Eagle Pose or Garudasana — 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 is a balance challenge, but since the limbs are drawn into the body and the bent knees mean that the center of gravity is low, it’s less precarious that most poses where you’re standing on one leg. It also works the difficult to access glutes and inner thighs.
Garudasana is 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).
And I haven’t even begun to sing the praises of this shoulder stretch! It is truly an antidote for the shoulder strain you feel when your work has you sitting at a computer for long hours. I recommend doing eagle arms a few times a day as part of a desk yoga routine to unkink your shoulders. You can do it in your car at a stop light. You can do it on a plane. I like to do it lying on my back right when I get on my mat as part of my warm up. It really does help.
Benefits of Eagle Pose
Eagle Pose stretches the shoulders and upper back while strengthening the thighs, hips, ankles, and calves. It improves balance and core strength, 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. The pose is unique in that it is the only one in yoga that opens the 14 largest joints in the body simultaneously. Given that the eagle is considered an intermediate pose, it is best to stretch out and prepare for beginning.
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.
How to Do Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
- Begin in Tadasana with both legs bent and your arms by your sides. Transfer your weight into your left foot.
- Lift your right foot up off the floor.
- Cross your right thigh over your left thigh as high up the thigh as possible.
- Hook your right foot around your left calf.
- Bring both arms out in front of you and parallel to the floor.
- Cross the left arm over the right. Bend your elbows and wrap your right palm around so that it means your left palm. (Whichever leg is on top, the opposite arm should be on top.)
- Lift the elbows to the height of your shoulders while keeping the shoulders sliding down away from your ears.
- Keep your spine perpendicular to the floor and the crown of the head rising.
- 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 other side.
Be sure to bring your gaze just between the hands to maintain balance.
Eagle Pose for Beginners
Beginning students often find the balance in this pose very unstable. As with all standing balancing poses, you can use a wall to brace and support your back torso while youre learning to balance.
- If you have trouble balancing on one leg, rest your backside on a wall.
- If you can’t hook the lifted foot around the calf, put a block under the foot instead. You can also use that foot as a kind of kick stand by resting your toes on the floor. This can also help you to stay upright.
- This pose can be done in a chair.
Eagle Pose for Advanced
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!
- Come into a forward fold, bringing your elbows in front of your knees. Bring the thumbs to your third eye.
- Come forward and then back upright several times to do eagle crunches.
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!