Light on "Crow Pose"
I've been teaching yoga for a very long time, and I've gone to lots of yoga classes. As far as I can recall, in NYC this pose has always been called "bakāsana," and defined as "crow pose." Occasionally I had seen references on the interwebs to a "Crane" pose-- and I just assumed that some yoga schools used different words. For example, in Yin Yoga, "Pigeon Pose" is called "Swan"-- or "Sleeping Swan," when in a forward bend. (Swans are just so much more poetic than pigeons, no? 😜)
Well, that teaches me to "assume." I was looking up the spelling of bakasana and ended up going down a little rabbit hole. Apparently "bakasana" actually means "crane." "Kakasana" means "crow." People are practicing crane with straightened arms and crow with bent arms. It's essentially the same -- but most of us find it a lot more challenging (or even impossible) to straighten the arms!
Why have I and many of my colleagues been calling this pose "crow?" 🤔 Whenever I have this kind of yoga conundrum, I go to Light on Yoga. It is my understanding that this book is the first modern hatha yoga book to come to the West. Iyengar is often considered a high authority on yoga matters, and Light on Yoga (LOY) is often called the "yoga bible." Meaning, you can't argue with me if Light on Yoga is on my side!
(As an aside, I feel that this book has been detrimental to new yoga enthusiasts and teachers because the poses are outdated. This book was first published in 1966. Iyengar himself evolved his teaching of many of the poses. If you use this to learn yoga, you are missing out on a lot of new and safer information.)
Low and behold, Bakasana means Crane Pose! According to LOY: "Baka means crane. The body in this pose resembles that of a crane wading in a pool of water, hence the name." Light on Yoga, asana 152, plates 404-406
In LOY, Iyengar teaches that the "full expression" of the pose is with straight arms, and the photographs show the progression into it.
(I refrain from using such language as "full expression" of poses, as it perpetuates ableism and detracts from the individual practioner's internal experience.)
So Iyengar says Bakasana is Crane and it's to be done with straight arm. I could not find any mention of Kakasana, or crow pose in LOY.
In Ashtanga Yoga, The Practice Manual, David Swenson defines Bakasana as Crane, but includes bent arm variations as the same pose. He even defines practicing with the feet still on the floor as Bakasana. As long as we are all in the spirit of the asana, we are successful. David Swenson studied directly with K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga and a contemporary of Iyengar.
Once again, I could find no reference to Kakasana, or crow pose, in the Ashtanga sequence!
A little poking around, and I found a legit-looking yoga school on YouTube. Siddhi Yoga International. They talk about the difference between Crane and Crow. But I don't know who their source is, either. Interestingly, Yogi Ritesh gives more color to the meaning of the Crane: "Crane is considered a messenger of God, and a symbol of communion with God, the presenting entering higher states of consciousness." [SIC]. See the video, here.
So far the origin of the differences remains a mystery. I think as long as you are having fun, and it doesn't hurt, it is fine to do this pose however you can!
I was once ridiculed in front of the whole class for having my butt too high in this arm balance. I never went back to that teacher. If you can lower your butt in this pose, good for you -- but if you're being an asshole about it, you are skipping the first step of the path of yoga which -- is non-harming and kindness. Yoga is not about the pose it's about the love!
Here is a quick tutorial a' la Chintamani:
Homage to the birds of yoga:
Photo Credit: Indian Jungle Crow
Photo Credit: Sarus Crane
Pronunciation Guide: Bakasana
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