4 Ways to Develop Balance in Eagle Pose

A yogi in Eagle pose to help develop Balance and Strength

Article At A Glance

Many yoga postures invite us to explore taking up space, expanding from the center outward. Eagle Pose (Garudasana) draws us more inward. It takes our limbs across the body, moving our attention from the periphery to the center. The pose develops balance, coordination, and concentration. It releases tension in the upper back, hips, and buttocks and strengthens the lower body. But it can be challenging, too. Here are four variations to help you develop the strength and balance to practice Eagle Pose, along with suggestions for refining your practice.

Many yoga postures invite us to explore taking up space, expanding from the center outward. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)  draws us more inward. It takes our limbs across the body, moving our attention from the periphery to the center. 

Benefits of Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

An eagle pose variation that demands strength, balance, focus, and flexibility.

  • Challenges and develops balance 
  • Builds coordination and composure
  • Sharpens focus and attention
  • Releases tension in the upper back, hips, and buttocks
  • Strengthens the feet, ankles, knees and thighs
  • Enhances breath awareness (especially in the back of the ribcage)

Focus on One Challenge at a Time: Eagle Pose

Eagle Pose Variation with a chair and block

There may be any number of challenges keeping us from practicing the classical Eagle Pose in yoga. Here are some common ones:

  • Balance comes and goes.
  • Flexibility is limited.
  • Bulky muscles or extra flesh get in the way.

To minimize (or eliminate) obstacles, Patanjali suggests in the Yoga Sutra (YS 1.32) to “practice fixing the mind on one object.” In other words, we can adjust our practice to address one difficulty at a time. It takes self-study (Svadhyaya) to know what is needed, and it takes confidence to be daring enough to follow our intuition. An excellent way to encourage ourselves to practice again tomorrow is to be compassionate in approaching our yoga practice today.

Encourage Stability in the Feet and Legs to Improve Balance

Tadasana on a Tightrope

Mountain Pose (Tadasana) on a Tightrope

Try this challenging Eagle Pose preparatory exercise standing on two feet:

  1. Stand with one foot pointing forward. Spread your toes.
  2. Place your other foot directly in front of the first, its heel in contact with the other toes. Both feet point forward as if you’re on a tightrope.
  3. Stand evenly on the ball and heel of each foot.
  4. Lift your gaze up and forward to eye level.
  5. Observe the movement over each foot and around each ankle as you quietly challenge your balance. Minimize the wobble.
  6.  Firm your outer hips toward the midline.
  7. Breathe here awhile. Then, switch which foot is in front. 
  •  As this becomes easier, try variations to keep challenging yourself:
    •  Close one or both eyes and continue balancing. 
    •  Turn your head and gaze mindfully over one shoulder and then the other.

Develop Flexibility in the Hips for the Eagle Pose

A yogi practicing with a yoga block to get a sense of the shape and direction of the posture.

Kickstand Approach Stretches the Hips while Erasing Balance from the Equation  

Try this prep pose to get a sense of the shape and direction of the posture. The flexibility of the hips and the stability of the feet, ankles, and legs will increase through repetition of the pose or its variations. You may not need a block after you try it on each side.

  1. Place a block on the floor on its lowest level (so it can’t fall over) alongside the outer edge of one foot. This foot will stay standing on the floor as you practice the Kickstand Approach.
  2. Stand with your feet close together.
  3. Bend both legs (both ankles, knees, and hips bend)
  4. Spread your arms apart, place your hands on your hips, or bring your palms together at the center of your chest. You decide.
  5. Lift your moving leg up and across your standing leg as high as you can above the knee, leaving no space between the thighs.
  6. Bend the standing leg until the top leg’s toes can touch the block (or the floor) for balance. 
  7. It’s okay to put weight into the kickstand foot. It will not take away from the work you are cultivating in your standing foot and ankle, as long as the block is steady or it’s the floor.
  8. If a flat block is too far away for you, turn the block a level higher. Be mindful about putting weight into a less stable prop. 
  9. While your toes rest on the floor (or block), squeeze your shins toward one another. Compact your hips. (If it doesn’t disturb the work of the bending/twisting legs, add Eagle Arms.)
  10. Stay long enough that it’s a challenge.
  11. Uncross your legs (and arms) and stand up. Pause for a breath or two. You may feel awash in prana after all the crossing-the-midline actions you’ve held. Savor that spaciousness.
  12. Move the block to the outside of your other foot. Stand in Mountain Pose for a few breaths. 
  13. Practice the other side.

Meet Yourself Where You Are: Approach Your Body with Equanimity

Hugging Arms, a Garudasana Prep Pose

Hugging Arms, a Garudasana Prep Pose 

Stretch the rhomboid muscles and spread your shoulder blades.

  1. Stand, sit, or recline.
  2. Wrap your arms across your body.
  3. Place your hands on your shoulders (or further around to touch your shoulder blades).
    • Lift your elbows to shoulder height.
    • Move your shoulders away from your ears.
    • Spread your upper back muscles away from the spine.
    • Breathe into the space between your shoulder blades.
    • Repeat with the other arm crossed on top.

Move In the Direction of Eagle Arms

Eagle Arms in Direction

There is plenty to do even when the arms can’t wrap around one another. 

  1. Keep your elbows crossed as you lift and squeeze your forearms toward one another.
  2. Draw the backs of your hands toward each other.
  3. Point your fingers directly up, away from your elbows. Avoid the tendency to bend at the wrists.
  4. If the forearms touch, wrap the wrists so the fingers of your bottom arm contact your other palm. Your thumbs should point toward your face and the little fingers away.
  5. The arms both weave around each other like two vines of ivy.
    • Move the elbows up and away from your chest.
    • Align your hands above your elbows. Move them away from your face and up. 

Practice Tips for Variations of Eagle Pose

 A yogi in Garudasana Prep Pose

  • Let go of what you think the pose should look like. Make it about what it feels like, step by step.
  • Imagine a Hula Hoop through your upper back and arms: Be broad and circular. If it helps, look down to emphasize the rounding of your upper back.
  • You’ll know which arm to wrap under the other by looking at your legs. If the right leg is on top, place your right arm under the left arm. This way, the right leg and arm are close to one another.
  • The posture is asymmetrical, so your palms won’t come together symmetrically. Still, you can aim to align the elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands with your sternum.
  • Your top arm’s shoulder will hike up. Coax it away from your ear. This coaxing will balance the length on both sides of your neck.
  • Do not force. Instead, encourage. 


Sarah Bell

Sarah Bell (ERYT-500, YACEP) has been teaching yoga for more than twenty-five years. She was on the faculty of the Yoga Works Teacher Training Program for fifteen years, having trained hundreds of teachers in both the 200-hour Introductory Courses and the 300-hour Professional Programs throughout the country and abroad. She is the creator of Speaking of Yoga, a voice and communication course for yoga teachers, as well as Beyond the Postures, a  course that introduces yoga philosophy, anatomy, pranayama, and meditation to curious yoga practitioners. She mentors yoga teachers along the path as they find their voice and refine their skills. For more information on her upcoming retreats, courses, and classes, find her at www.sarahbellyoga.com

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