Once all major joints of the body have been warmed up by practicing Pranayama breathing and the first few postures, you are ready for Eagle pose, garudasana! This pose opens up the joints of the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
By twisting your limbs "like ropes" Eagle pose creates compression of blood and lymph flow headed to spots like your legs, kidneys and the lymph nodes in your armpits. Hold the posture very still while breathing calmly, so that when you release it your elevated heart rate will send a boost of high-speed circulation to those areas. Notice a white mark on your thigh after you come out of Eagle? That's a good indicator that you’ve been maintaining a strong compression.
What's that you say? Your arms won't twist like ropes? Here's a quick video on what to do for this (very common) "issue"...
Now that we've cleared up what to do with those pesky arms, here are a couple key aspects of Eagle pose and more tips to help you get the most out of your efforts:
Using leverage to promote good alignment and open joints.
When you move your knees to the right and upper body to the left to get your feet, knees, elbows and hands in one line, you are using the leverage of one limb against to create the compression effect I mentioned above and open up your major joints. The key to not falling over while you make these adjustment is keeping your (especially lower) abdominal muscles tight and your upper body lifted away from your thighs.
It's a backbending pose!
Many beginners tend to lean or even hunch their bodies forward while they're setting up their Eagle, in an effort to pull their elbows down. Don't let this happen to you! Keep your upper body (when you hear the cue "upper body" in class, think mainly lower ribs upward) leaning back throughout the posture, which means (although you'll end up looking straight ahead) your spine is actually in a backward bending position. This position strengthens back and core muscles, releases tension in your lumbar spine, and compresses the kidneys.
"I have always been active and used to run quite a bit, but that took a toll on my knees. When I originally started at Bikram Yoga St. Johns in 2016, I was looking for something to help my joints and lower back issues.
"For me the obvious benefits of regular practice have been decreased knee pain and conditioning for my low back. But more importantly I find that it really helps control my anxiety through the focused breathing. I am very conscious of my breathing in class and I find it transitions to other stressful situations in my life. When I found out I was pregnant I was so thankful that my doctor was so encouraging about continuing to practice throughout pregnancy. There is so much misguided information out there, and Kay has been an amazing resource through this journey.
"When I really started to show, my pesky low back issues started to creep up again and were exacerbated by a trip I had to take for work. I returned home with sciatica and could barely walk without limping. After just a couple of classes, my back improved again and I have had hardly any issues since. It sometimes feels daunting when I am getting ready to go to class at almost 8 months pregnant, but I always feel so good after and know the breathing and focus will help me when its time to welcome my baby to world!"
Update: Bridget gave birth to a healthy baby girl on February 28, 2018! Congratulations to the whole family!!
"I've been practicing consistently for just over a year now, all because of you, your welcoming, inclusive studio, and the opportunity to be a karma yogi! Before that, I was an inconsistent, serial-Groupon-er in the Vancouver/Portland area. I've learned that being inconsistent made my practice harder on myself- pyschologically (I always had lots of reasons why I couldn't make it to class) and physically (I battled nausea a lot longer than I had to.) The secret for me is just showing up to practice frequently, ideally daily.
"I got into Bikram yoga expecting to improve a chronic knee injury and improve my strength and flexibility. All of these things have happened, and continue, to happen, especially now that I have a consistent practice. I have been most surprised by my seemingly sudden, new-found ability to automatically breathe slowly in and out during stressful situations that happen outside of the yoga room! I remember being in a work situation and I was all calm and breathing through it, and I literally wondered why I wasn't more upset, like I normally would be. It was at that moment I realized that I'd been practicing calm, full breathing while experiencing discomfort in class long enough that I had developed 'muscle memory' and it was automatic response. It was one of the strangest, and most freeing, moments of this year!
"When I began to practice regularly 3 or more times per week, I noticed a bunch of changes taking place. Decreased body pain, especially in my joints. I always say that Bikram yoga takes the 'old' out of my bones when my friends wonder why I practice. Cravings for healthier food and lots of lemony water. Serenity, instead of stressed, as a baseline for my mood for that day. Increased mental clarity and energy to be able to accomplish things.
"I've always enjoyed yoga, I'd take yoga books out of the library when I was a kid and contort myself in my first solo practice. Then I took my first Hatha yoga group class in college for credit. Yoga helped me be a better belly dancer and helped me through long shifts as a bartender. Later on, I didn't really think Bikram yoga would be very different from all the other non-hot forms I'd dabbled in, so I bought a Groupon (hahahahahahaha!)
"I went to my first class in a long-sleeve, full-legged bodysuit that I wore comfortably in dance classes. I was exhausted, dizzy, and queasy after the initial deep-breathing sets and pretty much just laid on my mat for the rest of class, trying not to run screaming from the room. It took me a month to return for my second try. It was still awful, but I kept on coming back, probably because the after-effects were so immediate and compelling.
"I often procrastinate. So when I saw "Do Later Now" on BYSJ's studio t-shirts, I was irked- and also knew this was exactly where I needed to spend my time, ha!
"Becoming a karma yoga cleaner at BYSJ gave me two wonderful (and unexpected) gifts. First, it has given me a sense of responsibility and belonging in a new, welcoming, beautiful studio/community. I'm pretty introverted and work with the public, so spending time in silence with other yogically-determined people was the perfect complement to my workday, especially practicing it early in the morning before I have to be 'on' for the public.
"My karma cleaning committment was the 'trick' I needed to play on myself in order to stop making excuses about why I couldn't get to class. Before I was a karma yogi, I'd change my mind about going for lots of reasons: not well-hydrated, didn't eat healthy food, need to clean the house, other people need me more, blah, blah, blah. Once I had to be there, I quickly realized that I'm better in so many ways, from the inside out, that I do everything in my life better when I do yoga that day too.
"Finding a studio that I could really belong to has led me to a consistent yoga practice and that has been ONE OF THE BEST GIFTS OF MY LIFE. Thank you, BYSJ!"
** Interested in becoming a Karma Yogi like Natalie? Email us!
Studio leader, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.