Moving into the crane pose, I imagine a long-legged, long-necked, water bird on the shores of a marsh. I see its elegant, balanced profile and its amazing ability to keep still as it watches below the surface of the water for signs of life, then swiftly catches the source of the movement. I dream of a beautiful red-crowned white bird as it spreads its wide wings and flies toward the moon through a dark blue sky.
Embodying the crane is a different story – at least at first. Gone is the elegance and I experience heaviness, hard work and even pain as my arms press against my legs. It is difficult for me to find balance and to lift my feet off the ground. I think about the patient vigilance of a crane and wonder if I find the pose challenging because of an impatience or restlessness in me. And how much does the fear of falling on my face restrict me – literally in the pose and metaphorically in my life?
Fear of falling relates to fear of failing, which often translates into fear of not looking good. Culturally, this is something we have been taught to avoid. I notice a subtle underlying thought: “I am a yoga teacher. I should be able to do all the poses well. And yet I can’t do this one.” The consequence is that I usually avoid the pose.
I begin to wonder how many other times have I done this in different parts of my life? I ask myself: Am I willing to take a risk of “losing face,” by maybe falling on my face a few times in order to discover something new? Can I overcome that fear of “failing”? This fear isn’t obvious, but as I peer below the surface, I catch it as it darts by. Part of the fear is related to the physical pose, but I wonder if this fear also plays out in other parts of my life, preventing exploration and expansion.
I decide that learning is worth the risk of falling. So I work with the crane pose physically and mentally.
I decide to seek out cranes in daily life, to see if they can offer a clue to help me understand them and myself more. I walk through Chinatown, where our yoga centre is located, and notice cranes on embroideries and screens. I visit the classical gardens, and see two sculptures of cranes. A sign describes the crane as a symbol of happiness and long life. It is also said to carry the spirits of the dead to the celestial realms.
The crane’s single-pointed concentration and its ability to wait patiently are perhaps the very qualities that create a long, full life. These contemplative attributes aren’t much valued in our fast-paced culture, where being successful means getting ahead through ever increasing speed. We have not been taught to slow down and wait until the time is right.
I need a new way to approach the pose. I decide to approach it patiently and to stay concentrated and alert like a crane. Instead of judging myself, I get tips from those who know how to do the pose well – I ask other teachers and students. I notice my tendency to aim for the final, highest version. I have to start lower, take it a step at a time. It takes concentration and work, but eventually I find balance without pain. I fall but don’t hurt myself. Gradually I gain confidence.
The victory is not just in meeting a physical challenge, but in practising patience, discovering my pride and overcoming the part that is unwilling to try. Pride is elusive, like those movements beneath the surface, and I’ve often not understood its influence in my life. Practising the crane pose, I recognize that I am a person in process, committed to learning. I can choose to be safe, to maintain a false image; or I can choose to explore my weaknesses and my strengths and come from a real and sometimes vulnerable place. By accepting where I am, by being open, I learn.
The crane carries spirits to higher levels. For me, reaching higher levels starts by looking into the depths for signs of what’s happening below the surface – signs of pride or resistance – and then taking action. The action can be asking for help, seeking more information, daring to try.
how to do bakaasana : the crane
- Start in a standing forward bend.
- Bend your knees, placing the palms on the floor. Or start from a squatting position.
- Find the place where your arms and legs can work together. For me, it is bending my elbows somewhat and placing my knees on this area. Some people support their legs much higher up their arms. Experiment, patiently.
- Shift your weight onto the hands, gradually lifting your feet off the ground.
- Find the point of balance and keep focused on what is in front of you. Keep your neck in line with your spine.
Do the pose (or visualize yourself in the pose) with any of these questions in mind:
- Do I have enough strength to reach the point of balance and vigilance?
- Can I find that point in my life?
- What are my distractions?
- What am I afraid of ?
Find silence and stillness in your day.