52 Poses :: Garudasana, Eagle Pose

In 2015 I’ll be highlighting a new posture each week. Find sequences, benefits, and archives here.

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Did you know that a Garuda is not an Eagle? This mystical bird is large and powerful, sometimes depicted as part human. The Garuda is Vishnu’s vehicle. The Phoenix is thought to be an updated, more modern version of Garuda and both are held in reverence by mythology from many cultures.

Garudasana, now commonly called Eagle Pose, is also a powerful pose that forces you to turn deeply inward in order to radically open. There are variations in this pose between different traditions, my history is with the Iyengar lineage and my instructions for Eagle are in line with Iyengar yoga.

In Eagle Pose (Instructions for standing on your left leg):

  • Reach your arms wide in a “T” then take your right arm under your left. (Whichever arm is on the bottom will be the leg on top).
  • You can hold onto your shoulders, or take your fingertips towards the ceiling and hold your wrist, thumb or press your palms together.
  • Cross your right leg on top of your left. Keep your left (standing) leg bent.
  • Hug your right foot towards your left calf strongly. Hook your foot behind your left calf if you can, it’s totally fine not to (or even to place your right toes on the floor). Wherever your foot is, just hug in to help your thighs internally rotate.
  • Square your hips to the front of your mat (They usually skew in the direction of your standing leg)
  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  • You can deepen the shoulder stretch by lifting your elbows away from the floor and drawing your forearms away from you, just don’t let your shoulders ride up!
  • Variation: For “Sleeping Eagle” (Sometimes “Crouching Eagle”), stick your bum way out and hook your elbows in front of your knees. Turn your head in towards your biceps and round your spine.

Yes, there’s a whole lot going on in this balancing posture. However, take it one step at a  time and you will soon find yourself an Eagle pro.

This pose is one of my favorite balancing postures. I love the way it stretches my Trapezius, a muscle that is chronically tight for so many people. Here are all of Eagle’s benefits:

  • Stretches and releases the shoulders and neck muscles
  • Strengthens and tones the legs
  • Improves balance and stability
  • Can reduce cellulite
  • Through the compression of many joints, your circulation is improved and toxins are flushed out of your joints and out of your system.
  • Opens your hips.
  • Stretches the IT bands gently
  • Can relieve pain in the SI joint.

I think Eagle is at it’s best when you follow it up with long deep breaths standing in Tadasana. This allows you to really benefit from the improved circulation through all of your major joints.

Do you love or hate Eagle Pose? I’d love to know why!

Until next time, be well and live well,

Elizabeth

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caring for your crystals

Many people are influenced by the energetic properties of the stones in a piece when purchasing. It’s easy to understand why, the vibration of a balanced crystal can promote love, business, healing, or even inner peace! Who doesn’t want to absorb these positive vibrations?

But, did you know that most crystals are also absorbing energy themselves when being worn? That means your own inner energy (thoughts and emotions) as well as the environment (pollution, other people’s aura). Just like we need to meditate and practice yoga to clear our own energy, your crystals need to be cleansed, too.

There are many simple ways to cleanse your crystal mala beads. My favorite is to burn sage, and “smudge” the beads while chanting a mantra. (The mantra is optional, but a beautiful addition to the practice). In fact, each order that goes out from my studio has been smudged and 9 rounds of the Gayatri Mantra have been chanted over them to clear the crystals and promote healing vibration for the recipient.

Here are some other ways to clear crystals:

  • Give your piece a moon bath. During a full moon, leave your mala in the moonlight for a minimum of 30 minutes. There is an added benefit of absorbing moon energy into your beads.
  • Candlelight will cleanse your crystals, particularly when accompanied by a meditation visualizing the stones surrounded by purifying light.
  • A large Quartz crystal (wrap your mala around it or place it over it), but be sure to cleanse your Quartz as well!
  • You can place your piece in brown rice overnight.
  • Smudge your piece by burning sage, you can chant mantra or intention to make the piece more powerful.

Do you have a favorite way not listed here? Have you ever cleansed your mala?

Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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the power of mantra

These days the percentage of yoga classes that include mantra is rather small. In fact, fewer and fewer yoga classes are using the Sanskrit names of asana(yoga postures), or any Sanskrit at all. Personally, I’m okay with that. I prescribe to the theory that the more people in the world who are introduced to yoga, the better the world will be. And even an introduction to completely physical, American-ized yoga in a noisy gym is an introduction that leads many students to discover the history, tradition, and science behind the practice. Many wonderful teachers took their first yoga class in a gym.

With that said, I also love the traditional aspects of yoga. My idea of vacation includes bringing a couple of anatomy books and a 1,000 page reference book about the Chakras. (Yes, that was what was packed in my Omega suitcase and I was happy all week). My teaching comes from my study of the energy body and physical body alike, and my practice revolves around the alignment between these parts of Self.

What I love about mantra is that it bridges the gap between our physical and energetic bodies, as does the breath. I’ve spent a little time (and really, far less than I’d like) studying with Manorama, a renowned Sanskrit scholar and lovely woman. She taught me that Sanskrit is a language that was built around vibration, and the vibrations of Sanskrit words are intended to affect us both physically and energetically. It’s my experience that when I chant I am connecting with different parts of my body and I’m also feeling a change in mood and in my energy, as in other forms of meditation.

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a 108 bead mala from Love by E

Traditionally, Mantras are chanted in sets of 9, or multiples of 9, with the most popular variations being 9, 21, 27, 54 and 108. This is where mala beads get their 108 beads from. Malas have been used in many cultures for millennia to count recitations of a mantra, and it’s said that if you practice this way with regularity and devotion, your mala will absorb the power of the mantra. Many people still use mala for their intended purpose, while countless others have adopted a practice of wearing a mala as a spiritual reminder or for their beauty.

You can also chant mantra without mala, counting on your fingers to track the number of times you have chanted. You can learn mantra in class, by asking a teacher, even through popular yoga music or online. The traditional way to find your mantra is to find a teacher trained in this kind of meditation, through your study with them you will receive a personal mantra meant to work with your energy.

If you are not experienced in this kind of meditation, one easy way to introduce yourself to mantra is to start with the Western version, affirmations. An affirmation is a positive statement that you repeat to help you manifest your goals, or remind you of your worth, etc. You can choose your own affirmation and set reminders to yourself to say it aloud throughout the day, or sit in meditation repeating this phrase silently. Gabby Bernstein is one wonderful teacher who uses both affirmation and mantra in her work, and I highly recommend her books. If this is a practice that resonates with you, you may want to learn more about mantra and the rich tradition of chanting in Sanskrit.

My knowledge of this tradition is limited, but I practice mantra meditation daily for a few months now and have found it to be an amazing method with many benefits. Are you interested in learning more? Do you have personal experience with Sanskrit mantra or affirmations? Continue this conversation, leave a comment below.

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a yin practice

This is a head to toe Yin practice for circulation and detox. It’s balancing and nourishing and I’ve loved practicing and teaching it. Hold postures for the time that seems right to you, a minute or seven, or use my suggestions.

 

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Finding Rest

When you think of yoga, what do you think of? Down Dog probably comes to mind, chatturanga, a sweaty dark room? All of those things are part of yoga. For sure. Do you think of deep relaxation? Laying softly over pillows and blankets? That’s yoga, too. And for a lot of us, this kind of yoga is the secret ingredient that could lead to far happier, healthier lives.

I’m talking about passive, soothing  Yin Yoga practice. Yin Yoga is actually a broad category that includes Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga styles. Really Yin Yoga means anything that isn’t heating or active. These Yin styles help us to relax, and bring us the myriad benefits that come with it.

I may have already lost you. I know that our culture is one that glorifies doing and you may think that your 3 minute savasana is enough relaxation for you. Maybe you’ve gotten pretty good at doing Vinyasa Yoga in a way that feels very nourishing and relaxing. That’s amazing, and good for you, many of us are not yet doing active practice in a way that truly feels nourishing and relaxing, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, as much as we use our active yoga therapeutically, there is a certain amount of physical stress in holding Warrior I that is never going away, and it’s good for us, but it’s not relaxation.

The truth is: every one of us could benefit immensely from passive practice. Every nervous system needs soothing, every musculature needs support. In America, particularly, we are not taught to value relaxation. We consider our three hours on the couch watching TV relaxing. I’m not bashing TV, I really like it. But, it’s not relaxing. Our favorite shows are suspenseful, sometimes scary, sometimes heartbreaking, and all projected over unnatural blue light and segmented into short snippets with constant interruption. If you’re like me, you are probably multi-tasking during TV time and focusing on several different things at once. None of these ingredients encourage your body and brain to relax. In fact, many of them are actually triggering your brain to release stress hormones and stay alert. The opposite of relaxation.

Relaxation is very different. It is single-pointed, it is quiet, it is absent of suspense or drama and it is absent of multi-tasking. What if I told you that the super relaxed savasana you love at the end of your hot yoga class is, most likely, not making a dent in your nervous system. It’s true, in fact, our nervous system needs up to 20 minutes of relaxation to elicit the famous Relaxation Response, the part of our nervous system wired to digest food, repair injuries, and release the hormone cocktail for well-being, peace of mind and happiness.

There is no 60 minute Hot Vinyasa class that includes 20 minutes of true relaxation.

When I tell my students that I have a daily yoga practice, I know that they probably imagine me in headstand and King Pigeon every day, toiling away on my mat building strength and flexibility and playing with advanced pretzel-like postures. I do love this kind of yoga, and I do practice it. However, there are plenty of days where my yoga practice is more like me laying on a pile of blankets and in 30 minutes I do 2 poses.

Including this supported, quiet time in my regular practice has made a world of difference in my body and my life. Yes, I am much happier with my body when I am getting regular deep relaxation. My digestive system is much healthier, my joints feel better, my aches go away. More than that, I see the world through a soft and forgiving lens. My eyes are soft. My heart is much more open and I am a better person.

My active yoga practice is so meaningful to me. I would never give it up. But it is not enough to nourish my whole person. Exercise is not relaxing, even if you feel relaxed afterward.

For me, yoga is not about slimming my thighs or adding definition to my arms. Although, I certainly enjoy these benefits. For me, yoga is about being my best self. Clearing the doubt and anxiety from my mind, which I am certainly apt to develop with regularity and gusto. Yoga is about finding within myself again the optimistic, happy person I truly love to be. And my yoga practice has successfully helped me make this best version of me the version of me that is walking around in the world, mostly.

Without Restorative and Yin Yoga, I would not be this person and I would not be as happy or as healthy as I am. I would get sick more often, hurt more often, cry more often and yell more often. I don’t want to do any of those things.

If you identify with any of these symptoms of stress and anxiety, passive yoga practice could absolutely be your prescription for a better life. Most yoga studios do offer Restorative or Yin classes (or both!), and taking classes will usually give you the best experience; but, when you do not have time to make it to class, these simple practices are easy to do at home. My Restorative teacher, Jillian Pransky, likes to say “5 minutes once a day is a more powerful practice than 75  minutes once a week.” Even if you do not know many postures, a few minutes in your favorite stretch and a few minutes laying with a pillow under your knees would be a great start.

Active practice and exercise are important, keep doing them. But let us also remember the deep and powerful healing that comes from taking the time not to do, not to stress, to try not to try.

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