Yoga Under the Tuscan Sun: Crow Pose & Faith

“In Austria & Italy there is a section of the Alps… it is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built train tracks over these Alps to connect Vienna & Venice.  They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip.  They built it because they knew someday the train would come.” ~Under the Tuscan Sun

I love the film Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the beautiful book by Frances Mayes.  One of the many reasons for this love is its lessons on faith.  Near the beginning of the film, the main protagonist Frances confides in a dear friend her fears & vulnerability about buying a house in Tuscany before she has the husband & children to fill it.  She fills horribly foolish & alone in a beautiful, large home with rooms left empty & a kitchen unused.  Although I have not yet bought a house in Tuscany (it’s never to late to fix that!), I think we can all relate to throat-tightening moments of self-criticism: “What have I done? What am I doing?  What if it never works out?”

In fact, life often calls for us to buy that house before it can be filled.  I think this is why many of us love yoga so much.  It speaks to that part of our souls that we rely on to be vulnerable, to take risks with the faith that a dream can be realized before there is any proof of materialization.

So what can we do when we are feeling alone or frightened in our dreams for the future?  One simple thing that we can do is unfold our mats and practice faith in a higher source & ourselves.  Although a bit intimidating at first, Bakasana (Crow Pose) offers an amazing opportunity to practice faith in the present moment.  As we take time to trust our bodies’ ability to balance amidst new circumstances (floating on our hands definitely qualifies as bipedal creatures!), we can soften our hearts & compassionately greet vulnerability.  Allowing ourselves to take a break from analyzing & anticipating future outcomes while learning to feel faith in a grounded, yet flying pose is healing & empowering.  Below are a couple suggestions for practicing Crow Pose to help foster faith, hope, & peace amidst fear.

TO BEGIN:

Find a comfortable seat with a cushion or blanket under your sit-bones to support your hips & lower back. If sitting doesn’t feel comfortable, relax into Savasana (Relaxation Pose) lying on your back with your legs hip-distance apart and arms either on your tummy or a few inches away from your torso, palms facing upward.  Let your shoulder blades relax down your back to open & release the chest.

Gently inhale through the nose (or mouth if the nose is uncomfortable) for a count of three & exhale back through the nose for a count of three.  Invite your awareness to the breath, coming back to the 3:3 count if your mind wanders.

As you relax into the breath, repeat internally: “Inhaling, I calm my body & mind.” “Exhaling, I smile.”  Imagine any tension in the neck, jaw, shoulder, chest or hips releasing.  Feel free to bring a soft smile to your face if it feels good!

When ready, warm-up the wrists, shoulders, abdomen, and legs with a series of your favorite sun salutations.

GETTING YOUR CROW ON:

If you are new to Crow, feel free to set a folded blanket in front of you to provide a soft surface in case you roll forward (this can also be a nice mental way of gently encouraging faith in a new pose!).

In a low squat (big toes touching if it is comfortable), place your hands on the ground slightly wider that shoulder width apart, fingers facing forward and elbows facing back towards you.  Taking time to breathe & be playful, engage the core by inviting the navel back toward the spine (this will help support the lower back in the pose) and move you knees into your armpits (or upper arms if that is more comfortable).  Start the flying aspect of the pose by gently tilting forward (imagine pushing through the crown of the head as you tilt forward), lifting one foot and then the other off the ground.  As you begin “flying,” focus on opposite forces to help yourself find your center of balance.  Push back with the tailbone and forward with the crown of the head. Flex the feet and bring them to touch one another in the air if possible.  You’re in crow!

Once in crow, take a moment to softly smile and breathe.  Notice the sensation of being grounded through your hands, supported by the earth, and simultaneously flying through the body.  Thank yourself for staying present in this balancing pose.  Notice how, even when you feel wobbly, your body, breath, & mind work together to keep you lifted & supported. If you’d like, imagine a higher power surrounding your body, helping you feel supported & encouraged.  Repeat to yourself: “I am safe. I am protected. I am well.”

When you are ready, slowly come out of crow.  Relax back into Child’s Pose.  Feel your front body completely supported by the ground, taking a few slow, steady breaths.  Breathe into the back body.  Imagine sending the breath into the lower back, middle back, and upper back, feeling the back body relax as you exhale.

When ready, roll over and lie on your back.  Place your arms in line with your shoulders, palms facing down, making a T-shape with your body.  Inhale the knees to the chest and exhale letting the bent legs fall to one side.  Breathe, allowing the leg muscles to completely relax.  Inhale to bring your knees back to the chest and exhale to slowly lower the legs to the other side.

When your spine feels open & your body calm, relax the legs & arms, coming into Savasana.  Come back to the three-count breath.  If it feels nice, lengthen the exhale to double the inhale.  For example, inhale for a count of three & exhale for a count of six.  Kindly invite the mind to relax through focusing on the breath.  As you meditate on the breath, imagine how it felt to be in Crow Pose.  No worries if you didn’t get into the full pose!  Simply witness the emotions & sensations of practicing faith even when you might feel anxiety, doubt, or fear.  Thank yourself for all the ways you practice & share faith in your daily life.  Remind yourself that just like Crow Pose, we can remain grounded while soaring to new heights.  Smile softly.

Take as long as you would like in Savasana, coming to a comfortable seat when you feel ready.  Place your hands at heart center in Anjali mudra (hands in prayer position).  Close your yoga practice however feels best: saying Namaste, repeating rounds of AUM, or continuing with your personal meditation practice.

MODIFICATIONS:

For the Beginner Crower: The wall can be a great Crow-flying friend!  You can use your feet on the wall to feel those first sensations of flying.  With your hands firmly planted, elbows facing back towards you, try placing one foot slightly up the wall.  Adjust your distance away from the wall for steadiness & comfort.  Then place both feet on the wall & fly!

For the Experienced Crower:  As you exhale, lengthen your arms, playing with bringing the arms as straight as possible.  If it is comfortable to do so, stay with straightened arms (now in your in Crane’s Pose!) for a few breaths before gently lowering back down.

Much love in flying and life!  ~Jenny

Gratitude:

My inspiration for practicing inspired faith in Crow Pose comes from the lovely book Vital Yoga: A Sourcebook for Students and Teachers by Meta Chaya Hirschl (2011).  Hirschl’s book is amazing with many beautiful pictures and insights into all things yoga!

And, of course, I would be lost in this inspiration without Frances Mayes wondrous book: Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy (1996) as well as the film produced in 2003.

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2 responses to “Yoga Under the Tuscan Sun: Crow Pose & Faith

  1. I love the crow affirmation: “I am safe. I am protected. I am well.” It’s so appropriate and powerful. When I first tried crow I constantly fell on my face, but it’s like riding a horse, you have to get right back in the saddle to conquer that fear. Now I love how freeing the pose is. Great post.

    • Thank you! I am so glad this post resonated with your experience in crow as well! I still remember the first time I finally “flew” for a few seconds. It was like the excitement of learning to ride a bike for the first time. Although, maybe even better because there was no bulky helmet involved. hehe. Take Care!

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