Last month, our contest was all about challenge postures; and we had a great response from people posting about the postures they are striving towards. We chose to focus on Crane Balance as it seemed to be a very popular challenge pose.
In this post, we talk about challenge poses in general, and then provide Kate’s stepping stone approach to the Crane Balance.
The Role of Challenges in Yoga
No matter what your goal, putting it in the best mental context possible is key! The following words from Kate may be the most critical aspect to achieving any goal, in your practice and your life:
“One must remember why we practice yoga. The goal, in fact, is to be joyful and peaceful. There will be no peace if we are disappointed in ourselves. We must be ever so careful not to compare or look forward to a time when we have perfected anything. Perfection is to be as you are right now
Having said that, it is wonderful to put effort in, and surprise ourselves with our new balance, strength or understanding of the breath. ‘Wow,’ we say. ‘I get it!’ But what is gained can be lost, so beware of that.
Acceptance, like patience, is not a static state; but a shifting, fluctuating field of possibility. Perhaps the posture is just the playing out of the sliding scale of acceptance. When you see how easy it is to be patient with yourself in Crane, then this too in life. Sometimes the right thing to do is notice what you feel. If you notice anything short of a smile, know there is one change you can make all right.”
Three things to remember about challenge poses:
- The process is more important than the goal.
- This is an opportunity to really focus on the details of your body and improve your alignment.
- Striving to attain a new posture will improve your approach to familiar postures.
Now, how about that ever-popular posture we all know and love…
Getting to Crane Posture: A Namaste Guide
First of all, don't worry, you will get there! Have you seen our slow motion video to help you with Crane? It is a great introduction to the pose.
We are going to address this posture by taking a stepping stone approach. If you are new to your yoga practice and still have a tremendous amount of tightness in the legs and the hips, crane pose is not the right place for you. But that does not mean you cannot begin your journey towards the tricky arm balance.
Step 1: Forward fold
Becoming comfortable in forward fold is key to the crane balance. In this posture, you will create openness in the legs and strength in the abdominals that will be essential in Crane.
Do not force this pose. Let the weight of your head pull your upper body gently forward and down. In time, you will gain more flexibility and be able to deepen in the pose.
Three things to remember in forward fold:
- Bend your knees at first. This will help to keep your back flat as you gain flexibility in the hamstrings.
- Don’t forget about your abdominals! You are stretching equally from your hamstrings and your back, so your abdominals are fully engaged, pulling your chest towards your thighs.
- Keep your weight even. Make sure that you aren’t sinking too much into your toes or your heels – you want your weight to be spread evenly across both feet and toes.
Step 2: The Crouch
Crouch is a surprisingly difficult posture. We are simply not used to the deep bend in the knees and the hips. Kate suggests you try widening your stance to assist your efforts in this. Focus on sinking your tailbone down and keeping your spine very straight and lengthening through the head and neck as well.
Proper alignment in this position is key to attaining crane! Gravity is your friend in this pose. Think of sinking your tail gently towards the ground and notice how that pull feels in your hips, knees and ankles. With your hands at the third eye, you can push the outside of your arms into the insides of your legs to deepen in the posture.
Three things to remember in crouch:
- Keep your hands on the floor. If moving from forward fold to the crouch, this will help steady you as you lower down.
- Breathe. Exhale fully as you lower into the crouch. This will help you contract your abdominals and that contraction will help steady your posture.
- Lift with the upper body. The pose should feel active, not stagnant. Lifting from your chest will help balance the weight of your body.
Step 3: Playing With Your Weight
This is a moment of transition. Do not rush it! Explore where your legs are contacting your arms. Will they stay in that place when your weight shifts? Try laying your forearms along the floor and supporting part of your weight in that position. This may help you better determine your leg placement. Next, you can try lifting your elbows off the floor and placing more weight into your hands. Can you feel the difference?
Three things to remember here:
- Alignment is key. Your hands are parallel, shoulders and hips level.
- Spread your fingers. Notice how your weight shifts from the heels of your hands, to the palms and into the fingers.
- Try again. If it doesn’t feel right, shift the weight back into your feet, re-align and try again. Every body is different.
Step 4: Crane Balance
When moving from the crouch to crane, the placement of the hands is very important. They should be squarely placed in relation to your shoulders.
Straighten and lengthen each finger so that every part of your hand is pressing into the earth. Feel your weight supported evenly between each one of your fingers and your palms. Do you feel a difference?
If you are very tall or have a long, lanky build, the difficulty may be in getting the body compact enough to fully rest and be carried by the arms. Once your hands are carefully placed, try to really tuck the legs in close to the upper body and place the knees as close to the shoulders as possible. Begin to lean forward and slowly shift the weight of the body from the feet into the hands.
Three things to remember in crane:
- Use your core. Exhale and tighten your abdominals to help hold your balance.
- Be mindful of your legs. Contract your thighs to hold them firmly against your arms.
- Push up through your arms. The object is not to pour the weight of your body onto your arms, but let your arms gently support your body’s intent to fly!
Do not drop your head to the ground. Your gaze should extend outward with the head and neck lifting and lengthening. You will find a mid-point where your arms are in a central alignment to the rest of the body. If you go any further forward, you will fall. This is the balance point. In this moment, focus on extending the arms, pushing through the hands and lifting the body. The weight, the intention, the energy must all lift upward!