Flying crow: the journey of arm balances and trust

I struggled with crow pose for years.

When I first started my yoga journey with a haphazard smattering of classes, I had no expectations of myself coming into the pose. I was aware that I had little strength in my arms and core. 

In 2016, I started circuit training: pushups on knees, wonky commandos, planks. In 2017, I was convinced that I needed to work on my core and triceps. In early 2018 I became obsessed with building strength in my biceps, and then shoulders. Teachers looked at my planks and chaturangas and expected me to be able to lift. But why was it so impossible? Every time I tried to bring my feet off the ground, I felt like I was pitching forward and my wrists were a second away from snapping.

I became terrified of crow. 

Often perceived as the 'easiest' arm balance, crow does not get a lot of air time, unlike more advanced arm balances like EPK. Few yoga teachers dedicate time to breaking down the pose even in basic classes. Generic cues like "squeeze your elbows in, chaturanga arms", "keep leaning forward" or props such as squatting on blocks seemed to work for everyone else but me. 

And then in one of my classes, where we were working on tripod headstand and one legged crow, my teacher Erica said: Squeeze, lift, lean forward and hope for the best. You have to be willing fall in order to fly. Arm balances can be incredibly humbling. 

I realised it was my unwillingness to fall, my fear of smashing my face into the ground, my refusal to try and be humble over and over again meant I was at a stalemate. No amount of strength work was going to help me at this stage. This is why I loved yoga - there is no escaping. Something is missing if you do not get the sum when you've seemingly mastered all the parts. 

A few weeks later, another teacher Aishyn was teaching crow in her 7am basics class. For the first time, I spoke up and asked for help instead of avoiding it. Alignment corrections, modifications, props. Plaintive whining: "I don't want to break my nose in the ground." 5 minutes later, I was tentatively lifting both feet, barely an inch off the ground - but there it was that lightness. 

Did I get crow instantly after that first time? No. I practised at home with blocks a few minutes each day, my partner cheering me on endlessly, always ending the session with a 'successful' attempt where I felt that lightness. Over the next few weeks, I requested crow time and again in her classes. With her encouragement and progression cues, I started feeling confident in my crow and the attempts that saw me trembling or falling to the side simply became flukes in my head. In my last week of classes with her, I amazed myself by demonstrating a passable crow to the class. Such pride, when she said: A few weeks ago she was still struggling to fly. 

Sometimes we need someone we trust to believe in us. Watching us, looking over us, giving us their full attention and energy. If they think we can, then perhaps we actually can. And if we fall, they're there to catch us. And then we believe in ourselves. And then the times we fail become flukes, and so we don't even hesitate to try again. And that's how we succeed. 

Last week I lifted into 8-angle watching a video breakdown, and this morning I found a second of hang time in EPK, which felt so head-scratchingly impossible just a couple of months ago.

Aishyn: Many people call crow an easy arm balance. But it is not. It is just the basis of the other arm balances. 

I believe the basics are the hardest. 

It is tempting to think my journey into arm balances started just last month with crow. But it really started years ago, from every plank, every bicep curl, every time I feared and fell, every teacher whose words touched me in some way, every teacher whose cues I felt were completely useless and is now starting to make sense, everything is coming together. Practise and all is coming. 

Crow cues that worked for me:

1. Keep wrists parallel to ground. Place blocks behind wrists and keep your wrists touching them lightly to keep this alignment. You do not need to lean forward so much that your wrists are at a strange angle! In fact, I was afraid to lean forward because my wrists already felt like they were gonna break. 
2. You barely need to bend your elbows, even one inch will do. Your elbows do not need to be 90 degrees! Your face does not need to go close to the ground! Sometimes you need to take a step back and recenter. I had a huge fear of falling flat on my face ironically because I was already leaning forward so much - my elbows were bent so much that my face was only inches away from the ground. 
3. Have your knees on the outside of your triceps squeezing in if that works better than knees on triceps or into armpits. Whatever makes you feel safer. 
4. Work to get the feeling of lightness - you don't need perfect alignment, fly a little first and work on deepening the pose later.