Sunday, April 3, 2011

Challenge Pose: Bakasana

Challenge Pose: Bakasana
For those of you in Colombo you will no doubt know that it is pretty hard to go anywhere without a bunch (murder) of crows somewhere nearby.  Many people think of crows as just scavengers and look at them a bit like rats.  But here are a few crow stories that have changed my impression about crows:
·         Once (upon a time) a crow came onto our rooftop terrace with a large piece of bread in its mouth.  It sat on the edge of the wall at first, a bit hesitant since we were sitting having our own breakfast nearby.  The previous night it had rained and there were a few puddles of water drying on the deck. Well, the bread must have been a bit hard and the crow must have been very hungry as it eventually jumped down onto the terrace and hopped over to a puddle within a few steps of us (they usually keep their distance) and dipped his bread into the puddle to soften it up then flew away!  How smart is that!
·         There is a guy who lives in an apartment a few doors down who feeds the crows bread about once or twice a week.  We know when this event is happening as crows flock from all directions to sit on his balcony.  I am not sure how word gets out and how a crow several hundred metres away can tell there is a man on a balcony feeding other crows bread, but there is obviously a special language shared amongst them when a free feed crops up.  Anyway, it actually looks very scary as he is surrounded by crows vying for position.  They perch on his balcony, his neighbour’s balcony, the nearby tree, the TV line running up the building—anywhere they can hook their feet.  The thing is, rather than descend upon him like a swarm of killer bees, they all wait in a rather orderly fashion (well, as orderly as crows can be, which is much more orderly than many of the people I encounter at the train station or supermarket queues) for their share of bread. 
·         Did you know that Australian crows are about twice as big as the Colombo crows?  They also sound different too.  Australian crows seem to be more melodic (I would not go so far as to call them melodic), while as their Colombo cousins seem to have a smoker’s cough. 
·         One afternoon Tilak (aka doorman in the sarong, aka my husband) was standing outside of Perera & Sons with a malu paan in his hands.  He looked down the road for the oncoming bus and in that split second a crow dive-bombed him and snatched the malu paan from his hands.  As I am frequently telling Tilak to be a bit more mindful about his eating, he seems to have taken this as a sign that the crow was sent by me to prevent him from eating between meals.  
So, there you go; a few interesting crow stories.  Now, to the challenge pose of the week: Bakasana (crow pose).  Here, I am going to help you practice bakasana in a few easy steps.
1.       Come into a low squat with your knees together.  Have the heels off the ground and put your hands on the floor in front of you and lean into them—as though you are readying yourself for a very short downward dog.  Really lean your body forward over your thighs.  Stay here for a while.

2.       From there, take the knees apart and lean your body through your knees.  Keep leaning forward into your hands.  Your knees should be around your shoulders—hug them in close.

3.       Take the hands off the floor but keep leaning forward.  You are now about to do the karate chop manoeuvre.  Take your arms in front of your shins and ‘karate chop’ them out to the side as though you were trying to karate chop your shins with your upper arms.  The point is to bring the upper arms in contact with the shins and keep the upper arms moving back into the shins.  As you take your upper arms back and into your shins, squeeze your knees into your shoulders (or upper arms).

4.       Make bird’s claw hands and place them on the floor in front of you shoulder width apart.  It is important to ‘bird’s claw’ the hands to distribute the weight throughout the hand and this will also help you balance.  The elbows stay wide at the moment and the upper arms are still pressing back into the shins.

5.       Keeping everything else the same, lift your tail a bit and lean forward into your hands as you do so.  Come up onto your tip-toes.

6.       Squeeze the elbows in towards eachother while maintaining the feeling that you are pressing your arm bones back into your shins.  Squeeze the knees into the arms/shoulders.  Look forward, lean forward and…find your balance.  There is no ‘launching’ yourself into the pose.  This is a balance and you need to find your tipping point.  Maybe just take one foot off the floor at first, find your balance there, and then shift the weight a bit further forward until the other foot floats off.  Basically, head tips forward and bottom floats up--just like in the picture below!

Hints and Cautions
·         Be in the middle of your mat in case you fall forward.  You could put a cushion a bit in front of you as well if you are worried about falling on your face.
·         Bird’s claw hands are key.  If you do not get some pressure under the finger tips and knuckles, all of the weight will be on your wrists and you will not be able to find your tipping point as well or as easily.
·         Keep squeezing the elbows in towards each other.  If they splay out to the side you will drop lower to the floor and you need to create lift so this won't be good!  Too much elbow splaying will lead to a face plant for sure! 
·         You need to keep moving your centre of gravity forward—this means you need to practice leaning forward into and over your hands.  You will not find your tipping point if you stay too far back. 
·         You can try just taking one foot off the ground and then trying to lean forward a little bit more.
Bakasana is challenging at first and helps you understand about how slight changes in your centre of gravity can completely change a posture.  When you find just the right tipping point it will feel like you are flying. 
Happy practicing!