The tip this week is in honor of the carrot one of our favorite students Mary brought in. As you can see in the photo below, this flexible carrot is doing an AWESOME Eagle pose!
The following tips on Eagle actually come from our friends at Bikram Yoga Bellvue. Such great advice!
For the uninitiated, the word "yoga" often conjures up images of a skinny dude in baggy pants putting a foot behind his earlobe. While our Bikram beginning yoga series sets itself apart from that contortionist image in many, many ways, let's face it: Eagle is about as pretzel twisty as one can get.
The basics: cross one arm under the other, twist, palms together. The posture is named Eagle as your arms / elbows form the shape of an eagle's beak.
Wrinkle #1: palms won't to go together
Tip #1: Bikram recommends focusing on getting the pads of the fingertips together "by whatever necessary contortion" and use the pads as leverage until the palms touch. If you can't get the fingertips together just yet, interlace the fingers then wiggle the wrists back and forth ten to fifteen times.
Wrinkle #2: palms are a zillion miles away from each other
Tip #2: No matter how much your ego begs you do something to fit in with the cool hand-together crowd, don't give in and grab your shoulders. One of the big benefits of Eagle is developing flexibility in the shoulders and the only way to do that is to place one elbow on top of the other elbow and pull, pull, pull down with all your might towards the floor. If you grab your shoulders, you'll have zero downward pull. And with zero downward pull comes zero benefits.
Those of you with big beefy biceps are going to struggle here, but remember, struggle = benefits. The more you stretch through neck and shoulders, the more tension you release, the less you'll have headaches.
Wrinkle #3: toes won't wrap
Tip #3: For starters, unlike the fast swing-n-wrap of the arms, the leg wrap needs to be done slowly and deliberately. Bikram reminds us to squeeze so hard that "you could crack walnuts between ankles, knees and thighs." Start with a good sit, spine straight. Right leg goes super high and... what? What's that? You've already got the right leg high enough already, you've been trying for years and nothing works?
Well, as former spokesperson for the "I'll Never Wrap" club, I can pledge to you that there is hope. Lots of it.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of practicing next to Aiko, the owner of Bikram Yoga Brooklyn. While I pride myself on good concentration in class, Aiko's graceful Eagle posture blindsided me. Her leg seemed to just slither on down and her toes appeared to be nearly encircling her ankle like a silky ribbon.
I cornered Aiko after class and demanded to know if it was as easy as she made it look. She laughed loudly and then explained that she had spent many, many years as a dues-paying member of the "I'll Never Wrap" club. She decided she was going to wrap her toes if it was the last thing she did on this planet. So she began doing homework.
First thing when she woke up, still flat on her back in bed, she tried to wrap. Sitting at a desk, she tried to wrap. Watching television, she tried to wrap. And within six months of homework, she started to wrap. Just the pinky toe touched first and then, toe by toe, she eventually got all five toes to wrap around behind the calf muscle. Aiko promised me if it worked for her, then surely the homework would work for me too.
I'll admit, I was dubious. Mostly because I labored under the incorrect impression that the problem originated in my non-thin thighs. Actually, my encounter with Aiko made me rethink my blame-the-thigh approach entirely. Aiko is a lithe Asian gal with thin thighs and she couldn't wrap either.
Bikram points out that it isn't the thighs, necessarily, but the short forelegs. Those that are not long from the knee to the ankle will struggle with toe wrapping, but they'll "make up for lack of length by gaining even more flexibility than the rest."
Sure, you do lift your wrapping leg up really high. But in addition to the high lift, you'll want to really extend the leg, reach the leg, as though you're going to push your neighbor over with your big toe.
Last year, in my sixth year of not wrapping, I decided to try Aiko's homework in earnest. And let me tell you, the results have been eye opening. Both laying in bed and on the sofa, my right leg now fully wraps around my left and all five toes end up where Eagle wants them: wrapped around the ankle. The other side is less flexible, but I've still got 2.75 toes wrapped. It was about four months of trying to wrap during Desperate Housewives, but once I established the muscle memory of the wrapped toes in a non-heated environment, then the toes started sliding around back the calf muscle during class.
You can also try wrapping homework after final Savasana at the end of class. This is a great time (again, on your back) to practice the reaching of the top leg, try to nudge open the studio door with your big toe.
In summary: abandon shoulder grabbing, you beefy sailors and pull elbows down hard (no matter if the hands aren't perfect... or even in the same zip code) and release tension and prevent headaches. Non-wrappers: homework, lift high, nudge your mat mate with your extended big toe and you'll provide fresh blood to sexual organs, firm calves, firm hips and thighs, improve flexibility of the hips, knees and ankles.
And once you've jump started all those benefits, you'll feel the improvements paying off handsomely in the next posture, Standing Head to Knee.