Pose of the Month: Bakasana
Whether you know Bakasana as the crane or the crow, its effect is one of transcendence. Rising above our perceived limitations and taking off in flight. Bakasana is a pose that requires strength and focus and the ability to trust. The initial approach to this asana is often one of trepidation. Just like a baby bird that has all of the tools for flight, but doubts their strength and ability, Bakasana can often bring up doubts and fears. “What if I fall flat on my face? What if I’m not strong enough to hold myself?”
But, just like that baby bird, we cautiously approach our flight. First engaging our core of support in the belly and shifting our weight into our hands with our feet still planted on the ground. We breathe and we begin to trust ourselves. This act of trust prepares us to become more open to take a chance, so we gingerly lift one foot off the ground, balancing on our remaining toes, and we feel. Again we return to the breath and our expanding feeling of trust and strength and “lift off.” Maybe for only a moment or maybe for a series of breaths, we fly. We transcend the limits we have placed on ourselves, and we connect with something much higher, much freer.
In Bakasana, uddyiana bandha is a most helpful tool. Loosely translated, uddiyana bandha means upward lifting or flying. It is the lifting and engaging of the deep core muscles and energy associated with it that allows all asanas to appear effortless. Crane pose is a place where we can experience the power of uddiyana bandha profoundly. When we cultivate that deep inner, center strength, we do not have to rely solely on our peripheral experiences to guide us. We can learn to trust our inner voice, our intuition, instead of looking only to what is externally available. Therefore, Bakasana is delicately designed to hone that inner voice. When we practice it, we are guided to trust our deepest spaces of inner strength so that our obstacles, often our arm and wrist strength, become periphery, and we can fly on the wings of our inner strength.
Eventually we all come back down to the ground. Some a lightly as a feather and others with a thud, but once we return, we see that we are capable and strong. We see that we can trust the tools that we have been given and experience the freedom that leads to flight. We approach the pose again and again with greater understanding of ourselves and our abilities. Just like any experience, the beginning can be a little scary and unsure, but with practice, refinement, and trust in yourself, we can all experience the transcendence of Bakasana.
Crane posture gives us the opportunity to find strength and balance through our arms. The shoulders are a complex joint with multiple parts, which must move in the correct rhythm in order for strong , pain-free and motion to occur. There are four joints which comprise the shoulder girdle: the Acromioclavicular joint, the Sternoclavicular joint, the Glenohumeral joint and the Scapulothoracic joint. With Crane pose it is important to focus on the foundation of the shoulders, the shoulder blade muscles. These are the muscles that connect the shoulder blade to the rib cage. It is this “muscular joint” which provides a stable base from which the arm can move.
The Serratus Anterior is an important and often weak scapular muscle. It originates from the inside of the shoulder blade, between the shoulder blade and the ribs, and wraps around the rib cage to attach to the front and side of the ribs. The Serratus Anterior is a powerful muscle responsible for securing the shoulder blade to the torso and moving the shoulder blade in the right position as the arm moves through its range of motion. Proper engagement of the Serratus Anterior is the key to successfully and safely performing Crane pose. To practice engaging the Serratus anterior, move into plank posture and keeping the rest of your body in a straight line. Then, push your arms into the ground allowing your shoulder blades to move forward around your ribcage (protraction, broadening your upper back). The upper back will round slightly as you do this, and you should be able to feel the contraction and strength from the sides of your ribs.
A common problem that people experience in Crane Pose is compression and pain in their wrists. This often occurs as people prop up on their arms, slouch down and allow the entire weight of their body to rest through their arms and into their wrists. With correct engagement of the Serratus Anterior, you wrap your shoulder blades around your body (protraction, or broadening of the shoulder blades) which then lifts your back and brings the weight out of your hands. The work transfers from your wrists and hands and comes into your upper back and abdominals. By bringing the work into the Serratus Anterior and the Abdominals, you can then move from crane to handstand or jumping back into plank. By engaging the Serratus Anterior, you also protect the wrists and strengthen the shoulders themselves. Strengthening in this way will help prevent rotator cuff injuries and other shoulder injuries.