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Eagle Pose

You need strength, flexibility, and endurance, and unwavering concentration for Eagle Pose.


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Garudasana (Eagle Pose) requires careful focus. You must bend your knees, cross your left thigh over your right, hook the top of your foot behind your right calf, spread the scapula and snug your right elbow into the crook of your left, bring your palms to touch, lift your elbows, and stretch your fingers towards the ceiling. Phew!

While Garuda is generally translated to “eagle,” it’s actually a mythical bird that those in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions call the “king of the birds.” This magical being carries the god Vishnu through the sky without ever needing to land—because it knows how to ride the wind.

You may feel a sense of constriction or tightening while in this pose. Lean into that discomfort to find ease and stability. Release the tension to experience the freedom of riding the wind for yourself.

See also: 8 Ways to Practice Eagle Arms (That You’ve Probably Never Seen Before)

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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.”

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Pose basics

Pose type: Standing Balance

Target area: Full Body

Benefits: Eagle Pose improves balance and focus, and postural and body awareness. It stretches around your shoulders, upper back, and thighs, as it strengthens your core, thighs, legs, and ankles.

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How to

  1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). your feet slightly apart, below your sitting bones.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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 your elbows to shoulder height.
  5. Stay here for five deep breaths, feeling the stretch in your upper back. Return to Tadasana, and repeat on the other side.
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Beginner tips

You may find it difficult to hook your raised-leg foot behind your standing-leg calf, and then balance on your standing foot. As a short-term option, cross your legs, but instead of hooking your raised foot and calf, press the big toe of your raised-leg foot against the floor to help maintain your balance.

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.

Be mindful!

Make sure your hands are pressing flat against each other, fingers long. If wrapping your arms is uncomfortable, place the hands on opposite shoulders.

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Teacher tips

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

  • Make sure your hands are pressing flat against each other, fingers long. If wrapping your arms is uncomfortable, place your hands on opposite shoulders.
  • If you are having a hard time balancing, place a block near the outside of your standing foot and rest your foot there instead of wrapping your legs.
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Eagle Pose variations

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

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.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

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.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

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.

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Why we love this pose

“You would think that this would be a wide open, expansive pose; that’s how I think of eagles: soaring, gliding. I can’t think of a pose (other than Child’s Pose, I guess) that is more closed in. It is a pose that requires the body to pull inward, but also for the mind to become one-pointed as you work to get into the position and then maintain balance,” says Tamara Jeffries, Yoga Journal‘s senior editor.

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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.

Preparatory poses

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)

Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

Counter poses

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)

Setu Bandha Konasana (Bridge Pose)

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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.

An anatomy illustration shows the body in Eagle Pose
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

 

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 quadricepspatella, 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.

An anatomy illustration shows the body in Eagle Pose
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

 

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.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses by Ray Long.

Put Eagle Pose into practice

5 Yoga Poses That Build Strength and Flexibility

10 Poses to Boost Your Confidence

16 Yoga Poses to Keep You Grounded and Present

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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.