A path to the powerful heart, beyond the surface

Wari Om Yoga Photography

This is by far my favorite asana. There is a feeling of power, of self control and while we ask our body to do a whole lot of work to get us here, the internal work, the mind and heart connection is by far the hardest.

Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) is a challenging but exquisitely rewarding posture that requires strength, flexibility, balance, and confidence.

Physically speaking, we need to prepare our hips (so we perform a few hip openers), we need to prepare our upper body (you can see the Chaturanga arms), we need to work our legs in order to feel the strength that we will need to “squeeze” the arm and we will also need to work those hamstrings.

A few years ago, I used to get into this pose like nothing, it was so easy for me, I knew how strong I was, I thought I knew it all, I was young… now, after several sport related injuries (ACL rupture on the left knee, Rotator cuff injury on the right shoulder, herniated disc on the cervical area), a big abdominal surgery (hysterectomy) that made my body lost the connection to the core and gave me a herniated disc on the L5/S1 region, and all the heart breaking experiences that I had gone through my life, I feel like I do know a bit better, we are not the ones controlling our lives, we are just learning how to surf the ocean that life is, wave after wave fully living the moment.

The name of this asana, comes after the sage Astavakra. According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, when Astavakra was in his mother’s womb, his father Kagola recited the Vedas (sacred texts) inaccurately, making the unborn child laugh. Kagola, furious, put a curse on the baby to be born bent in eight places, “Astavakra” meaning eight bends.

Despite the physical challenges he faced, Astavakra prevailed as a wise and patient man, highly connected with his Self. In the Astavakra Gita, we read the following: “If you wish to be free, Know you are the Self, The witness of all these, The heart of awareness. Set your body aside. Sit in your own awareness. You will at once be happy, Forever still, Forever free.” (From the Ashtavakra Gita translation Heart of Awareness by Thomas Byron.) 

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, marching to the palace of King Janaka.

Arriving at the palace, Astavakra was humiliated and disappointed as the men laughed at his appearance. He had expected the palace to be a place where learned men would have philosophical discussions. Astavakra said to King Janaka, “I don’t see any learned men. All I see are cobblers; men who see only a person’s skin and who judge by their appearance. “

King Janaka begged for forgiveness and after losing in a philosophical debate with Astavakra gave Kagola his freedom back.

Astavakra became King Janaka’s guru, and his father, feeling so proud, lifted the curse.

This story is a reminder that we are so much more than our physical body, we are pure and powerful energy, we need to learn to move away from our bodies and our physical limitations, and connect deeply with our hearts, becoming more aware of the intrinsic power within, becoming aware of the Self.

It took me a few weeks while doing this asana, to get back to feeling safe and strong again. It took a few attempts to get more open in my hips, so my knee would stay above my shoulder, more core strength, so I could lift my hips from the floor, lots of failing, lots of laughing, lots of breath work, lots of connecting towards feeling when you are ready to fly… when you had found the path to reconnecting with the heart… you just let it unfold and amazed you showing you how strong you really are.

A sequence to get there

Start by doing a few rounds of Cats/Cows, follow by a few rounds of Sun Salutations. Then try these poses:

  1. Virabhadrasana II, because we always need to strengthen and ground ourselves.
  2. Utthita Parsvakonasana, try to get your bottom hand to the floor (use blocks to bring the floor closer)
  3. Lizard Lunge. Work to get your forearms to the floor with your shoulders lower than your knee (again, use blocks and don’t force it)
  4. Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. This one is more tricky, so take your time.
  5. Navasana to build core strength for the arm balance.
  6. Seated Astavakrasana. Keep doing this one if the arm balance is not there yet.
  7. Seated Baby Cradle to loosen the hip.
  8. Eka Hasta Bhujasana. The challenge here is to bring that knee high! While your knee hugs your arm, press into your hands, draw your belly into a Cat and lift yourself off of the floor.
  9. Astavakrasana. Once you are lifted, holding Eka Hasta Bhujasana, cross your straight leg ankle over your bent one to “squeeze” your legs onto your arm. Then bend your elbows and tip forward like you are doing Chaturanga and you are done, or maybe not yet. This part takes some time.

    Give it a try, enjoy and have fun!

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