Garudasana is often known as ‘eagle pose’, however the word ‘Garuda’ doesn’t literally translate as ‘eagle’. As I mentioned in last week’s post the Sanskrit language doesn’t just describe or name an object, it actually holds the essence of the very thing it’s describing. ‘Garuda’ more closely means ‘devourer’, ‘devourer of serpents’, or ‘all-consuming fire of the sun’s rays’. As this powerful ‘king of the birds’, Garuda would devour anything that was an obstacle on the path to peace and realisation, therefore aiding in liberation (or moksha). The bird was also known to never tire, and could fly without ever needing to land (handy!)
Because of his great power, the mythical bird Garuda was the chosen vehicle for the supreme deity Vishnu, who’s name means ‘all pervading’ and is often known as ‘the protector’ of the universe. There are many images of Brahma (the creator) springing forth from Vishnu’s navel, and to complete the cycle, Shiva is known as the destroyer. The three deities represent the beginning, middle and end of each cycle of life. (Much like the syllables A-U-M represent the beginning, middle and end of everything when we chant “aummmmmm”…….)
It is in the transitions, the ‘moments between the moments’ that we’re able to really cultivate presence and awareness. Moving mindfully from one posture to another on an inhale or exhale creates a brilliant dance between the breath and body, bringing everything into unison. Whether it’s moving from virabhadrasana 1 to virabhadrasana 2, or through a more challenging balancing transition such as the one we’re practicing here; Virabhadrasana 3 (warrior 3) to Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and back into Virabhadrasana 3, the whole of us is required to be present in order to move smoothly and with stability.
That said, the mind is often the thing that doesn’t show up when the rest of us does – we can be physically on the mat, full of the best intentions before practicing, but sometimes our mind decides to be elsewhere. So why focus on the breath? Why not something more captivating, interesting or something we can see?
Because the breath is something that is always available (as long as we’re alive….) whether we’re practicing Yoga or not, the ability to focus on the breath is something that can make a profound difference in the ability for us to actually be in the moment that exists right NOW. It’s funny that we have to re-train our minds to experience reality, the stuff that is actually happening around us, rather than focussing on some made up alternative reality that probably won’t ever exist…. Even so, it takes far longer to cultivate an ability to be fully present and mindful than it does to learn to balance in Garudasana.
Spring is a great time to practice transitions and more balancing postures, as this is the Kapha time of year, when we often feel a little stronger, stable, ‘heavier’ and maybe more sluggish. (If you’re thinking ‘kapha what?’ click HERE).
During transitional times of the year such as the transition from Summer into Autumn or Autumn into Winter especially, we wouldn’t practice these more ‘wobbly’ postures, as many people feel a little wobbly and dispersed already, especially those who lean towards the Vata dosha (again, click here to find out more about Kapha, Vata and Pitta doshas).
Garudasana is a difficult posture in which to find that balance of sthira and sukha, or ‘steadiness and ease’, as it requires strength and a surprising amount of flexibility in the shoulders, hips and ankles. An important part of practicing this posture is the ability to release tension – as the combination of balancing while binding the arms and legs is difficult, and therefore encounrages the jaw to clench, the toes to grip the mat, and the breath to be held. By releasing tension, we are more able to tap into our strength, and can then use that deeper strength to move and balance, rather than holding the body with gripping, tight and tension-filled muscles.
Again, something as simple as focussing on the breath can help release this tension and bring the mind into a calmer state. This will help with almost all balancing postures, and a steady body requires a steady mind…..
To prepare the body:
- Begin with breath awareness, simply paying attention to the breath. If you’re breathing in a shallow and rigid way, it’s likely the body is still holding onto a lot of tension. By noticing this and then consciously lengthening each breath in and out, a lot of that tension can begin to soften.
- After this, practice a few rounds of cat / cow to bring awareness to the spine, and again move in time with your breath.
- From there, move onto any of THESE variations of ‘thread the needle’ that you’ll find lower down in that post in order to open the upper back and shoulderblades.
- After practicing these, stay on all-fours and reach the [left] arm out in front, as you reach the [right] leg back. This is the preparation we’ll need for the brief amount of time we’ll be in Virabhadrasana 3 (warrior 3) for, as part of the transition. Imagine the back heel is pressing back against a wall, and internally rotate the thigh in order to point the toes down to the floor and connect to the core.
- Bring yourself up into Tadasana, and become very aware of the feet. Often our evergy is focussed in the upper part of the body (i.e. the mind) and so we can sometimes almost ‘disconnect’ from the lower half. Awareness of the feet can literally help to evoke a sense of feeling more ‘grounded’ and stable, which will very much help in finding balance.
- Move through a few rounds of surya namaskar A and B, and after 2-3 rounds of each, come back into Tadasana and practice THIS variation of virabhadrasana 2, in order to connect into the core by cultivating the action of hugging the thighs together.
- Finish this section by lying down and opening the IT band. The leg position of Garudasana can be tricky, especially if there’s not a lot of flexibility in the legs, hips and ankles. If the IT band is tight, this can have a big effect on whether you find the posture accessible too. Practice THIS variation of ‘eye of the needle’ to open the IT band, abductors (outer hips muscles) and lower back.
- After practicing this to both sides of the body, bring yourself back up to Tadasana.
- Practice THIS preraration posture for garudasana in order to find stability in a standing balance and more openness in the hips. If this is as far as you want to go today, continue practicing this instead of Garudasana, especially if you’re currently experiencing any knee issues or injuries.
- From Tadasana, ground through the [right] foot and begin to lift the [left] leg away from the floor on an inhale.
- Exhale to extend the leg straight back behind you as you reach the chest forwards, moving into virabhadrasana 3. Remember, press the back heel back into an imaginary wall, and notice how this will probably bring a lot more stability to the posture.
- To transition through to Garidasana, take a slight bend through the standing leg and on an inhale – in slow-motion – swing the back leg forwards and up, bending the knee.
- Bend the [right] knee slightly. Ensure the knee continues to point in the same direction as the toes in order to protect the knees.
- Lower the hips, almost as far as you might for Utkatasana (chair pose).
- Begin to wrap the [left] thigh over the right, and if you’re able to, then hook the foot around the [right] ankle too. If this causes any awful discomfort in the knees or ankles, then bring yourself back into the preparatory posture.
- To come into the arm position, wrap the [right] arm over the left, and press the palms together. In the case of any shoulder injuries, or if this isn’t available right now, then press the forearms together instead.
- Stay here for 3-5 breaths, and think about drawing everything into the center of the body by pressing the palms and forearms in firmly, and squeezing the thighs a much as is comfortable.
- To transition out, inhale as you unravel the arms and legs at the same time, and sweep the [left] leg back into virabhadrasana 3. A huge amount of wobbling, falling over, and unintentional ‘dancing’ might occur here, and that’s fine! (NB, you can always pass off wobbling or falling over as dancing….)
- Once you arrive back into virabhadrasana 3, slowly step the feet back together into Tadasana, and BREATHE!
- Take a moment to again ground the feet and become aware of the breath before practicing on the other side of the body.
- To counterpose this transition, make your way down onto the floor and practice Baddha Konasana to open the adductors (inner thighs). From there practice paschimottanasana, (seated forward fold or ‘stretching of the west’) in order to bring stability and alignment back into the muscles and ligaments of the legs.
- End by coming back to your sama vrtti (equal breath) and observe how the breath is after practicing.
“I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question.” – Harun Yahya