Garudasana (Eagle Pose) asks you to twist yourself up in knots: Right arm on top of your left with the palms of your hands touching, left thigh over right thigh then hook your foot behind your right calf. And don’t forget to engage your core.
This pose is as rewarding as it is challenging. It loosens (and strengthens) your ankles, hips, wrists, and shoulders, while stretching your calves. The pose provides a deep stretch across tight shoulder blades and a broadening through your sacrum, releasing any tension that you might be holding in these areas.
As you practice Eagle, you’ll likely notice that one side feels easier than the other. Take this opportunity to discover what causes these imbalances. Do you carry your bag on one shoulder more than the other? Cross one leg over the other more often? Reflecting on this can bring more balance into your practice and your life.
Resistance in this pose leads to frustration and, in this case, potentially falling over. Garudasana can feel unstable, so the practice here is to accept the discomfort and cultivate an unwavering focus in order to find steadiness. Master Garudasana and you may find yourself managing difficult situations and challenges—both on your mat or out in the world—more successfully.Section divider
Eagle Pose basics
Sanskrit: Garudasana (gah-rue-DAHS-anna)
Garuda = the mythic “king of the birds,” the vehicle of Vishnu. The word is usually rendered into English as “eagle,” though according to one dictionary the name literally means “devourer,” because Garuda was originally identified with the “all-consuming fire of the sun’s rays.”
Pose type: Standing Balance
Target area: Full BodySection divider
Eagle Pose improves balance and focus, and postural and body awareness.
Other Eagle Pose perks:
- Stretches around your shoulders, upper back, and thighs
- Strengthens your core, thighs, legs, and ankles
Eagle Pose: Step-by-step instructions
- Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), your feet slightly apart, below your sitting bones.
- Place your hands on your hips, pressing your pelvis down with your hands to ground yourself and feel a sense of connection with the earth. As you ground down, feel a sense of corresponding lift up through the crown of your head and a lengthening of your spine.
- Bend both knees, lift your right foot, and slowly wrap your right thigh over your left. Then curl your right foot behind your left calf, and hook it there. (You should not feel strain in either knee, and your left knee should be facing forward.)
- Reach both arms out in front of you and wrap your left arm over your right, crossing the left elbow over the right upper arm. Slide your right hand toward your face, cross your forearms, and press your palms together, raising the elbows to shoulder height.
- Stay here for five deep breaths, feeling the stretch in your upper back. Return to Tadasana, and repeat on the other side.
Explore the pose
Get a feel for this pose by first lying on the ground with your legs bent, feet as wide apart as your mat. Hug yourself with your right elbow over your left, then let both knees fall to the right in a gentle twist. Then switch arms and twist to the left with your knees.
You may also find it difficult to hook the raised-leg foot behind the standing-leg calf, and then balance on the standing foot. As a short-term option, cross your legs but instead of hooking the raised foot and calf, press the big toe of the raised-leg foot against the floor to help maintain your balance. (See variations below.)
If the arms are challenging, simply bring the backs of your hands together or cross your arms over one another on your chest.
Deepen the pose
Look at the tips of your thumbs once you’re in the full pose. Typically the thumb tips point a little bit off to the side of the upper arm. Press the mound of the upper thumb into the bottom hand and turn the thumb tips so they point directly at the tip of your nose.
Make sure your hands are pressing flat against each other, fingers long. If wrapping your arms is uncomfortable, place the hands on opposite shoulders.Section divider
Eagle Pose variations
Eagle Pose with a kickstand
Cross your legs the best you can without worrying about wrapping your foot all the way around. You can instead place your foot on the ground or a block to help with balance.
Eagle Pose in a chair
Try the pose while seated in a chair to take balancing out of the equation. Simply bring the backs of your hands together.
Eagle Pose stretch in a chair
Try the pose while seated in a chair to take balancing out of the equation. Cross your arms over one another on your chest.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Garudasana is usually sequenced near the end of the standing pose series. This pose places intense demands on the shoulders and hips. Include less-challenging poses that target these areas prior to engaging in Eagle Pose. The arm position in the pose is particularly useful in teaching how to widen the back torso in inverted poses like Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)Section divider
Your body in Eagle Pose | Anatomy
Consider Garudasana to be a balancing version of fetal position, says Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. Three things happen simultaneously in Garudasana, each synergizing the others: your arms adduct across your chest; your legs adduct across your pelvis with the femurs internally rotating; and your feet form the foundation for a balancing act that draws the energy inward.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
Balancing on one leg involves a dynamic interplay among the muscles located from the hip to the foot. When you’re standing upright, the femur and tibia are relatively aligned, so some of your body weight is taken up by the tensile strength of the bones. When your knees bend, the bones no longer align and the weight is supported by the extensor mechanism of the knee (the quadriceps, patella, and patellar tendon).
The gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata perform two actions here. First, both muscles automatically engage to tether and stabilize your pelvis. Second, they internally rotate your thigh. Contract the tensor fascia lata by pressing the outside of your knee into your top leg. This stabilizes the pose. Finally, distribute your weight evenly across the sole of your standing foot into the mat to assist balance. Hook your upper foot around your lower leg and dorsiflex it by drawing the top of your foot into your calf. Squeezing your legs together connects your pelvis with your feet and helps to maintain balance.
Draw your arms toward one another by contracting the pectoralis major and adducting your shoulders. Create an opposing force by attempting to lower your arms while engaging the anterior deltoids to resist this movement. A cue for this action is to squeeze your elbows together, bringing awareness to the latissimus dorsi at the back of the body.
Attempt to straighten your elbows while resisting and feel how this activates the triceps, refining the adduction of your arms across your chest. Squeeze your fingers into your palm.
Adduct your arms in front of your chest to stretch the rhomboids and middle trapezius on the back. Gently arch the back by engaging the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum muscles. Squeeze your elbows together to augment the contractile force of the leg muscles and the pelvic diaphragm, thereby synthesizing balance.Section divider
Put Eagle Pose into practice
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.