The Side Crow yoga pose, which is called Parsva Bakasana in Sanskrit (“parsva” means “side”), is a playful arm balance variation of Crow Pose (Bakasana). Accomplishing this yoga pose does not only require core and arm strength, it also requires even more strength of mind. That is why practicing Side Crow can help you build focus and concentration.
This article will help you to accomplish the Side Crow yoga pose:
1. How Do You Get Into Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)?
- Start in a squatting position with your hips low and your big toes touching.
- Make sure that your knees are in one line.
- Place the fingers of one hand – let’s say the right one – on the ground next to you.
- Lift the left arm up in the air and bend toward the right side.
- Round your back and hook the left arm against your right thigh.
- Place both hands next to each other and shoulder-width apart on the ground.
- Make sure that your right greater trochanter (the outside part of the right hip) is between the hands.
- Gently outwardly rotate the arms and slowly bend them as if you were to come into Chaturanga.
- Come onto your toes, push into your feet and lift your hips up.
- Shift your bodyweight forward into your hands to lean forward. If you’re afraid of falling over, you can place a blanket or a pillow in front of you.
- Start lifting your feet off the ground.
- Engage the toes and hug the big toes together.
- Suck the belly in and pull the knees to the chest.
- Engage your oblique abdominal muscles by pushing the left elbow into your right thigh and vice versa. Avoid leaning onto the right arm.
- Lift the buttocks up and move your heels toward your buttocks. This will help you elevate and give you more control.
- If you feel stable here, try a more advanced variation of Side Crow pose by extending both legs straight for Dwi Pada Koundinyasana, or even subsequently scissoring the legs apart for Eka Pada Koundinyasana I.
After this theoretical approach, it’s time for you to hop on your yoga mat and practice Side Crow pose. Let Mathieu Boldron guide you through this advanced yoga asana.
2. What Is Your Body Doing In Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)?
2.1. What Are the Joints Doing?
Let’s have a look which joint actions are relevant in the upper body in Side Crow pose:
- The cervical spine is extended and the lower spine is rotated.
- The scapulae are abducted while the shoulder is flexed and adducted.
- The elbows are flexed but moving toward extension.
- The wrists are in dorsiflexion.
When it comes to the lower body, it is important to note that the hip is flexed and adducted and the knees are flexed.
2.2. Which Muscles Are Engaged?
Let’s also examine the upper body first regarding the relevant muscular actions required to perform Side Crow:
- The rectus capitis posterior and the obliquus capitis superior (small muscles in the upper part of the back of the neck) are contracting concentrically to extend the cervical spine.
- The internal and external obliques as well as the erector spinae effect the rotation of the spine.
- The serratus anterior and the pectoralis major and minor abduct the scapulae.
- The rotator cuff muscles and the deltoids stabilize and protect the shoulder joint.
- The triceps brachii contract concentrically to push the arm against the thigh.
- The pronator quadratus and teres pronate the forearms.
- The intrinsic muscles of the wrists and hands help to maintain the integrity of the hands.
In the lower body, the psoas major and the iliacus (a flat skeletal muscle of the pelvis) flex the hip while the adductor muscles adduct hip and assist in hip flexion.
Note that in this rotated version of Bakasana, the spine is more extended than in usual Crow pose. In case the knees are separated, the rotation comes from the hip joints rather than from the spine.
3. What Holds You Back From Accomplishing Side Crow Pose?
1. Don’t Be Afraid of Leaning Forward
One of the main reasons why people fail to perform Side Crow is that the forearms are not vertical because they are afraid to lean forward since they fear to fall over. However, if the forearms aren’t vertical, it’s not possible to successfully perform this yoga pose because the body is not in the line of gravity.
To overcome the fear of leaning forward and falling over, place a blanket or a pillow on the ground in front of you. Place your head onto the blanket so you actually can’t fall and start from there.
2. Engage Your Legs
Another common problem that prevents yoga practitioners from accomplishing the Side Crow pose is that they’re not engaging their leg muscles enough when lifting the feet off the ground. As a result, the legs become really heavy and pull the entire body down.
So, in order to successfully perform Side Crow, remember to keep your leg muscles active by engaging the entire leg, even – and most importantly – the toes.
3. Don’t Rest Your Buttocks on Your Elbow
It may be very tempting to rest your buttocks or greater trochanter on your elbow. However, by doing so, you’re not actually working with your muscles to overcome gravity. Although you may be able to balance it, your buttocks are really heavy and sinking down.
While this may initially work for Side Crow, you won’t be able to maintain it for a longer period of time, let alone perform more challenging arm balances. This is why you should avoid leaning onto your elbow.
4. Push – Hollow – Pull
Just like in regular Crow pose, there are three principles that build the foundation of the arm balance:
- Push the ground away, round your back and spread your fingers.
- Hollow your stomach by pulling the navel up and in.
- Pull your thighs to your chest to engage your core and elevate the buttocks.
In Side Crow, additionally engage your oblique abdominal muscles by pushing the elbow against the thigh and the thigh against the elbow.
4. How Can You Prepare Your Body for Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)?
Since Side Crow is a yoga pose that requires significant physical and mental activity, it’s a good idea to warm up thoroughly before attempting it. The following sequence will help you prepare your body by bringing awareness to the areas of the body that need to be activated and strengthened in order to be able to accomplish Side Crow pose.
1. Fire up Your Core
Side Crow is a great yoga pose that helps you build strength in the core, especially in the obliques. Twists are an integral part of a yoga practice and twisting arm balances such as Parsva Bakasana teach you both how to fly and how to strengthen your waist, hips, shoulders, arms and abs.
That’s why it is a good idea to prepare your body by firing up your core muscles. Start lying on the back and wrap the legs into eagle legs. Push the hands against the front thigh and the thigh against the hands to create some resistance and maintain this for a few breaths.
Interlace the hands behind the head and lift head and shoulders on an inhale. On the next exhale, curl the tailbone to lift the pelvis up. At the same time, pull the navel to the spine. Repeat this small movement a few times.
Add a gentle twist to target your obliques by straightening the back leg down on the ground. Keep the other leg bent and bring it across for a gentle supine spinal twist. Maintain this pose for a few breaths before repeating these two poses on the other side.
2. Warm up the Wrists
Since you will carry your entire body weight on your hands in Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana), it’s a good idea to prepare your wrists with some specific warm-up exercises.
Start in a table-top position. To get a good foundation, engage your hands by placing them in a spider-like shape. Press the mounts of your index fingers and thumbs firmly into the ground. Lift the wrist bones up to come onto your fingers and carefully shift your body weight forward and backward. Repeat this little movement a few times.
As a next step, turn the hands outward and let the fingers point toward your knees as far as possible. Gently shift forward and backward again. Round your spine and elevate the shoulders. Push the ground away to protract the shoulders.
3. Prepare Your Shoulders
One important element of arm balances such as Side Crow pose is the protraction of the shoulders. To get a feeling for the movement of your shoulders, practice elevation and depression of the shoulders in Downward-Facing Dog. Push the ground away with your hands lift the shoulders up (elevation) and then let your shoulders sink down (depression). Repeat this movement a few times.
As a next step, practice protraction, i.e. the shoulder blades moving away from each other, and retraction, i.e. the shoulder blades moving toward each other. In Downward-Facing Dog, wrap the outer shoulders outward toward the ground (protraction) and then away from the ground (retraction).
After a few rounds of this, circle the shoulders in Downward-Facing Dog to combine these four movements: protract – depress – retract – elevate. After a few rounds, change the direction and circle your shoulders in the other direction a few times.
Take this practice a step further by reaching the right leg up in the air. Round the back (i.e. protract the shoulders) and move the knee diagonally underneath your body toward the left elbow or armpit. Maybe you can even touch the outer left shoulder with your knee. Repeat this movement few times and really focus on the protraction of the shoulder.
Return into a Three-Legged Dog and place the right ankle on the left thigh. Slide the ankle behind the left leg to wrap it into an eagle-like position. Take the left hand off the ground to open your hip and chest toward the left side. Place the left hand onto the back of your head.
Keep pushing down with the left foot as you lift the hip up and push the hand against your head. Broaden the space between the shoulder blades and open your throat. Hold this position for a couple of breaths.
4. Target Your Psoas Muscle
Step the right foot forward between the hands and lower the left knee onto the ground. Lift the torso, reach the left arm up and side bend toward the right side. Make sure that the upper body, the chest and the arms are in one line.
Come back to center after a few breaths and wrap the left arm under the right arm for an eagle shape. Lean the torso forward toward your front leg and extend the back leg without moving the front knee. This action will activate your left psoas muscle.
Next, shift the body weight forward until you can pick up your back leg and wrap it around your front leg to come into Eagle Pose. Bend both knees and sink down onto this pose. Your shoulders will naturally move forward into protraction. Round the spine to move the elbows toward the knees.
After a couple of breaths, open up again, lift the arms up and bring the left knee forward. Point the toes and extend the leg out in front. Wrap the hands underneath your thigh. Depress and retract the shoulders.
Press the muscles of your thigh into your hip and slowly take the left leg back. At the same time, draw the chest forward and down. Reach the big toe of the left leg toward the end of the mat and extend your arms forward. Hold this balancing pose for three breaths before you step the leg back onto the ground behind you.
Place the left hand onto the ground outside of your yoga mat. Bend the back knee to lower it down until it’s a couple of inches above the ground. Now you have three points of contact on the ground: your two feet and your left hand. Hug these points of contact toward each other to gather strength. Take the right hand behind your head to open your chest and, at the same time, extend the back leg straight. Keep your neck long, i.e. your nose in line with your sternum.
Bring both hands back on the yoga mat and extend your front leg. Walk the hands towards the right side. Draw the right femur bone into the hip socket and square your hips by pushing the right heel down into the ground. Elongate the spine and stay in this pose for a few breaths.
Return to center and hover the front foot a few inches above the ground. Bring it back up into Three-Legged Dog and return to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat this little sequence on the other side by taking the left leg up into Three-Legged Dog and hugging it toward the right elbow or armpit.
If you’re looking for guidance in other yoga poses, such as Side Crow’s little brother Crow pose (Bakasana), check out our free yoga asana eBook that takes you through ten of the most commonly practiced yoga poses. Download it for free and use as a reference guide for your yoga practice.
5. What Are the Benefits of Side Crow Pose?
Side Crow is a yoga pose that strengthens the upper body, namelythe arms, wrists and shoulders.
This yoga asana also tones the abdomen and the spine and helps to improve balance and focus.
Like all twisting poses, it can promote detoxification of the body. This yoga pose also reminds you to approach your yoga practice with a sense of playful curiosity and a determination to move out of our comfort zone.
Furthermore, Side Crow is an excellent foundation pose for more advanced arm balances such as Eka Pada Koundinyasana I and Dwi Pada Koundinyasana.
From a more traditional perspective, this yoga pose is said to activate the navel chakra (manipura chakra), which is the center of self-confidence, power, and control. In any case, once you’ll have accomplished this arm-balancing pose, you’ll certainly feel a sense of achievement.
When you start to build arm balances into your yoga practice, Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana) might seem out of reach. However, with practice, patience and dedication you will eventually be able to lift both feet and balance.
Don’t get frustrated – it’s normal to fall while learning this pose. Remember that also dedicated yogis, however advanced they may be, fell out of this pose at the beginning. It’s only with consistent practice, patience and determination that you’ll accomplish the Side Crow yoga pose.
Let TINT guide you along your journey to achieve this pose. Start, for example, with Matt Giordano‘s Essentials of Arm Balances and work yourself up step by step to Master Your Crow with Mathieu Boldron. As a next step, you can even try to Master Your Twisting Arm Balances. If you’re up for a little challenge, try the Firefly Crow Fusion in Alexandra Harfield‘s Dips, Binds & Balances.