What is the Eagle Pose?
‘Garudasana’ translates to the ‘Eagle Pose’. It is named after the King of Birds, the eagle. In Hindu tradition, the magnificent bird, Garuda (eagle) is the vehicle of Bhagawan Shri Vishnu and it carries him without the need to land because of its strength, balance and harmony.
It is a challenging balancing asana that takes the form of an eagle eyeing her prey. Like the eagle’s gaze, we have to focus and concentrate on a point to be able to hold the posture. And like an eagle, it requires strength, flexibility and endurance. Imbibing the qualities of an eagle, the asana removes fear, ego and doubt from the mind.
Position type: Standing
Posture type: Balancing
Ideal for: Balance and strength in the legs and arms
Targets: Legs and shoulders
Pose level: Intermediate
How can you prepare for the Eagle pose
- Strong Core and leg strength: Developing core and leg strength is the main aspect here. For this, regular practice of triangle pose, extended side angle pose, warrior series, chair pose, boat pose and plank are important.
- Flexibility in the arms and legs: Along with strength, flexibility is very important to stay balanced in this asana. Improve arms flexibility with asanas like cow face pose (Gomukhasana), puppy pose, thread the needle, dolphin pose, seated eagle pose, etc. For leg flexibility asanas like side stretch pose, standing forward fold (Uttanasana), downward facing dog (Adho mukha savasana) and runner stretch are a few helpful asanas. Triangle pose, extended side angle pose and warrior series will also improve your leg flexibility.
How to practice Eagle Pose
Getting into the posture
- Stand in Tadasana (mountain pose). Now take a step forward with your right leg, and then shift the body weight forward on to that leg.
- Take a breath in and breathe out. Now lift the left foot off the ground, bend the knee and hold the left ankle from the inside or the outside - whatever is comfortable for you.
- Keep the right firmly placed on the floor. The left thigh is now over the right thigh.
- Once again, inhale and as you exhale, take the upper body forward while simultaneously raising the left knee higher and pushing the foot into the hand.
- After reaching a stable position, inhale and extend the right hand forward, joining the palms in namaste mudra. You can also join the index finger and thumb in gyan mudra. Look towards the right fingertips.
- Keep your gaze focused on a point in front of you. Take slow, deep breaths and try to relax here.
Getting out of the posture
- Release the right hand down, straighten the body and come into Tadasana.
- As you exhale, bring the left knee down and release the ankle from the hand.
- Relax and stay still for a few breaths.
What are the benefits of Eagle Pose?
With practice, as we stay in the Garudasana pose for a few long breaths, one begins to notice the transformation within, with an infusion of energy and heightened concentration. Initially, when practicing the Garudasana pose, one might feel lacking in good balance, core and leg strength and experience discomfort or feel distracted and an immense urge to come out of the posture. But using your discipline and regular practice, accept the discomfort, block out distractions (a perfect posture to practice taking the mind inward), focus the mind and be still. Such asanas require patience and calmness to ease into the pose systematically. It also increases your sense of balance, focus and concentration. When focusing, take the mind inward and avoid distractions. This helps induce a sense of calm and stability in the mind.
What are the contraindications of Eagle pose?
Since it is a complex bind, if you have back, knee, ankle, elbow or shoulder pain, you should avoid this. The asana should also be avoided in the case of any bone or muscle weakness or recent injuries.
Counter poses for Eagle pose
- Tadasana (mountain pose): You can simply stay still in Tadasana for a few breaths. This will relax the legs and arms, and bring the balance back in the body.
- Uthana hastha (Standing backbend) - This is a good counter pose for the adducted and flexed hips and arms. Opens the chest, extends the hips and knees.
Eagle Pose Variations
- If you are a beginner, you can place the hands on the waist. Bind only the legs and not the hands. This way you have better balance and once your balance improves, you can do the full asana.
- Try the arm bind with bent knees (like in Utkatasana, the chair pose). This way, once you have developed better strength, you can try wrapping the leg.
- Practice with bringing the elbow to the knee. This sort of drill with the core engaged will increase the stretch and challenge of the asana.
- Once you have gained enough strength and flexibility, you can also try wrapping the legs like in Garudasana while you’re practicing the headstand (Sirsasana), handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) and even the feathered peacock pose (Pincha Mayurasana).
Anatomy of Eagle pose
This asana stretches the thighs, hips, upper back and shoulders. It is a fantastic posture for the adduction of the hips, which we don’t get into often in our regular life, except when we sit on a chair with crossed legs. Apart from abduction, flexion and extension, adduction is an important movement to keep up the mobility of the hips. The posture makes the legs supple, lighter and agile, correcting any imbalance between the two hip joints. Also Garuda involves the adductions of the arms, quite challenging to have both the legs and hands adducted. The postures creates compactness in the body and lowers the center of gravity allowing grounding and stabilization of body and mind.
Regular practice also helps relieve sciatica, rheumatism and asthma. Below are key alignments to be observed in the practice of Garudasana:
- While bending forward from the hips, keep the chest lifted up, creating a little arch in the lower back. This also helps balance better.
- After adducting the arms, gently draw the elbows down, stretching the shoulder and lifting the chest up.
- The hips also tend to turn or lift.
- They should be kept balanced, even and stable.
- Do not lean forward too much and too fast, as you might lose balance. Explore only a slight forward fold at a time.
- It is most important to keep the balancing knee right on top of the balancing foot. Do not move this knee to the sides, or to the front, especially as you go deeper in the pose.
Advice for beginners
If it is difficult to bind the legs together or to maintain balance initially, you can start with crossing the legs. Cross the right leg around the left leg, and place the tip of your right toe on the mat for added support (or balance). You might also find it difficult to bind the arms. If that happens, simply place one arm around the other and gaze at a point in front of you to try to maintain balance. Feel free to use the support of a wall while working to get the legs adducted.
- The asana puts pressure on the legs, especially knees. So be careful not to lock the knee or put excess pressure. The best way to practice is after doing proper warm ups. It will help you avoid unnecessary strain on the muscles. It’s also best to practice under the guidance of a teacher to avoid injuries.
- Practice wrapping the legs in the supine posture or in half Shoulder stand sarvanga. Without the weight of the body on the hips and knees, it reduces stress on them.
- Be patient. Don’t be in a hurry to achieve the asana. And after achieving it, don’t be in a hurry to get out of it or get distracted. Focus the mind by taking deep breaths and gazing at a point in front of you.
Include the eagle pose in your daily practice as it's one of those few asanas that works on both the hip and shoulder girdle, removing any physical stress in these regions. The grounding that comes from these asanas is much needed in today's virtual, stimulated world that we spend most of our time in.