Today’s pose begins with the story of Astavakra, who was born with a crippled body that was bent in eight places. Inside that broken body lived a great sage. Using a stick, Astravakra journeyed very far to the king’s court where he was determined to learn even more from the wise men studying philosophy there. But when he arrived they all laughed at his condition. He laughed with them, but he was actually crying. When the king asked for an explanation, Astravakra said that he had wasted all his time and effort, because all the supposedly wise men were actually only shoemakers. They focused on the quality of the skin rather than the depth of the soul. The philosophers were ashamed and realized the truth of his words. Over time they learned a great deal more from Astravakra about the depth of the soul and the interior life.
Eight Angle Pose is a pose to honor effort and overcoming obstacles. It is a pose that looks hard, but can be surprisingly easy when you put forth the effort and have faith that you can do it. When I first saw this pose I just assumed that I couldn’t do it. I tried it about a year ago and by incorporating two important steps, I was able to fly.
First, warm up with a few sun salutations. Hip openers like Pigeon Pose can help too. When you’re ready to try Astavakrasana, begin seated in Stick Pose. The first important step is to lift one leg up and sling it over the back of your shoulder like a backpack. Get it as high on your shoulder as you can. Place your hands on the ground next to your hips and bend your elbows slightly. Draw in your free leg and cross it over your raised ankle. Next comes the second important step: lifting your heart. Shift your weight onto your hands and fly! Straighten your legs as much as you can while you keep lifting your heart area.
This second step – lifting your heart – is probably the most meaningful aspect of the pose and Astavakra’s story. What lives inside you is infinitely more important than the quality of your skin. Are you cultivating love, compassion and respect, both for yourself and others? Are you lifting your heart to the world and letting it shine?
Story adapted from Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij. Video of K. Mae Copham in Central Park, NYC, April 28, 2017 by Robert Oakley. Coloring by K. Mae Copham from Yoga Teddy Bear: The Big Little ColoringBook of 108 Yoga Poses.