Disclaimer 2: This category of poses gets called "standing balances" a lot, but I think the idea of "balance poses" is pretty much a ginormous lie. As one of my teachers likes to note, there is no balance: there is only balancing. Essentially, there is no magical mystical state called balance that will mean it's easy to hold this pose for hours at a time and/or that the yogi practicing it has achieved Total Enlightenment and Inner Peace. Rather, balancing is the term for the physical and mental efforts we employ to keep us in a particular shape. Those efforts don't disappear just because we've fallen flat on our asses. And if you are at all like me, there will be a plethora of ass landings. ;)
Now that those are out of the way, I will back up and say that this is second in our mini-series of glute-strengthening asanas. I explained in a little more detail in the previous post, but the basic idea is that strengthening the large gluteal muscle group creates a backward pull on the sacrum, which then pulls the pelvis back into its neutral alignment. This in turn allows the pelvic floor muscles to stretch and keeps them from being in a more or less permanently scrunched up state. This scruched-up-ed-ness is separate from conscious engagement of the pelvic floor muscles and is kind of a bad thing on account of it takes away from elasticity in the pelvic floor.
Garudasana / Eagle Pose
Also check it out here on Yoga Journal. As a note, since the pose is a one-legged posture, there's a version with the right leg on the ground and a mirror version with the left leg on the ground. The idea is to come into the pose on both sides; however, for ease of instructions, I'm just going to list the steps for balancing with the right leg as the standing leg.
- Start standing in tadasana with your feet about hip distance apart. Shift your weight into your right leg, bending your right knee slightly.
- Establish a driste, or focal point, to help make balancing easier. I use a spot maybe 3-4 feet in front of me on the ground. If you're not familiar with balancing postures, you'll have to experiment to figure out what works best for you. It is pretty important, though, to choose a spot that Does. Not. Move.
- Lift your left leg and bring it across your right thigh. The fullest expression of the pose includes hooking the foot of your free leg behind the calf of your standing leg. However, I will be the first to admit that my thighs have no desire for this thing, so I'll talk about modifications in a minute.
- Cross your arms in front of you so that your right elbow is stacked over your left. You may also bring your forearms vertical and wrap them around each other so that they're back-to-back or palm-to-palm. Lift through your elbows while releasing down through your shoulders.
- Lift through your core to keep your lower back relaxed and neutral. Then bend your standing leg to sink as deeply into the pose as feels manageable for you. You will probably feel like your weight is in your thighs and bum; if your knees hurt, come out of the pose a little.
- To exit the pose, unwind your arms and legs and stand in tadasana. Take a moment to feel grounded and balanced before continuing to the other side.
Your super fun video demonstration:
How long you stay in the asana kind of depends on your body and intention. I know people who prefer to hold the pose for 15-60 seconds -- or a couple of minutes, even -- on a side. I am a personal fan of a sort of "eagle flow" -- holding my fullest expression of the pose for maybe only 5 seconds once my body is established in the pose, then switching to the other side and repeating that whole sequence (one side and then the other) a half dozen-ish times. If you're totally new to the pose, I'd recommend using what works for you in utkatasana as a baseline and then adjusting from there.
I know, I promised I would talk about leg modifications. (There are arm modifications, too, and you can kind of glean those from watching the videos as well. But really, arm positions here aren't going to make a huge difference in what the glutes are feeling and thus aren't so significant from a pelvic floor perspective. Right now, find something that works for your shoulders and wrists.) Here they are, with spiffy names I have just now made up:
- Toe Touch: Cross your free leg over your standing leg, rest the toe of your free leg on the ground. Your standing leg will still be bearing most of your weight, but the toe on the ground can help with balance. If you're nervous about this pose, this is probably a good variation to start with.
- Leg Cross: Cross your free leg over your standing leg like you're sitting in a chair. Your free leg will be entirely off the ground but won't be totally wrapped around behind you. As I alluded to above, my thighs are thick and dense; this is my leg variation of choice.
- Foot Wrap: Wrap the calf of your free leg around your standing leg; hook the foot of your free leg around the back of your standing leg. If this is accessible for your body, it can give an additional stretch along the outsides of your hips, thighs, and calves.
- Use a Wall: Use a wall for extra physical stability and/or mental security when moving into any version of the pose. You can use this if your balance is compromised for whatever reason (the video below focuses on pregnancy, but that's just one example) or if you're moving into an expression of the pose that's newer to you.
The first video illustrated the leg cross and the foot wrap. This one touches on the foot wrap but focuses on the toe touch. It also shows bonus arm variations:
And one that shows how one can use a wall:
I 100% wish that I could have found a video to illustrate the eagle pose flow I described above... or any eagle flow, really. Alas, you will have to use your imaginations on this one. ;)
Next time we'll for sure be doing at least one more squat-glute-thing. After that... well, I am still deciding.
PS -- Since it came up yesterday in conversation with a friend: Once I've shared all I know about pelvic floors & yoga, would there be interest in modifying asanas for yogis with larger breasts?