The Physics of Crow Pose
Crow pose is the foundation pose for arm balances and one of the biggest hills to get over in your yoga practice.
The pose is not easy, nor is it easy to explain. Google “guide to crow pose” and you’ll find an endless array of tutorials along the lines of:
Step 1. Place your hands on the ground
Step 2. Come into Crow pose
Piece of cake! Right? Not really. Unless you’re a monkey, you’re probably not used to having your weight on your hands (if you are a monkey, congratulations on grasping psycholinguistics!)
Before I became a yoga teacher, I was an engineer. And believe it or not, having a technical understanding of the world greatly helps my practice too. So to explain how to make this transition from your feet to your hands, I’m going to take an alternate route and explain crow pose using PHYSICS.
So let’s hop to it.
First off, here’s a ruler:
The 6-inch mark! That’s correct. Why? Because, that’s where the center of gravity of the ruler is:
So here’s your first physics lesson: All objects behave as though their mass is concentrated at their center of gravity.
Read that sentence again. Then check out this guy balancing a baseball bat:
As you can see the man’s hands are NOT in the center of the baseball bat, but a little to the right, which is where (you guessed it!) its center of gravity is.
That’s nice, but check out this hammer tied to a ruler:
How is the hammer just floating in the air like that? BECAUSE it’s Center Of Gravity (which I will now refer to as COG) is way over to the right, near the head of the hammer (metal is much heavier than wood, this is a material science lesson too). As a result, the COG is directly underneath the tip of the ruler that is on the table.
Amazing! (click here for a full explanation of the hammer illusion).
So here’s physics lesson #2: an object is stable as long as its center of gravity is in-line with the BASE of the object.
For example, check out this this armless man:
Notice that no matter which way he bends, his COG remains directly over his feet, so he doesn’t fall down. Aren’t bodies amazing?
And here’s Michael Jackson:
Why does this position look so cool? Because it’s physically impossible! Michael Jackson would fall right now if his shoes weren’t nailed to the floor.
What does all this have to do with yoga? Well, in ANY balance pose you’re in you have to keep your center of gravity over your base. If you’re standing on one leg, your weight has to be centered over one foot.
Crow pose is such a challenge because we have to shift our center of gravity from over our feet to over our hands.
Let’s see how that works, frame by frame. Here’s me getting into crow pose:
Frame 1: Notice I’m squatting, and 100% of my weight is in my feet. My hands aren’t even touching the ground. My COG is directly over my feet.
Frame 2: Now, half of my weight is in my hands and the other half is in my feet, my COG has shifted forward.
Frame 3: Now all the weight has shifted into my hands, allowing my feet to come off the ground. Notice my COG is directly over my hands. Also, my elbows are stacked directly over my wrists, this lets my weight pour down through my forearms right into the ground. A lot of people here are afraid of tipping forward, because they don’t realize where their COG is.
When you start learning crow pose, put only a small portion of your weight into your hands and feel into it. As you begin to more feel confident and strengthen your arms, continue to add more and more weight until your toes naturally lift off the ground. Only go as far as you feel comfortable.
Does that make sense? If not, contact me with any questions or comments. I love hearing from you. What pose do you want explained?
Not perfect, just practice.