Eagle Pose, or Garudasana, is a full body pose that challenges your balance and mental focus. Since there are many elements to this pose, it’s helpful to focus on improving one element at a time before putting it all together. The individual elements are:
-core strength/stabilization (maintaining length in your spine)
When working on balance, the first step is having breath awareness. If you can keep yourself with your breath, you’ll find it easier to maintain your focus while balancing. While the body is absolutely involved when you’re balancing, the mental aspect of balancing tends to be overall more impactful. Balancing poses are a great opportunity to assess your reactions. How do you typically tackle a balancing pose? Do you tell yourself something like,“I can’t do this!”? Do they always just feel so challenging and difficult and ugh! Why do we even have balancing poses?!
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with balancing, you’re not alone, but also ask yourself, why? That “why” is tremendously important. That “why” is trying to share a belief about yourself that you may want to assess.
The real secret to being able to balance is trust. You have to be in your body wholly and completely and trust that you can do it, and you have to trust that falling is not failing. Remember the poses are here for us to learn more about ourselves, whatever that may be, it’s all you and it’s all good.
When working on Shoulder and Hip mobility, range of motion movements are key. We’re trying to provide ourselves with more fluidity in our joints. Since Eagle pose is all about the tight wrap around, counter-stretching is also helpful. Everything that’s stretched out one way, should be stretched out the other way. Just like we stretch our right side and our left side to be even, we also stretch the front of the body and the back of the body.
Core strength and stabilization for Eagle purposes, means working on maintaining length in your spine. The focus is on grounding in the lower part of your torso to then extend your spine. With this pose being so closed in, the want is to round and hunch and make everything come closer together, but while the arms and legs themselves are getting closer, the torso keeps the elbows and knees separated from each other. Your creating distinct halves of yourself with Eagle pose.
Strengthening your core for this pose can be as simple as sitting. Either on the ground or in a chair, but focusing on grounding in your hips and creating the length in your spine. Know what it feels like to elongate yourself, with strong posture (shoulders down, chest up) and practicing exhaling: squeeze your low belly in to the back of your spine.
Seated Eagle is the best place to start with working the Shoulder and Hip mobility as isolated entities (and without the added work of balancing). This pose is also a great way to practice the posture of Eagle pose.
Personally, I like to get into Seated Eagle from table top, but there are many variations on how to “start” this pose.
-One thigh crossed over the other, hugging your thighs together
-Feet fanned out so you’re sitting in between your heels
-Mirror your legs with your arms: whichever leg is on top will be the arm that’s on top
-Elbows stack, shoulders stay back and down, chest lifted, forearms come towards one another, bottom hand/fingers come into the thumb pad of the top hand
Alternatives to the full pose:
Focus on one area at a time, or modifications for both areas at the same time.
-legs can be in easy seated pose or you could be sitting on a block or bolster
-legs can stack “firelogs pose”, working on getting one leg over the other, opening the hips (ankles with knees, top and bottom)
-arms can hug, elbows stack and hands come to the shoulder blades (still mirroring legs with which one is on top)
-forearms can stack, hands with elbows, elbows with shoulders
Mountain pose is the best place to start for standing balancing poses. Feel your feet on the ground, know exactly where and how you’re standing, be completely in the space that you are occupying.
-it all starts with the feet, hip distance apart, toes spread out and pointed forward, heels back, little bend in the knees to sink down
-Dig into the sides of your feet so they’re baring down in the floor and then shift that energy to the ball and heel of your feet so you’re completely planted down
-Use the ball and heel of your feet to press down and help send the energy up your legs, your hips, your spine, all the way out the top of your head, everything elongates
-let your head extend away from your neck, ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over heels
-shoulders back and down chest lifted, exhale low belly to back of spine, hand by your sides, fingers spread wide, palms forward
-Inhale: energy pulls from the ground, elongates your body from heels to head
-Exhale: energy travels back down, softening your shoulders, bracing your core, sinking your feet
From here you can work on shifting your body weight, subtly (still keeping both feet planted) from one side to the next, this is a more gentle way to warm up your body for balancing.
The penultimate move for Eagle. Being able to get into and hold chair for a moderate amount of time is important for Eagle pose. This is where everything starts to come together. You’re balancing, your spine is elongated, your hip and shoulder mobility are already being tested. Its where Eagle pose starts.
-starting in mountain, feeling the press in your feet, sink your hips back and shift your weight more into your heels
-Bring awareness to your pelvis/pelvic tilt, see if you need to tuck in or extend out very slightly to be able to better elongate through your spine/strong posture
-Energetically ground through your hips and feel your spine lengthening through the top of your head
-Arms can be in prayer pose at the chest, or an extension of your shoulders, shoulders back and down keeping the chest open (bringing your arms to field goal position can help open your upper back if needed)
From Chair to Eagle:
-Begin by raising one heel off the ground (top leg) shifting your weight more onto your standing leg (bottom leg)
-Point your toes (top leg) and wrap your top leg over your bottom leg, hugging your thighs toward one another, wrapping your top foot behind your bottom calf (or hugging your calves towards one another if no wrap around)
-Maintain the sink in the hips from chair pose, elongation of the spine
-Arms mirror legs, bring Top arm over Bottom arm, elbows stack, bottom arm wraps around, forarms hug toward one another, bottom fingers to thumb pad of top hand, shoulders down, chest lifted
Come out of Eagle pose the opposite way you got into it, arms, legs, then stand
Remember you can alway focus on just one area at a time. Either just the arms or just the legs, or having modifications for both at the same time.
A Block is the best prop for Eagle pose. You can use it with your legs in chair pose, either by bringing it in between your thighs and learning how to squeeze your thighs together (essential for stabilization in Eagle pose), or by using a block under your top foot, either while in chair (one foot elevated with block, other on ground) or if you’re crossed and want more ground support (Top foot on block while top leg crossed over bottom leg).
You can also use a bock for your arms, have a block in between your forearms, elbows coming towards one another, to help open through the shoulder blade and simulate the squeeze needed in the upper body.
Garudasana is a twisty, balancey, everything at once-y kind of pose. Remember these poses are first here to help us learn about ourselves, physically and mentally. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Enjoy learning something new and the process it takes to get there. Be kind to yourself and have fun!