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Each time a teacher cues Eagle Pose—a powerful stretch for your shoulders and upper back—it tends to elicit groans of frustration from some of us, sighs of relief from others. The traditional bind is a powerful way to lengthen the muscles that become tight when we’re sitting at a desk all day, including the lats, rhomboids, subscapularis, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, teres minor, and the trapezii.
Although we typically practice this arm bind only in Garudasana, there are multiple ways to incorporate it into other postures—and in ways that stretch other hard-to-target areas beyond the shoulders and upper back.
How to come into Eagle arms
First, find a version of Eagle arms that works for your body. Raise your arms straight in front of you so they’re parallel to each other and to the mat. Cross your right arm over your left in front of you with your elbows stacked. Bend your elbows and reach your fingers toward the ceiling. Bring the backs of your hands toward each other. If you are able, continue to wrap your arms around each other and let your left fingers rest against the inside of your right palm for the full bind.
If you’re feeling intense discomfort or your body doesn’t want to move in this way, cross your arms at your elbows and rest your hands on opposite shoulders. You’ll still benefit from a shoulder stretch.
8 creative ways to add Eagle arms to your yoga practice
Adding a circular motion while your arms are in Eagle position not only opens the shoulders but enables you to stretch your side body. To derive the most benefit, circle in the opposite direction of whichever arm is on top of the bind.
Teacher Tip: Movement methods, such as spirals, are best introduced at the beginning of class from an easier posture in order for students to gain an awareness and understanding of it before you introduce the movement in a more challenging posture that requires more coordination. For example, teach spirals in Sukhasana at the start of a class so they can become familiar with it before you introduce spirals in Goddess later.
1. Sukhasana Spirals (Easy Pose With Circles
Begin in a cross-legged position. Find your Eagle wrap. Straighten your spine and push your elbows away from your body. Begin to lower your elbows toward your left side and let your upper body follow. Let your elbows travel down and across the front of the mat and then rise on your right side as you come back to your starting position. Repeat as many times as you feel your body needs, maybe even holding yourself in stillness in a particular area that feels needed in the body. Then, of course, repeat on the opposite side.
2. Utkata Konasana Spirals (Goddess Pose)
Begin facing the long side of the mat with your feet wide apart. Turn your heels in and toes out in preparation for your Goddess. Tuck your tailbone slightly, bend your knees, and shift your weight toward the outer edges of your feet. Bring your arms straight in front of you and find your Eagle wrap. Push your elbows away and begin to drop them toward your left side. Let the elbows guide your upper body toward the floor, through center in a forward bend, and then back up along the right side of your body, keeping Goddess legs the entire time. Repeat for a few cycles. If your legs tire, you can straighten them as your elbows pass through the top of the movement and rebend before you move toward the left. Then, of course, repeat with the opposite bind. This can be done immediately or when you return to Goddess while practicing the left side of your sequence.
Flexion and extension
Combining Eagle arms with the action of flexing and extending your spine can help you open your front and back body. It can also help you find a greater awareness of your hip flexors. How? Let me show you.
3. Vajrasana (Kneeling Pose) with Flexion and Extension
Begin by sitting on your heels with your spine straight and upright and find your Eagle wrap. Push your elbows forward and away from your body and lift them toward the ceiling. Take the pelvis into an anterior tilt by sticking your butt out, and arch your back to your maximum extension. Pause and then draw your elbows down toward the floor while you tuck your tailbone under in a posterior pelvic tilt and round your upper back. Do this as many times as you feel necessary before switching the arms. Repeat with your other arm on top.
Tip: If Vajrasana isn’t comfortable for you, try sitting on a block or instead come to a cross-legged position.
4. Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) with Flexion and Extension
Come into a Low Lunge with your right foot forward and your left knee on the mat. Lift your chest and actively engage your legs to keep from sinking too heavily into your lunge. You can do this by energetically pulling your right heel toward the back of the mat and your left knee forward. Bring your arms straight in front of you, and cross your right arm over your left to find your Eagle wrap. (Notice we’re using the arm opposite the front leg.) Start to lift your elbows away from your body and arch through the spine as you sink deeper into the front knee. Pause and then reverse the action. As you draw your elbows back in toward your navel, push into your right heel to lift your hips and tuck the pelvis. You’ll find not only flexion but also some hip flexor love. Want to feel more? Tuck your back toes but keep your left knee down and actively press your back big toe into the mat when you round your back. Repeat this on the left side.
5. Ashta Chandrasana (High Lunge) Flexion and Extension
Come into High Lunge with your right leg forward. Bring your arms straight in front of you, cross your right arm over your left, and bend at your elbows to find your Eagle wrap. (Notice we’re using the opposite arm to the leg that’s in front.) Keeping your hips square, raise your elbows up and lift your chest to find extension in the spine. Pause here and then begin the journey into flexion. Draw your elbows down toward the navel, bend your left knee toward the mat, and push into the floor with your back big toe, finding that hip flexor love once more!
Take a few repetitions before repeating on the left hand side.
6. Humble Warrior with Eagle Arms
Begin in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1 Pose) with your right foot forward. Square your hips toward the front of the mat and keep your left heel grounded. Find your Eagle wrap. (Notice we’re using the opposite arm as the leg that’s in front.) Actively push your elbows away from the body and begin to draw them toward the floor. You want your upper body to come inside of your right thigh with little to no weight placed on the thigh itself. Try to keep your hips as stable and square as possible.
Taking Eagle arms in forward folds allows you to find even more length in the spine. Once you’re in your fold, focus on drawing your elbows away from your chest and toward the mat for an increased stretch in the rhomboids, delts and spine.
Tip: Since you’re focusing on spinal length and not a hamstring stretch, bend your knees as much as you need in these poses. Letting the hamstrings release allows you to feel a more intense stretch in the spine.
7. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) with Eagle Arms
Come to stand at the front of the mat with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your arms into your Eagle wrap and slowly hinge at your hips in a standing forward fold, bending your knees as much as needed. Once you’ve found a depth suitable for you, actively reach your elbows toward the mat. Repeat with your opposite arm on top.
8. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) with Eagle Arms
Begin facing the long side of the mat with your legs wide and your feet parallel to one other. Find your Eagle wrap. Keep the bind as you slowly hinge at your hips into your forward fold, bending your knees as much as needed. Once you’ve found a depth suitable for you, actively push your elbows toward the floor. Repeat this action again with the opposite arm on top, either immediately or later in your sequence.
About our contributor
Sarah White is a continuing education provider based in Dubai. Her creative sequencing style is born from her own curiosity and exploration of the human body and many other movement disciplines. To learn more about Sarah, her courses, or upcoming Sequencing Teacher Trainings, check out withsarahwhite.com or follow her on instagram @Sar_white.