During Yoga class you may have heard the standing balance pose Garudasana, referred to as “eagle pose” and wondered why. Garuda’s story can help us understand the intention that is required to fully embody Garudasana. In Hindu mythology, Garuda is Vishnu’s carrier. He is described as a divine bird with the head and wings of an eagle, and the body, arms and legs of a man.
Garuda’s story begins when he finds out that his mother, Vinata, has made a foolish bet with some snakes. After losing the bet, she is enslaved in Patala, the underground city of the snakes. When Garuda approaches the snakes, with the intent of freeing his mother, they tell him that they will only free her if he brings them some amrita, otherwise known as the nectar of the Gods. The amrita is stored in a lake on the top of a mountain and Garuda must make his way through three obstacles in order to retrieve it. Garuda sets off, determined to bring back the amrita and free his mother.
The first obstacle that he encounters is a ring of fire. Garuda gulps large amounts of water from a nearby river and manages to extinguish the fire and fly through the ring unharmed. The second obstacle is a circular door with a spiked metal ring that spins in the frame of the door. Garuda, with the help of his divine powers, makes himself very small and passes without harm throught the spiked metal ring. The third obstacle is a pair of poisonous snakes that attack Garuda. He flaps his large wings creating a dust storm that blinds the snakes and while they are unable to see he takes the chance to kill them with his beak. He succeeds in retrieving some amrita and is able to free his mother. Just as the snakes are about to consume the amrita, some of the Gods come to retrieve it and return it to the top of the mountain. The snakes manage to steal a couple of drops before the nectar is taken from them, and the strength of it splits their tongues in two. The story goes that this is the reason that snakes now have forked tongues. Overjoyed at being rescued, Vinata promises Garuda that she will never make a bet with snakes again. (Source: Myths of the asanas : the stories at the heart of the Yoga tradition – Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij)
In my mind, the story of Garuda tells us to embrace change to overcome obstacles. We are all capable of taking on many roles in our lives – mother/father, sister/brother, daughter/son, friend, boss, wife/husband – and they all serve different purposes and give us different strengths and rewards. In Garuda’s story he used many different tactics to solve his problems, and we can and should do the same.
The Yoga pose Garudasana, not surprisingly, also has a number of variations. When we first move into Garudasana we have our “wings” extended and then as we move into the full pose we hug everything inwards, becoming a smaller more compressed version of ourselves. You may have practiced flying eagle pose (Warrior III with eagle arms), which to me is simply us embodying Garuda flying through the spiked circular metal door that he is faced with in his story.
These are connections that I make between Garuda’s story and the variations on “eagle pose” that we practice in Yoga class. Maybe you have some other connections or observations that jump out for you?