Coming into Bakasana (Crane Pose) from Sirsasana II (Tripod Headstand) can feel like flying. As you balance on your upper arms, you will feel as though you’ve landed on a perch. Whenever I teach this combination of poses, I notice two very different reactions in students. Some look defeated before they’ve even begun. Then there’s the other group—the ones who, in their impatience to “get there, ” rush through the intelligent preparation.
Both of these reactions—extreme aversion and intense desire—are nothing more than habitual responses and behaviors, known in yoga as kleshas, or obstacles. The reactions don’t necessarily reflect the truth of what’s happening. Those students who doubt themselves may learn to fly into Bakasana more easily than they’ve anticipated if they work diligently. And the students who think they’ve got it mastered might be muscling their way into poses, which makes the poses labored instead of light and birdlike. How you view yourself affects the choices you make and the actions you take. If you feel defeated before you begin, you cut yourself off from growth. If, however, you are overly eager in your desire to attain the pose, you may miss the beauty and subtleties of the learning process. In either case, you have created stories or illusions that take you away from the truth of the present moment—that is, the opportunity to be open to learning.
Everyone has conditioned responses to all kinds of things: circumstances, events, and even people. And those responses follow you everywhere; once you see them in your practice, you will also see them in your life. Yoga provides you with an opportunity to notice them, work with them, and eventually dissolve them. But to do that takes being open, courageous, and willing to observe. Yoga is about going inside yourself and learning. If your only goal is simply to do poses, then you are just exercising and you will miss the real value of the practice. But when you begin to observe your habits, you have the chance to experience freedom. In the case of this sequence, once you are able to approach it from a neutral or an empty mind, the real learning process will happen. Instead of feeling fearful or rushing to get to the final pose, you will be open to what’s happening in the moment and will be able to enjoy your experience no matter where it eventually leads you.
As you move through this sequence, take an honest look at your reactions and begin each pose by working from where you are. Stay positive; find stable ground from which you can safely approach learning. Every pose asks for your physical, emotional, mental, and physiological involvement. Study yourself in all of these realms. Examine your tendencies, and pause. Sometimes it takes stopping yourself physically—or in any of the other realms—to truly find a new, more balanced frame of mind.