’re a bird! Just move forward and look to your trajectory. Now, in your mind, say, “Hey toes! Don’t pick up off the floor!” HA HA HA! Laughing like a crow, how silly you are, talking to your toes! Try it again, “Hey toes! Whatever you do, don’t come off the floor!” Its no big deal, this isn’t about our toes, or our legs, we are using our arms and our eyes to fly! Lean forward! Look up! Breath! Apply mulabhandha on exhale, lifting your hips up to the sky.
HOW TO WIN:
Play Crow pose for five breaths, three times a week, for one month.
Dare to play? There is only one winner in this game, and that is the one who plays it. Crow is such a lighthearted pose, after all, how can you fly weighted down? Put a smile on your face, and learn the lesson of the little ant. Look forward, look up, chase the sun, and keep going! Many asana poses are named after animals. There is a sort of childlike magic we can tap into when we embody the energy of the animals the poses are named for, as if they lend their characteristics to the shape. All we have to do is animate those shapes with our breath. Animals teach us to not be so serious, to live in the moment, and just go about the business of being exactly what we are.
The beauty of Crow is that it unlocks a pantheon of inversion postures. Crow pose is more about upward motion and steady balance than it is about strength. The dynamic upward lift of the posture is not conducive to force. No matter how much we try to lift our toes up, feet up, legs up, until we are balanced on the edge of flight, we’re earthbound. However, at some point, weightless occurs within bhakasana. Once you “have it,” Crow sets the foundation for handstands, forearm stands, and crazy fun animal poses like titibhasana, Firefly pose, urdhva kukutasana, Upward Rooster pose, and pincha mayurasana, Peacock Feather pose. All the flying animals come out to play once Crow takes flight! Have some fun on your mat, and play this little game with yourself. You just may find you’re no longer a busy ant trekking along your way, but a heralding Crow, calling in the power of flight.