Friday, August 23, 2013

Fly like an Eagle

First of all, I apologize to everyone for getting that song stuck in your head.  However, it's the first thing that popped into mine for a title because today I'd like to talk about Eagle Pose - aka Garudasana.  This pose is translated in English to "eagle" but according to almighty yogajournal.com, it literally means "devourer."  Garuda was the vehicle of the god Vishnu, which was purportedly identified with the, "all consuming fires of the sun's rays."  You learn something new every day!

It's easy to see why this pose is associated with something all-consuming, though.  You're double-wrapping your legs and arms around each other, and in advanced variations, folding over on yourself.  For some, it's an extremely challenging pose.  Aside from having to balance on one foot, and remember which is right and which is left long enough to get the correct knee and elbow stacked on top of the other, this tremendously challenges the flexibility of the upper back and shoulders, the hips and thighs, and builds strength in the ankle.

I teach this pose a lot in my prenatal classes for women who suffer from pubic symphysis pain, general pelvic pain, and tight shoulders (the latter usually affects all my students, pregnant or not!).  It can also feel very nice for anyone suffering from sciatica.  This past month I've also been practicing it a lot at Bikram Yoga NYC .  I don't regularly practice Bikram (I have some big differences of opinion - not to mention issues with the founder himself) but I do enjoy it from time to time, and Eagle pose is always one of the poses I look forward to the most in the practice.  Although I disagree with the teaching and alignment of some of their poses, I think Eagle is usually taught quite well in a Bikram class.  These photos are both from Bikram students/instructors practicing the pose

To come into Eagle Pose, start by coming into utkatasana, usually known as chair pose.  To do the right side, lift your right leg up and cross it over the left, like you were crossing your legs in a chair.  The right foot can touch the floor if you're still working up to the full balance.  Regardless of where that right foot lands (most advanced variation has it wrapping around the left calf), keep squeezing the knees toward each other, making sure the hips stay level.  Feel like your outer hips are squeezing in toward each other.

From there, keeping your gaze steady on something eye level or higher that's not moving, wrap your left elbow on top of the right.  (Right leg on top, right arm on bottom.)  Squeeze the elbows together.  If the shoulders and back are extremely tight, the hands might not touch, and that's perfectly okay.  Eventually you'll be able to press the backs of the hands together, and then finally press palms together.  In Bikram, they also work toward getting the elbows down so low that the fingers are below the face (pictured right).

Finally, if you're feeling steady, you can carefully shift your gaze toward the floor and come into a forward fold, making a C with your spine and curling in on yourself.

Unwrap your arms and legs, and take the other side.  It feels so delicious afterward!  You've challenged, stretched, and/or strengthened nearly your body - stand in Mountain Pose, tadasana, and notice the effects.

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