All Things Crow – You can take flight too!

Round the back, press hard into the palms, point your toes to the back of the room…
Keep pressing and rounding the back… Gaze forward..
Elbows at ninety degrees… keep hugging the elbows in!

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard all these cues in class when its time to fly your Crow.

But what do all these cues really mean?

More often than not, it’s not easy for an instructor to break down a pose during a class,
simply because of time constraints and not wanting to break the flow of a class.

When I first attempted the Crow pose, I remember having zero activation,
not being able to lift my feet of the ground, much less point my toes!
It was pure brute strength that ended with a glorious faceplant and a ton of laughter.

 So instead of just telling you the steps to get into a Crow pose,
we are going to decode some common Yoga cues!
Thanks to my instructor, Angie, you’ll also find some exercises to strengthen and prepare you for flight!

 The next time you hear these cues in the class, you’ll know exactly what to do (;

“Round your back” – Engage that core!

Remember how the instructor begins the class with a few rounds of Cat and Cow pose?
Yup. I’ll admit – I took it for granted.
In reality, the Cat pose is a great way to really start engaging your core muscles!

Full Cat Pose

Keeping your chin tucked, take a few breaths in Cat pose.
Make it a point to push your belly button towards the ceiling, almost as if to touch your spine.
Yes, it’s physically impossible, but go with me on this to feel that sensation of rounding the back!

Sometimes, you’ll hear the cue “pull your ribs in” or “lift the ribs”.
What does that really mean? Well, try the following out and you’ll see!

Exercise

Find yourself in a comfortable seated position.
Take an inhale, nice and slow.
As you inhale, imagine all the air filling up the lungs,
pushing and expanding your rib cage outwards in all directions.
As you exhale, imagine all that air in your lungs getting squeezed out.
Keep following that sensation of squeezing and
picture your ribs getting compressed all around!

Felt that?
Noticed how instinctively that made you round your back slightly?
That’s what it should feel like in your Cat pose!

Full Cat Pose Vs Shitty Cat PoseLeft: Ribs are compressed and lifted, core fully activated to assist in rounding of the spine
Right: Slack in the core, back is less rounded

“Press hard into the palms and push the mat away from you” – Shoulder Protraction

Here’s a little Anatomy 101 before we dive into things!

Shoulder girdle – connects your upper arm (humerus bone) to your spine
via the collar bone (clavicle) and shoulder blades (scapula).
The shoulder joint, also known as the glenohumeral joint,
is where the upper arm bone meets the shoulder blade.
 

Scapula – a flat, roughly triangular bone on both sides
of the upper spine (thoracic spine). It allows for various movements and
we’ll be focusing on primarily protraction, also known as abduction.

Protraction/Abduction – to move away from the body’s midline

To clear the air – when instructors tell you to protract your shoulders,
what they really mean is to move your shoulder blades away from your spine!

 In layman’s terms, think about creating a gap in between the shoulder blades
by bringing them away from your spine and closer to the shoulder joint.
Wanna know what it feels like?
Give yourself a hug RIGHT NOW and observe how your shoulder blades move!

Plank – neutral & with protractionLeft: Shoulder blades in neutral position
Right: Shoulder blades protracted

Exercise

Get into a plank pose. Make sure your palms are well grounded,
pressing 3 primary areas into your mat – finger tips, base of the finger tips and base of the palm.

On your next inhale, push into your mat and try protracting your scapulas.
Notice a small upward movement. Now exhale, return to a neutral plank.

Plank – neutral & with protractionLeft: Neutral shoulder blades
Right: Protracted shoulder blades

Now take it a step ahead by rounding the back, just like you did in Cat pose!

Plank – cat spine plus protracted shoulders 2Remember to lift the ribs and push hard away from the mat!

“Squeeze” – All About That Flex

One important thing to note about Crow pose is how your entire body
becomes as compact as possible, almost as if you’re trying to tighten every muscle
so your whole body becomes one compact mass.
Your spine, hips and knees are all flexed!

In case you’re wondering, to put it simply –
flexing is the act of bending or the condition of being bent.
Exactly how you’d react if I asked you to flex your biceps now!

Exercise

Begin in plank pose. As you protract your scapulas, begin rounding your back.
Bring your gaze to a middle point between your thumbs as you do so.
You should be on your tippy toes, heels stacked above the toes! Take 3 breaths here.

On your next exhale – bring your right knee to touch your right tricep or elbow.
Send your gaze to your back foot and point your right toes away from you.

Plank with knee to tricep, hips high, pointed toesKeep squeezing, but don’t forget to breathe!

As you hold the position, be aware of that squeezing sensation in your core.
Remember, we are bringing everything together now –
rounded back, protracted scapulas and squeeze hard!

“90-degree elbows” & “Hug your elbows in” – Soar, not sink!

When I was first exposed to the world of Chaturangas, this was what it looked like:

Sinking ChaturangaYep.. this is what it used to look like!

And then I met Angie, and this is what it looks like now:

Proper ChaturangaTa-daaaah!

It took me a long time to understand how important it was to nail that 90 degree right!
That combined with keeping my elbows right by my ribs really builds a strong foundation in my arms.

Chaturanga - Hugging elbows in and elbows flopping out

Left: Keep your elbows as close to your ribs as you can!
Right: Common mistake of letting the elbows flop out. Don’t risk hurting your wrists!

Bonus Tip: Your head follows your gaze!

While I was sinking in all my Chaturangas like the Titanic,
I would always tuck my chin in to keep my neck in line with my spine.
But really what I was doing is looking down at my mat letting my head lead my Chaturanga!

If this is something familiar to you, try lifting the chin slightly and
send your gaze one palm ahead! Keep your focus on one point as you lower your chest.

Lift chin picJust a slight lift – don’t end up straining your neck!

It’s time to fly!

Let’s get right down to it!

There are many ways to get into a Crow pose,
and my personal favorite is to start in Malasana.

MalasanaBegin rounding the spine slightly, push your elbows against the knees and send your chest towards your thumb

Take a couple of breaths here to really feel the sensation of flexing in the hips and core.

Lift the hips as high as you can!

Place your palms on the mat in front of your feet and
send your knees as high up onto your upper arms as you can go.
Being on your tippy toes and rounding the back here is really gonna help!
Before we go on, find a point where you can fix your gaze.

one foot off, then both feet offLeft: Easy does it… ; Right: And we have lift off!

Ground the palms well and start shifting your weight forward
until you can feel the transfer of weight onto your finger tips.
Keep your elbows hugged in as you
lift one foot off the ground and point your toes behind you.
Keep shifting your weight forward until the other foot floats off the ground!

And there you have it!
Before you go get crazy, remember to respect your body and its limits.
Be accepting of your practice, wherever it may be.
Till the next time, Namaste!


 Sherilyn, Yogi and guest writer at Vivre Active

Angie is an instructor of The Yoga Co. Check out her Instagram page – @Sassyyogi

Outfit: Sprinter Active Tank and Rhythm Active Crops