"Baka means crane. The body resembles that of a crane wading in a pool of water, hence the name (Iyengar, Light on Yoga)."
Bakasana, or Crane Pose, is a favorite and popular arm balance. It was the first that I incorporated into my practice, and the catalyst for an extended stint of arm balancing obsession. Bakasana seemed like the most basic and simple of the arm balances, with it's symmetry and tight contraction of the body. I had to try it.
To gain the strength necessary for this pose, my approach was to spend a lot of time in Chaturanga (8-10 breath holds). Looking back, I should have been doing more Navasana, but hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Bakasana, as it seems with most of the asanas, is achieved primarily through subtle control and coordination in the core -- the bandhas -- but a little extra strength in the wrists, pectorals, and triceps doesn't hurt. Hip tension was an obstruction in my early practice of this pose, as my hip flexors had a tendency to cramp if I tried to lift the weight of the legs from the upper arms, which resulted in a very low Bakasana that demanded more work from the upper body, and constant bruises on my triceps. Core strength and hip flexibility have paved the way to a light and comfortable Bakasana.
Be sure to protect the wrists in this pose by gripping the floor with the fingers and distributing the weight evenly through the hands. It can be tempting to balance on the heels of the palms, but expect unpleasant nervous repercussions if you do this. It has taken me a while to be able to straighten the arms in this asana, and stability in the wrists was a big factor here. My recommendation? Practice Padahastasana regularly of you're getting into arm balances (I like to really bend the elbows in this pose, getting a good stretch into the forearms and wrists, and massaging out the hands with the balls of the feet). My wrists went through a bit of a crisis once I began practicing arm balances daily. Regular practice of Padahastasana has been a big help.
Bakasana is an excellent pose as early preparation for handstands, and a great feeler for gaining deeper understanding of the bandhas. Bakasana was definitely an epiphany pose in my practice, leading to a realization of the mechanisms of the bandhas and the literal meaning of "lift." The curve of the spine here, supported by a very active core, makes this asana a particularly enjoyable counter-pose to backbends.
Bakasana has some fun variations to works towards. Parsva bakasana, or side crane, is another favorite of mine; it is somehow easier than plain old Bakasana. There is also Eka Pada Bakasana I, in which one leg is extended back, and the somewhat more obscure Eka Pada Bakasana II, in which one leg is extended forward.
There is also the option of jumping into Bakasana from Downward Facing Dog. This is something that I had been working towards for a while, and felt close to attaining, but never quite landed the jump. Every single time, my left big toe would come down to stabilize me. After many, many close attempts but ultimately failures, I became discouraged, and decided, as I often do, to approach this jump into Bakasana from a different angle. I've been working more on my handstands, and hope to achieve the jump into Bakasana by polishing my handstand jumps, and lowering the knees onto the upper arms rather than landing directly on the arms. I realize this is probably going to take a long time... and I'm okay with that. I think it's the superior approach, considering the alternative is pounding my knees into my triceps over and over again. I don't need that.
The jump back from Bakasana to Chaturanga is another option. This vinyasa has been a fun addition to my practice, and was the first jump back that I explored. The first time I tried it, I just exhaled and shot my legs straight back. Simple. It was really surprisingly easy, if not particularly graceful. I have since polished the jump back from Bakasana somewhat, lifting the hips just a little more and bending the elbows slightly in preparation for a softer jump. I like to really draw out the end of the exhale once I land in Chaturanga, looking ahead, opening the chest and drawing the belly in. It's a nice moment of reflection.
Another fun thing to try, if you're up for a challenge, is lowering the head down from Bakasana to a Tripod headstand for a few breaths, then tuck the legs and lift back to Bakasana a few times. It's a serious core strengthener and tricep toner.
Bakasana is a pose that I feel can be included almost anywhere in a practice: during standing, transitioning to the floor, after seated twists or backbends... whenever. It's a very centering, empowering symmetrical pose that brings a one-pointed focus to the mind and balance to the body. I usually practice a Bakasana or two as part of the transition to my seated sequence, and occasionally after a backbending sequence.
Where do you place Bakasana in your practice?