*Originally posted June 2017. Updated November 2018.
I do love me some hand balances and Side Crow is up there as one of my favorites. However, it's a fairly deceiving posture. It's often attempted after a student feels like they've figured out traditional Crow, but there's an incredible amount of preparation required for most practitioners to get into an easeful Side Crow. Broken down it's a huge twist on Chaturanga arms.
There's two ways that I see the posture done: Two Elbow Approach and One Elbow Approach. Let's take a look at both.
Two Elbow Approach:
I was originally taught to rest my leg across both of my elbows in Side Crow. Of course balancing on two elbows makes way more sense than trying to balance on one! Sure two elbows offers a higher likelihood of balancing in the posture, however, using both elbows is rather limiting. As you can see in the picture below on the left, my shoulders are rounded forward and my right shoulder is actually dipping down quite a bit in comparison to my left. The shape becomes very boxed in, restricted, and the lifting of the shin bones away from the floor becomes more challenging. When using both elbows Side Crow starts to lose it's length and it becomes less about the twist in the body and just more about getting into the shape.
One Elbow Approach:
When I was first told to only balance my body on one elbow in Side Crow I'm sure I threw a mini mental temper tantrum. Why change a posture that I'm already good at?!? Turns out, with time, the one elbow approach became way more accessible for me. The one elbow approach allows for more space--more space to lengthen the spine, more space to work the twist, and more space to breathe. The free arm, my right arm in the pictures below, is then able to push down since my leg isn't resting on it. That push is everything. The push keeps the chest elevated and keeps the posture feeling light. And although I'm only resting on one arm, I'm able to lift my legs even farther away from my mat compared to when I'm balancing on two elbows.
As much as I don't want to say that one approach is better than the other, it's hard not to. At least in my own body the one elbow option feels more stable and sustainable. Once I was able to fine tune the one elbow approach in my body I never went back to balancing on two elbows for Side Crow. I do think there's tremendous value in just trying to find the shape of the posture, however, with time that second elbow just becomes a limiting crutch. Just as so many of us rely on the wall for Handstand, sometimes you have to take a leap and eliminate that crutch. Why not give it a shot? You just might surprise yourself.
Want more insight? Here’s a video for your viewing pleasure!
Side note, check out Iyengar rocking his Side Crow in Light on Yoga. Pretty amazing!