Have you been dreaming of integrating Astavakrasana (Figure 8 Pose) or Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) into your practice but do not know where to start? Do your arms feel like they could never support you and you’re afraid you’re going to fall? You are not alone! Welcome to the world of yogis just trying their best and playing around with arm balances, one faceplant at a time.
As yogis, we challenge ourselves to think bigger, love more, and try those funky arm balances. This is your time to learn how to practice ONE yoga pose to conquer all the others. So here, we’ll go through the steps to mastering Kakasana (Crow Pose). Once you have a solid Kakasana, you will be amazed at how easy it is to practice other arm balances.
Building the Base: Wrist Flexion Stretches and Arm Strengtheners
As always, warming up the body is key. Start your practice with three to five rounds of Surya Namaskar A and three to five rounds of Surya Namaskar B.
While Surya Namaskars are great for the overall warm-up of the body, the majority of the practice is with the hands in wrist extensions. By taking a moment to counter-stretch the wrists in flexion, you increase mobility and range of motion available and improve the flow of blood to your hands. Increased blood flow warms the muscles and ligaments and reduces the chance of injury in the wrists. Padahastasana (Standing Forward Bend Hands-Under-Feet Pose) is the most traditional method of stretching the hands in flexion.
If you have flexible wrists and no previous injuries in the hands or shoulders, you can play around with plank with the wrists in flexion. Remember to align the shoulders over the wrists and maintain centralization in the core to protect the wrists and avoid dumping weight into the hands.
From Head to Toe Preparation: Toe Lifts & Head Dips to Learn to Fly
Building up to Kakasana takes strength, balance, and the courage to fly. The following practices challenge the core, mix up balance points, and ask you to fly out of your comfort zone.
From Malasana (Squat Pose), lower the hands and gently shift weight into the arms for support. Alternate lifting the feet with the goal for the toes to meet your bottom. Practice five to ten times, shifting more weight into the arms with each lift so one day, both feet can lift off at the same time. In the beginning, it can help to practice with a block under the head to build arm strength and balance.
One of the scariest and most limiting beliefs to arm balances is the fear of falling on your face. In this exercise, you intentionally, and with control, practice falling and getting back up. I prefer having a yoga bolster or mild/firm pillow to cushion the landing. You can also have a yoga block under your feet to give you some extra height and arm room.
Practice placing your head gently on the floor, taping your crown down with minimal to no weight. Avoid over-tucking or lifting your chin because this could injure your neck. Then, use your back and core strength to lift back up.
Kakasana for the WIN
Now you are ready to play around with Kakasana. From Malasana (Squat Pose), place the hands directly under the shoulders and gently bend the arms. Place the knees in connection with the backs of the triceps and start to shift weight from the legs into the arms. Draw the belly button up, lengthen the spine, and send energy through the sternum forward.
In a tight ball with the feet gluing toward the butt, lift up into Kakasana. Work to hold this arm balance for five to ten slow breaths (use a block under the head or two blocks under the shoulders for balance when you are learning) and see how this one yoga pose can help you master all other arm balances.
Next Steps and Alternative Preparatory Poses
After playing with Kakasana, you might find your arms have become stronger and you can straighten them for Bakasana (Crane Pose) or transition to another arm balance like Eka Pada Bakasana II (One Legged Crane Pose). Or you might decide to work on the foundation, so poses like Navasana (Boat Pose) for the core, Vrksasana (Tree Pose) for the balance, and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) for arm strength.
Remember to have fun and enjoy the journey of your practice, happy flying!
Image credit: Yogo Girls