Eagle pose (garudasana) is a rich place to explore strength, balance, asymmetry, and sensation. If you are in a larger body, however, this pose can be a source of frustration, or leave you feeling defeated. The wrapping and tucking of thighs and arms in the traditional expression of eagle doesn’t easily happen for those of us with bigger thighs, arms, or chests.
When I introduce eagle pose to students, I teach it in parts. First the lower body (usually with hands either at the waist or at heart center), and then the upper body. Then we put it all together.
In this article, I’ll offer some options to help you personalize eagle pose for your unique shape, size, or mobility needs. We’ll explore four variations for the legs and four for the arms. I encourage you to try each of these, one at a time, and see what feels best in your body. Then, using whatever worked best, you can create your very own eagle combination—flying wherever your practice takes you.
Tip: Set up your eagle pose near a wall or use a chair on your mat to help with balance. This will help you to find the shape of the pose with your legs. Later, you can let go of the wall or chair and incorporate the upper body.
Option 1: Both feet on the ground
Shift weight into your right foot and cross your left leg over your right. Rest the toes of your left foot on the ground with your knee bent. Stay here, grounding through both feet, or you can start to bend your right leg and squeeze your thighs together as you sit back into the pose with weight in your right heel. This is a good option for folks who are working on balance, or if crossing one thigh over the other isn’t accessible.
Option 2: Toe to block
Place a block to the outside of your right foot. Shift weight into your right foot. Cross your left thigh over your right and bring your left toes to the block. Adjust either the height of the block or the proximity of the block to your standing foot until you can ground through both feet comfortably while squeezing your thighs together. Bend your right leg and continue to squeeze your thighs toward the midline. To work with balance, experiment with lifting your left toes off the block.
Option 3: Standing pigeon legs
For an outer-hip stretch, try a standing pigeon position. Shift weight into your right foot and lift your left foot, crossing your left thigh over your right thigh. Bend your left knee and take hold of your left foot with the right hand. (Alternately, you could hold a strap looped around your left foot.) Bend your right knee and “sit back” into the pose. If you’d like more sensation, press your left ankle or shin into your right thigh, allowing your left knee to draw away from the midline, toward the floor.
Option 4: Tuck behind
Shift weight into your right foot, then bend your left knee and tuck your left foot behind your right calf or knee. Squeeze your knees together toward the midline. Bend your right leg as you continue squeezing your thighs together. This option is ideal if crossing one thigh over the other isn’t available or accessible.
Option 1: Give yourself a hug
For a gentle upper back stretch, reach your arms wide and inhale. On the exhale, bring your arms together and give yourself a hug. Stack your elbows and press them together as you wiggle and shimmy your arms in tight to the body. For more sensation, lift your elbows.
Option 2: One side at a time
This option calls to mind the ol’ tricep stretch from gym class. Reach your arms wide, palms facing forward, and inhale. As you exhale, cross your right arm in front of your chest, bend your left elbow and catch your right arm under your elbow/tricep. To increase the stretch or sensation in your upper back, gently pull your right arm across your body with your left hand.
Option 3: Elbows together
Reach both hands out in front of you, palms facing each other. Cross your wrists so that the backs of your hands come together. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees (they will want to separate, but don’t let them). Feel the muscles of your upper back and arms activate as you squeeze your elbows together and press the backs of your hands together. For more sensation, keep your arms squeezing toward the midline and lift your elbows.
Option 4: Use a strap
And for a different take on traditional “eagle arms” try this variation.
Take a strap into your right hand. Grab the middle of the strap so you have two tails hanging down. Hold your right arm straight out in front of you with knuckles facing the ceiling, and then bend your right elbow to 90 degrees. Reach your left arm out to the side with your palm facing forward, then bring the left arm under the right. Shimmy your elbows together until they feel stacked on top of one another. Then bend your left arm 90 degrees, reach up, and catch the right tail of the strap. Use the leverage of the strap to shimmy your elbows together so that they’re even more stacked, bringing your hands closer together. Squeeze your elbows in toward the midline and create resistance to activate your upper back and arm muscles by pulling on the strap. For more sensation, lift your elbows.
Now that you’ve explored eagle arms and legs, have fun putting it all together. You can continue practicing just the arms or the legs. Or pick an upper and lower body combination that works for you and choose your own eagle adventure!
Here are a couple of my favorite possible combinations:
Toe to block and elbows together
Tuck-behind and hug-arms
Personalizing your eagle pose with a variation that works best for your unique body is a wonderful way to take your yoga practice into your own hands. Enjoy the exploration!
Photo credit: Kyle Rebar