Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Eagle pose, also known as garudasana in Sanskrit, is a standing balance that improves mental concentration and physical stability. The pose also loosens the muscles of the shoulders and hips for improved range of motion in the arms and legs. Named in honor of Garuda, the bird of prey and vehicle of Vishnu, the pose is a surprisingly delicate one, given its name can also be translated as “devourer” pose.
More specifically, eagle pose rotates the legs externally to stretch the hip flexors and adductors. These muscle groups allow you to lift your leg straight up and to lift your leg up to the side, respectively. In the arms, eagle pose targets the serratus anterior muscles that allow you to lift your arms above your head and the forearm flexors that control rotation of the wrists.
- Begin in mountain pose (tadasana) at the top of the mat. Ground through your right foot, planting the four corners of your sole and all five of your toes firmly into the mat. Fix your gaze on a point directly ahead and slightly above eye level.
- Inhale. Bend your left knee and lift your leg. Hook the inside of your left knee above your right knee so that your thighs cross. Curl your lower left leg around your right and hook your left foot behind your right calf.
- Exhale. You may bend your right knee slightly to avoid hyperextension or, if you do not have a tendency to hyperextend your knees, engage the muscles of your right knee to protect the knee joint.
- Inhale. Raise your left arm at a 90° angle in front of you, palm facing to your right side. Place your right elbow in the crook of your right elbow. Twist your left arm around the front of your right so that your palms meet each other in something like prayer position (anjali mudra).
- Exhale. Rest your gaze on your palms. Press your elbows up to the sky to open your shoulders further.
- To avoid compressing your lower back, scoop your tailbone toward your navel. Maintain this pelvic tilt throughout the pose.
- Keep your hips and shoulders horizontally aligned by consciously drawing your left shoulder and hip back. To avoid hunching your back, press your elbows up actively, for one, and, for two, press the bottom corners of your shoulder blades toward your heart center.
- Breath and hold the pose.
- Exhale. Release your left foot and bring it to the floor. Shake out your legs and repeat the pose on the opposite side. Switch the positioning of the arms, as well as the legs, when you switch sides.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
Keep your balance by holding the wall. If balance is the biggest issue for you in this pose, you can still access the benefits of relaxation and improved hip flexibility by placing one hand on the wall as you practice. Alternatively, lean against the wall as you practice both the leg and arm positions. Just make sure to maintain a pelvic tilt even when you have external support.
Modify your legs. If the leg twist is difficult or if you have a larger body, you can modify the leg position and still be practicing a beneficial, challenging pose. One common modification is to simply cross your legs, pressing the toes of your left foot into the mat next to the inside of your right foot. When you switch sides, press the toes of your right foot into the mat next to your left.
Prop your modified legs. Use the modification above, but, to increase the external rotation of the hip, place a block lengthwise inside your right, then left, foot. Rest the foot of your crossed leg on the block.
Keep your legs bent. To avoid strain on the knee joints, keep your legs bent as you practice eagle pose.
Practice arm and leg posturing on the mat. To practice the arm and legs posturing (which can be intense) before throwing balance into the mix, lie supine on the mat. Try eagle arms, reaching your palms toward the wall behind you. Then, extend your bent legs perpendicular to the mat, cross them, and pull your feet gently apart with your hands.
Twisted Eagle Pose (Parivrtta Garudasana). This eagle pose variation incorporates a twist that alternatively strengthens and lengthens the erector spinae muscles in the back. In step eight (above), rotate your hips to the left and, bending forward, bring your elbows to your left knee. Look at a point on the floor over your left knee to keep your balance. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale and come back to the center. When you switch sides and your right leg is on top, rotate and bend to the right.
Diving Eagle Pose. This variation incorporates a forward fold that stretches the gluteal and hamstring muscles while challenging your balance and concentration. In step eight (above), inhale and extend the back. Then, exhale and bend forward from the hips. At the same time, bend your knees. Fold until your knees and elbows touch. Gaze down, at a point on the top of your mat, to keep your balance. Breath and hold the pose. Inhale and come up.
Low Eagle Pose. For this variation, squat on the mat with your knees and feet together. Swing your left leg over your right, resting your toes on the mat next to the inside of your right foot. Extend your arms upward in eagle arms (steps four and five; above). Breath and hold the pose. Exhale and come back to center. Repeat on the opposite side.
Physically, the benefits of eagle pose are concentrated in the hips, shoulders, and (to a lesser extent) arms. Although the pose involves turning the limbs inwards and, therefore, appears to constrict the body, this constriction actually loosens the muscles in the hips and shoulders for greater flexibility. This pose is beneficial cross training for sports that involve throwing or kicking, since supple muscles are less likely to tear.
Mentally, eagle pose builds concentration. Since the legs and arms are twisted in the pose, the body naturally wants to swing to one side or another. Keeping the body still and balanced requires deep concentration. Developing the ability for this concentration benefits, first, the pose, second, your practice, and, third, your life outside of yoga.
Do not attempt eagle pose if you:
- have a knee injury
- have a shoulder injury
- have vertigo
The eagle leg and arm posturing can be separated from the conventional eagle pose and inserted into a diverse range of other poses. The Om Circle Yoga Blog describes an eagle flow that includes low eagle, a low eagle prayer twist, and an eagle arm balance.
Hip adductors. The adductor muscles are located in the inner thighs. These muscles are responsible for leg movement away from the center of the body as, for example, during a star jump or split. Eagle pose strengthens the adductor magnus of the crossed leg.
Hip flexors. The hip flexors are a large group of muscles located deep in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. They connect the leg, pelvis, and abdomen and allow you to lift your upper leg towards your body or bend your body over your upper leg. Sitting for long periods of time weakens the hip flexors, making it difficult to lift the upper legs and bend over. Eagle pose stretches the hip flexors of the lifted leg. Bending forward in diving eagle pose variation will stretch the hip flexors further.
Gluteals. The gluteal muscle group includes the three buttocks muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. Eagle pose stretches the gluteus medius and the tensor fasciae latae in the side of the hip.
Quadratus lumborum. The quadratus lumborum is located deep in the abdominal wall. When it is short and weak, the muscle can cause lower back pain. Reaching the palms up actively in eagle pose lengthens the quadratus lumborum.
Latissimus dorsi. The latissimus dorsi muscles are located in the mid-back. They rotate and extend the shoulder joint. Reaching the palms up actively in eagle pose lengthens the lat muscles.
Serratus anterior. The serratus anterior muscles are located on the sides of the chest, just below the armpits. They rotate the scapula when the arms are lifted above the chest. Reaching the palms up actively in eagle pose engages the serratus anterior.
Rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surrounds each shoulder joint. It is responsible for stabilizing the shoulder. Eagle pose is an intense shoulder opener that works the teres minor, the teres major, and the infraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff.
Trapezius muscle. The trapezius muscles extend from the back of the head to the shoulder blades. They are partially responsible for the gross motor movements of the head and neck. Press the chest forward in eagle pose to work the trapezius muscles.
Forearm flexors. The flexor muscles are located in the superficial anterior of the forearm. They control flexion and rotation of the wrist. Exercises that resist flexion, like wrist curls, strengthen these muscles. Eagle pose strengthens the pronator quadratus near the wrist and the pronator teres near the elbow.