November 10, 2013

Just Say No to Crow: (Some) Advanced Asanas are for the Birds.

Some yoga folks preach that we should practice our least favorite poses in order to transcend aversion.

I used to believe them.

So, even though I despised every moment of my first steamy Bikram yoga class, I went back for more torture several times. I thought I needed to get over my negative feelings and embrace all styles of yoga.

Although the guy is a certifiable megalomaniac, to his credit, his 26-pose series does not include the arm balancing posture, crow (bakasana).

When I was younger—you know, fitter, happier, more productive—I didn’t mind crow pose. I would float up into it gleefully, although I never could nail side crow or any of the other fancy eka pada blah blah variations.

Eventually, something in me imperceptibly shifted. I gradually developed outright hatred for the pose; maybe I almost fell on my face one too many times.

Probably I was sick of the way that almost every single teacher in every single class in every single studio throws crow into the mix.

After the ubiquitous but lovable downward dog, it seems to be the next most common pose for instructors to teach.

I’ve lived outside the U.S. for over four years now, but when I lived in Guatemala City, the studio that I frequented had the same symptoms that many North American practitioners complain about: a vast array of fast-paced, sweaty, rock-star, power vinyasa-style yoga, with little to no opportunities for the deeper, more meditative aspects of the practice. And always, always crow pose!

I was stressing out about my aversion to crow, so I sought advice from my friend Lynn, a veteran, 64-year-old Yoga Schmogi. She just shrugged and said, “So don’t do it.”

Silly as it seems now, it was such a relief to hear that advice from my wise, yoga-teaching, Buddhist buddy. It was liberating to give myself permission to omit crow from my personal practice and to defy crow-loving teachers by doing child’s pose (or whatever I felt like) while they led the rest of the obedient students into bakasana.

Crow pose is not for everyone.

It puts a whole lot of pressure and weight on the wrists even when executed correctly—and sets you up for a potential broken nose if done too wildly.

If you’re into it for the mind-stilling, core-strengthening, balancing aspects, great! If you’re into it primarily because you want to strut your stuff, that’s not so great. (The same goes for other fancy feathered poses, such as peacock, eagle and bird of paradise, not to mention scorpion and all the handstand variations so prominent on Instagram and other social networks.)

At best, this mentality will feed our spiritual materialism and raging egos. At worst, it will result in injury.

Okay, so maybe I used to be fitter and more productive, but I am definitely happier now at 33 than I was in my twenties. And I no longer feel inadequate for not being able to do all the advanced poses ever created.

Advanced asanas are not for beginners—and they don’t have to be part of an intermediate or “advanced” yogi’s practice.

As teachers, we must always give modifications for all levels of students in our class. As practitioners, we need to honor our bodies and know when to say no to crow.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Flickr}

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