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Crow pose is one of those gateway poses. It’s the basic hand-balance. Once you can do it, you’ve unlocked your way into a whole other mess of poses — like side crow, flying crow, even handstand.

Have a look:

Pretty impressive, right?

If this dude is making it look effortless, that’s because it is.

Most of my students who struggle with crow pose have the strength to be able to do it. I can see it in other poses that they can do well. And most of them have a pretty good understanding about the proper alignment of it — because I’m certainly not the only yoga teacher who teaches that.

So what do the crow-strugglers lack? If it’s not strength and it’s not alignment know-how, then what is it?

Effortlessness.

Well, there’s an annoying answer. That sounds like a Zen koan (and kind of is). So let me put it another way:

Consider that you may be taking yourself too seriously. If you’re trying to get into the pose, you’re a long way from getting there because the trying always puts the pose in thefuture for you.

Yoga happens in the present. So you have to focus on the sensations that give rise to the pose, rather than on achieving the pose itself.

Sensations like:

  • rooting: push down with your hands.
  • hugging the midline: squeeze your inner thighs, your pelvic floor.
  • lengthening your spine: look forward on the floor, and reach your sternum in the direction that you’re looking.

Now, I don’t know if you noticed, but I just gave you a bunch of alignment instructions. I didn’t actually instruct you on how to be effortless, because I can’t. You just have to figure out how to drop the effort.

However…

I can lead you through the back door. I first accessed effortlessness through my other favorite discipline: improv. Then when I brought the skill over into the yoga practice… magic!

Last week, I told you all about how like yoga, improv is really the art of becoming present — the art of effortlessly being here and now.

In an improv game {like the ones we play in the Yoga of Spontaneity series, which takes us deeper into presence and effortlessness by combining yoga with improv} we learn what my friend and fellow improv teacher Shana Merlin calls “how to take the game seriously, but ourselves not.”

That’s what might be missing from your crow pose, dear yogis: how to take the sensations seriously, but yourself not.

If you don’t take yourself seriously, you don’t care whether or not the sensations lead you into an actual hand-balance. Feet in the air or on the ground, it’s all the same pose — the same cocktail of sensations.

When you get that place, then the pose starts doing you.

Pretty cool stuff, right?

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