Just as our most challenging poses evolve on the mat, so has this Challenge Pose blog. I’ve guided you through countless yoga postures and have reached a point where I think we’re ready to move beyond just a single pose. So, drum roll please … we’re going to start diving into transitions, building on top of postures, and strategy plans for becoming stronger in advanced poses. Feel free to send me requests and ideas on Facebook and/or Twitter account, as I look forward to this new chapter with you all! Thank you for constantly challenging me to challenge you.
Today’s post is all about my favorite challenging transition—Tripod Headstand (Sirsasana II) to Crane (or Crow) Pose (Bakasana). I worked on this endlessly before I saw had success. It stumped me for the longest time, but man-oh-man did I get strong from trying! It’s a very technical breakdown (think IKEA instructions: You can’t skip steps F-J or you’ll end up with a desk when you bought a dresser) that is more accessible than you think. Remember to take your time as you practice, to breathe and smile, and know that you will improve over time.
You can get a full break down of how to do Headstand on an earlier Challenge Pose post. Begin by placing the crown of your head onto your mat with your palms flat and shoulder-width apart, equidistant from your head. Use your favorite entry into Headstand (knees to arms and lift, one leg lift up, or dragging the legs in like a press). Take a moment to feel the stacking of your bones—feet over hips, hips over shoulders—your shoulders lifting, and your elbows hugging in strongly.
Keep the foundation of your Headstand and your legs together. Bend your knees and bring your thighs parallel to the ground. Hug your thighs together.
Separate your knees hip-width apart but keep the inner edges of your feet touching.
Slowly lower your knees down to land lightly on your arms. This can be tricky because it requires core strength. To help you get stronger, practice lowering toward your arms and then back up to the thighs-parallel position. Keep practicing these small movements until you can land your knees onto your arms solidly. Take care to keep your shoulders lifting as you land your knees so that the weight doesn’t transfer into your neck. Try to land your knees as far up your arms as you can. or walk them up closer to the armpits once you land.
Your bottom will still be high from Step D, which means almost all of the weight is still in the upper body/head area. This makes it VERY difficult to lift. This step is all about dropping the weight of your bottom down toward your heels to lighten your head. Try to close the gap between your hamstrings and calves by letting your bottom sink down. You’ll feel your head get lighter.
Keeping the hamstrings and calves together, begin to slide from the crown of your head toward your forehead until you can actually see your mat straight-on. This is the head shape you want to keep as you transition to lifting so there’s no strain in the neck.
Gaze at one point and stay small and compact. Push your palms deeply into the ground to elevate your face off of the mat the tiniest amount. If you rush this or try to muscle through it you’ll most likely fall backward. Don’t think “Crow” yet. . . just get your face inches off of the ground and continue to look down. Try to hold that shape and breathe.
Once you feel stable with your face off the ground, begin to work the elements of the full pose. Start by a powerful rounding in your upper back while simultaneously pressing the ground away with your palms. This action will begin to suck you up away from the ground. Keep your heels tight toward your bottom and play with bent and/or straight arms. You can place your feet down from here, shoot it back into Chaturanga or return back to Headstand (we’ll review that one later)!
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and author of Rodale’s The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga . Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website. Come on retreat with her in Stowe, Vermont this October for yoga, archery + outdoor beauty via The Travel Yogi.