This is me, killing 8-angle pose (for 3 seconds), also known as astavakrasana. This pose has intimidated me for many years. You know when the self-doubt creeps in. Yeah, well I know it all too well because my mind has told me not to try this pose because I thought I wasn’t strong enough. And, of course, I listened…for many years I listened. It was probably about when I turned 40 that I began to stop listening all the time. I haven’t found the perfect balance yet of overcoming all doubt, fear and worry but I am on my way!
According to yogic mythology, Astavakrasana is named after a sage. Asta mean eight and Vakra means bent because this sage was born with a crippled body bent in eight places.
So you may ask why was he crippled when he was born. Astavakra, as it turns out, was super spiritual and wise, even when he was in the womb. He hear his father reading The Vedas, an ancient text, and his dad was stumbling through reading this sacred text, mispronouncing words.
From the womb, Astavakra corrected his father, and if you have children, you can maybe relate that his father did not appreciate this behavior from his in-the-womb, smart-ass baby. So his father, in a complete overreaction, cursed him to be crippled, his body bent in 8 different places.
I still wonder why his father chose eight different places?
Despite being born crippled, Astavakra was an incredibly gifted soul. He was wise and was intelligent beyond his years. He dedicated his life studying sacred texts and Indian philosophies.
At some point in his life, he decided to make the trek to King Janaka’s court because he had heard that’s where all the most knowledgeable and philosophical men met to discuss important things, and he wanted to be a part of this congregation. He wanted to be a part of the team of the smartest and most spiritual guys in India.
So in all of his crippled-ness, he decided to make the long journey to see the King. It was beyond challenging for him physically, even with his walking stick. But our guy Asta had a boatload of determination. Have you ever wanted something so much that you would do anything to make it happen? Yep, me too. And same with our boy, Astavakra. Every time I hear this story I find myself rooting him on...go Asta!
Despite his physical limitation, he made it to the kingdom. You can imagine his sadness and dismay when he was greeted with laughing and ridicule because of his outer appearance from this group of supposedly knowledgeable and philosophical men that he had been so determined to join. So sad, and so relevant in our culture today.
Shockingly, Asta began to laugh with them, laughing even harder than most. The King, confused by his reaction, asked why he was laughing. Asta replied, "I am not laughing, I am crying.”
Asta, being the poetic, deep, and misunderstood human that he was began to explain himself. He shared his disappointment with the King, but the King didn't understand. Asta tried to explain his disappointment. He had made the trek of 30 days with his crippled body, a trek that would have taken an able-bodied man 1 day. He had come hoping to find intelligent, spiritual, like-minded men, and instead found superficial, judgmental critics.
He said to the King, “They see only skin. They do not see the atma, the soul. They have no realization of the soul and the Supreme Soul. They merely see the surface, and base their judgments solely on this. This is the occupation of a cobbler, who is always saying: ‘This skin is good; that skin is not good. This one is smooth; that one is rough.’ Coming here has been a waste of time.”
The King, shocked by the profound wisdom and the truth of this young and crippled mans words, asked to be Asta’s student.
Here is the truth: Our soul is nestled into our physical bodies and indeed, we must take care of the outer shell. But it is not the outer shell that determines or defines who we are. It is the inner workings, the inner magic, the inner spirit that does define who we are. That is our beauty and our uniqueness.
Astavakra reminds us that true yogis can come in all shapes and sizes and even if you can do a perfect pose, the real work of yoga is to acknowledge that our life begins on the inside. This pose takes us to a very humbling place, one that reminds us to turn into the deepest layers of ourselves so we can muster up the energy to make some variation of this pose work. It’s about self-reflection, svadyhaha. the idea of turning the lens inward, not pointing fingers, not blaming but merely observing. From those observations we have the opportunity to shift, to engage, to lengthen, to contract, to soften and let this pose take shape. So is with life, tuning in, exploring the inner dynamics of our soul…all in an effort for our lives to evolve, to morph into something beautiful, something true and that which is ultimately supported by the divine.
Does this story resonate for you? What comes up for you? I think there is something in all of us that empathizes with Asta.
So Astavakarasana… a slightly intimidating pose at best – it is an arm balance, twist, and a hip-opener. It takes determination and grit. It takes recognizing the atma, the soul, is your true beauty and value.
Does knowing that story make you compelled to actually really nail this pose? I know, I know, don't get wrapped up into nailing the perfect pose. But determination can be a beautiful thing; so much so that it can propel us into sharing our gifts from the soul with the world. So let's get soulful, let's get playful and let's learn how to get into this pose!
I will provide you with a step by step guide. Now, let's get real clear. This is my version of the pose. Often times it is messy, with grunts and "what the hell" commentaries under the breath. Allow the challenge and the mystery of the shape to guide you to achieving it, just as our boy Asta did way back in the day. I am sure on his travels to see the "wise" men he made some grunts and even some "what the hells" under his breath, but he made it and so will you.
Before we begin, make sure you have warmed up your body, specifically your arms, shoulders legs and core...um yes just warm up your entire body;) Your warm-up could include Sun Salutations A & B, warrior 2, extended side angle with a bind, runner’s lunge or low lunge variations, pyramid, seated dandasana variation with your leg up over the shoulder (or at least in that direction).
1. Start out in a comfortable seated position (this may be the last time you will be comfortable until you come out of this pose;)
2. Next, lift your left leg up and move it around a bit from side to side. You can stare off into the distance and wonder what you are about to get yourself into.
3. Then look down at it and whisper to your leg, "we've got this!"
4. Now, inhale and lift your left leg up and wrap it around the outside of your left arm as close to your shoulder as possible and squeeze. Now it may take many tries to get your leg to "stick" to your upper arm so no problem if it doesn't happen on the first try.
5. Next, pull up your shirt so your girls don't fall out.
6. Next, cross your right leg over your left and hook your toes/ankles.
7. Then, plant your palms on your mat shoulder width distance and begin to slowly, with control, bend your arms to a 90 degree angle (think chatarunga arms).
Keep your focus as this will be where all the magic begins. Continue squeezing your legs toward one another like you are sandwiching your arm in between your legs. Tilt your torso forward. Now this is where you may face plant, and that's ok. Regain control, press into your hands, ignite your legs and push up.
8. SMILE! for the camera because I am sure your BFF is there taking your picture! And yes, you want to capture this...
We would love to hear about your journey to Astavakrasana. Better yet we would love to see pictures. Please do share.
Are you intrigued about an advanced yoga pose? If so, send it to us. It may just make the next pose blog.