Crane pose is one of the most approachable arm balances in yoga with its many adaptations and modifications. Using crane as a way to build focus, discipline, and strength in our yoga practice sounds great, but how do you get there? Work, practice, and persistence.
Start by building wrist and arm strength
In table top pose, take a cat stretch with the core sucked in and the back gently curved. Staying in this cat stretch position, protract and retract the shoulder blades. Only moving the shoulder blades, you squeeze the muscles in the upper back to pull the shoulder blades away from each other and then squeeze them back together, hugging the spine. This simple, yet heating movement will strengthen your core, shoulders, and wrists.
Plank and chaturanga (four limbed staff pose) are the go-to postures to strengthen the arms, shoulders, wrists, and to start heating the core.
Core stability and strength are important when preparing for crane, so take some time to work in a boat pose (navasana) or two. Boat has many fun variations that will keep the practice fresh; next time you move into boat and feel like you could use a new perspective when it comes to core work, hug your knees to chest, but make sure you squeeze up tight into a little core ball. This is a progression to crane pose in a supine position, which is a great modification for those suffering from wrist pain or injuries. Dynamic movement is helpful when working the core, so play with slow yoga bicycles in half boat, maybe even pausing with one leg stretching up to the ceiling, reaching your hands up toward your toes without scrunching up your shoulders.
Moving onto your back, pull your knees in to your chest and start to lift up your head, nose to knees; stretch your arms forward as in boat pose, but keep your knees squeezed in using your deep core muscles and hip flexors. Next, take your arms straight up to the ceiling, and open your knees so that each knee can snuggle in toward the hollow of your arm pit. Keep squeezing those knees in and stretching your arms up to the ceiling. This is crane pose, just with a different view, supta bakasana (supine crane).
When it’s time for you to take your crane into flight, use blocks or some sort of support under your feet to lift up those heels. You want to squeeze your heels in toward your booty, squeeze knees into the arm pits, and use your hip flexors and deep core (just like you did on your back) to pull it all together. Start with bent elbows to build up more wrist and arm strength, and remember to keep your gaze forward if you didn’t come to crane to somersault.
If you practice tripod headstand, this is another great way to work your way toward crane. If you start in tripod set up, you can peel your head off the floor by rolling over your forehead, and slowly begin to move into crane. Sometimes this is less scary than risking face planting when moving into crane from a squat; if your head is already on the floor, the fear of falling is eliminated. Rolling up into crane from tripod adds on to your core and arm strength.
When you feel like you can hold crane for 5 smooth breaths, start to play with straightening your arms, pushing your shoulders over your fingers using your strong core. The wrists will be at an awkward angle in classical expression of bakasana, so take your time to strengthen and stretch out your wrists before and after practicing this demanding posture. Have fun with your progress in this posture, enjoying every step without rushing.