Words by Helen Watkins
Astavakra, the sage that was bent in eight places.
Last month we discovered the story behind the Warrior poses, and this month let me introduce you to the beautiful story of Astavakra, which inspired the Eight Angle Pose.
Astavakrasana or Eight Angle Pose
This asana is dedicated to a sage named Astavakra, which translates as Asta = Eight and Vakra = Bent.
The story begins as Astavakra was inside his mother's womb. He heard his father reciting the Vedas (sacred texts) and caught him making several mistakes. The unborn baby started laughing; which made his father so mad that he cursed his son to be born crooked in eight places as Astavakra. Although Astavakra was born crooked in eight places, he was extremely wise.
Years later, his father was defeated in a philosophical debate and imprisoned. Astavakra decided to regain his father’s freedom and embarked on a very difficult journey, considering he is bent in eight places, which took him thirty days of walking to the palace of King Janaka.
Once he arrived, Astavakra was humiliated and disappointed. He had hoped for the palace to be a place where learned men were having philosophical discussions, but he only found people who laughed at his appearance. Astavakra said to King Janaka “I do not see any learned men. All I see is shoemakers; men who see only a person’s skin and who judge me by this superficial measure. "
King Janaka realised the truth in Astavakra’s words and asked for his forgiveness. After which Astavakra avenged his father in a philosophical debate and gained him back his freedom.
Astavakra became King Janaka’s preceptor, and his father was so proud that he took him to the holy river to lift the curse and heal his bent body.
This story is a reminder that yoga welcomes all bodies and that no one should be judged only by their appearance.
How to practice Astavakrasana or Eight Angle pose:
This pose is best practiced warmed up: focus on opening the hips, and strengthening the core and shoulders before attempting it.
Step 1: Carry your leg like a handbag!
Grab your foot, and place your leg behind your arm. You want to bring the leg the closest you can to your shoulder, or even on top of the shoulder if you can, as this will help to keep the leg in place. Press the arm and leg firmly into each other.
If your leg slides off you will struggle for the next steps. It is absolutely ok to work on this first. The more your hips are open, the easier it will be!
Step 2: Hook your feet together!
Your leg is firmly placed on your shoulder, as showed in step 1, and you are now placing your hands shoulder distance apart, fingers wide, pressing your fingertips on the ground.
Lift the foot that has been resting on the ground, and hook your feet together by crossing the ankles.
Step 3: Lift that bum off the floor!
The leg has not moved, still placed next to or on top of your shoulder. Bring your weight gently forward and lift your bum off the floor. Think balance here, if you bring your weight too much forward, you will fall on your face, and if you don’t bring your weight enough forward, lifting up will be very hard! Play with the shape to find the right placement for your body.
A little trick here; if you struggle (and feel that your arms are not long enough) place some hard blocks under your hands, it should make it slightly easier.
Step 4: Extend your legs across!
The last, and probably the trickiest part is coming. Don’t get frustrated if you do not succeed the first time, falling is part of the process.
Keep the leg next to or on top of the shoulder, the bum off the floor, and continue to bring your weight forward as you simultaneously bend your elbows. We are aiming for a 90° angle here, like with chaturanga arms. If you find this part very hard, maybe you need to work more on your upper body strength.
When your upper body is stable, start extending the legs away from you, squeezing the feet and thighs firmly together.
That’s the full pose! Have fun with it, and remember to practice both side.
Helen is a performer and a Yoga teacher. She teaches Vinyasa Flow, Yin, and Meditation in Paris. Her classes are catered for busy city lifestyle people who need to reconnect with themselves in movement as well as in stillness. She regularly leads workshops and retreats, find more about her work at www.helenwatkins.yoga and follow her yogic journey on instagram @LnWatkins
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