Eagle Pose — Garudasana (gahr-ooo-DAHS-uh-nuh) — is a standing balance pose that requires and develops focus, strength, and serenity. Using your breath and your gaze in this posture will help calm your mind and release distractions, allowing for quiet poise and stability in the pose.
It's named after the mythological Hindu “king of the birds,” known as “Garuda.” Garuda was also the vehicle for the Hindu god Vishnu, who would ride on his back. The word “garuda” means “eagle” in Sanskrit, but it can also be translated as “devourer.” Garuda was believed to help humans fight against demons (and win).
Benefits of Eagle Pose
Eagle Pose stretches the shoulders and upper back while strengthening the thighs, hips, ankles, and calves. It builds balance, calm focus, and concentration. Learning to open the back torso is beneficial for advanced inverted poses, such as Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) and Headstand (Sirsasana).
This pose is therapeutic for those with lower back pain and sciatica. Because it opens the back lungs, it also increases breathing capacity and is invigorating for those with asthma. The dynamic balancing aspect of the pose helps to protect your knees against future injury, as well.
If you are in a hurry, you are in the wrong place.
Do not practice Garudasana if you have a current or recent knee injury. Those in late-term pregnancy should also avoid this pose, or should practice it against a wall for balancing assistance. If you have any other condition that affects balance, such as low blood pressure, headaches, or inner ear problems, practice this pose against a wall.
Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with your arms at your sides.
Bend your knees. Balance on your right foot and cross your left thigh over your right. Fix your gaze at a point in front of you. Hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf. Balance for one breath.
- Beginners can omit the foot hook and cross the leg over the top of the standing leg, instead, resting the toes gently on the floor.
- Extend your arms straight in front of your body. Drop your left arm under your right.
Bend your elbows, and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and hands, and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them). Lift your elbows and reach your fingertips toward the ceiling. Keep your shoulder blades pressing down your back, toward your waist.
- If your palms don't touch yet, press the backs of your hands together, instead, or hold onto a strap.
- Square your hips and chest to the front wall. Draw your belly in and up.
- Gaze at the tips of your thumbs. Breathe smoothly and evenly.
- Hold for up to one minute, focusing on your breath and keeping your gaze fixed and soft. Gently unwind your arms and legs and return to Tadasana. Repeat on the opposite side.
Modifications & Variations
Garudasana can be a great way to gain balance and strength. It might take some time to balance or be able to fully wrap your hands or legs. Be sure to move at your own pace and never force your body into the pose! Try these simple changes to find a variation of the pose that works best for you:
- As mentioned above, if you can't yet wrap your arms until your palms touch, press the backs of your hands together. Beginners can also hold the ends of a strap, placing the strap in their hands when their arms are parallel (in step 3), and then following the instructions. The strap is to be kept firmly pulled between both hands.
- If you can't yet hook your top foot behind your standing-leg calf, rest the big toe of your raised foot on the floor to help with balance. You can also rest your top-leg foot on a yoga block.
- Beginners and those having trouble balancing can practice this pose against a wall. Stand with your back to the wall, so the wall supports your back torso as you practice the pose.
- For a deeper challenge, come to the full pose. Then, exhale as you lean your torso forward and press your forearms against your top-leg thigh. Inhale to release and unwind, then repeat on the opposite side.
- Some yoga styles will have you hold your elbows high and in line with your shoulders; others will tell you to draw your elbows down toward the floor. There is no right or wrong, but if you're in a class, follow the direction your teacher gives — he or she is instructing you that way for a reason!
Garudasana will create grace, poise, and strength when it's practiced with correct alignment. Keep the following information in mind when performing this pose:
- Squeeze your thighs and arms together tightly. The more compact you can make your body, the more balance you will gain.
- Work to keep your hands, arms, and thighs in one straight line.
- If you're having trouble crossing your legs or wrapping your foot, sink your hips even lower in the pose.
- To sit deeper, squeeze your thighs together even more. Keep your inner thighs firmly pressing throughout the pose.
- Practice just the arms of the pose (generally referred to as “Eagle Arms”) throughout the day to counterbalance the shoulder and neck strain from sitting in front of a computer or driving!
Pose like an Eagle
Practicing Garudasana is a great way to open your shoulders and back while strengthening your legs. Holding the pose while focusing on your breath and gaze builds grace and calm determination. Work on getting the proper alignment, then work to hold the pose for extended periods. With Garuda's pose, you can fight and win against the demons of stiffness and imbalance!