As one of the first arm balancing postures you’re likely to come across in a modern yoga class, Bakasana (also known as kakasana) or ‘crow pose’ is the gateway to more challenging asanas, a sense of empowerment, and sometimes a reminder of what it feels like to fall flat on your face – literally.
BKS Iyengar’s Light On Yoga shows the posture with variations of bent or straight arms, transitioned into via a crouched position or through the more challenging route of sirsasana (headstand). Over the years, the names Bakasana, Kakasana, Crow and Crane have been used and somewhat confused, meaning there’s discrepancy between the posture’s definitive name. What many teachers and practitioners do agree upon however, is that it requires not just upper body and core strength, but an inner voice that says “yes I can!”.
Names and shapes aside, where does Bakasana actually come from? What was the inspiration behind it, and is there anything deeper to gain from the asana besides stronger muscles?
Nature & Nurture
Living in India some several hundred or even thousand years ago, days were spent in nature surrounded by the elements and animals. With many yogic texts displaying an honouring of nature’s cycles, the weather was more than something to talk about – it was a representation of the gods themselves. Vayu was revered as the god of winds, Ratri as goddess of the night, Agni as god of fire and Indra as god of the storm. Great respect and fascination was attributed to the natural world, and we can see this through the preservation of postures named after trees, mountains, dogs, fish, the tortoise, moon and sun.
There’s really no definite answer as to exactly why some yoga postures are named after animals, elements and trees, but there are definitely plenty of theories and signs that point to our deep and inherent connection to the world around us. Many systems of yoga and Eastern spirituality have adopted a system of belief starts with Ahimsa or ‘non-harming’, a deep honouring of mother earth, seeing animals as equals and plants full of prana or ‘life force’. With such an equality amongst man and beast, human and herb, there’s reason to believe asanas were named after nature as a way to honour, mimic and explore other life forms.
The Crane & The Crow
Knees tucked towards the armpits, arms doing the job of legs and legs curled back like tail feathers, we see how the body morphs to represent a crane or crow. Throughout Asia, the long-limbed crane is a sign of health and longevity, and in Japan it’s seen as a mystical or holy creature. Stories tell of the crane living a long life, and for this reason the bird is connected to eternal youth and good fortune, with many travellers carrying a crane feather to protect themselves from exhaustion. Native Americans see the crane as a peacemaker and good luck symbol, whilst in Egypt legend has it that a two-headed crane flew over the river Nile announcing a new age of joy and prosperity.
Almost the opposite in appearance, the small black crow is seen as a sign of death to some cultures, but in many parts of the world the crow is one of the most prominent and important spirit animals. Crows can represent transformation and a connection to life’s magic and mysticism, and if a crow is seen in a visualisation, it is said to represent a time of change – the ending of one phase and the beginning of another. The symbol of a crow can ask us to look at our lives with the third eye of intuition, acknowledging what is no longer serving us, and letting it go so there’s room for further growth and personal development.
In Mesopotamian myth, the crow was sent to seek out new lands, and in ancient Greece and Rome, crows were even seen as a representation of Apollo – the god of divination and healing. Hinduism treats the crow as an ancestral symbol, with offerings given at the time of Shraddha, a festival marking the honouring of ancestors. Perhaps with the highest respect for the crow, Buddhist and Tibetan cultures regard crows as an earthly manifestation of Mahakala, the protector and sustainer of righteousness on earth.
Tools for Transformation
Both the crane and crow have a strong link to how we think about life, and in particular the quality of life we’re all living. Whilst the crane connects to health and longevity, the crow is all about transformation and magic. In the same way, whilst a yoga practice can be a way of developing greater health and longevity, it also lends itself to transforming the many layers of ourselves, and tuning into our own type of magic.
Bakasana and other postures that ask us to balance on our hands have a way of bringing up fears and inadequacies within many of us. Unless you’ve grown up enjoying handstands and cartwheels, holding your own bodyweight on two hands can be a scary task to undertake, and one that has the power to transform our own sense of self. When approaching this posture, notice if your instant reaction is one of “no I can’t” or “yes I can”. The thinking patterns we each grow up with and carry through life are often repeated not just within relationships and careers, but on the yoga mat too. That’s the thing with a physical yoga practice; we’re able to see our habits, and we can choose to change them.
Lifting into Bakasana, we experience the possibility of transforming fear into faith, struggle to strength, and “no I can’t” to “yes I can”. Placing the hands on the ground, tucking the knees towards the armpits and gently negotiating with gravity until the feet lift the ground – these are all aspects that require courage, they require us to trust ourselves, and they require us to bring forth our own magic. When we choose to trust, when we choose to believe we can lift our own body weight, when we choose to support ourselves on just two hands, we cast a spell to transform old patterns of self doubt into new patterns of confidence and empowerment. We enhance our quality of life not just by building a stronger external body, but by building inner strength too.