By Lauryn Allman
Astavakrasana is twisty for our tongues to say – and for our bodies to do. This month's yoga pose of the month is otherwise known as eight-angle pose, this posture is not only great for working the arms but also for strengthening your spine and increasing digestion.
Twists and arm balances are challenging in and of themselves. So it’s unsurprising that adding them together into one posture can seem a little daunting.
That’s why ‘letting go of perfection’ is the perfect theme to keep in mind when approaching our pose of the month. How do I know this? The theme is embedded in the very story of the posture.
Legend has it that the sage Astavakra was born with eight crooked (or eight ‘angled’) limbs. Despite being a wise philosopher and a learned scholar by the age of 10, Astavakra was first and foremost judged by how he looked. In winning a debate against a king and being named this king’s teacher, Astavakra was eventually recognised and appreciated for more than his physical appearance. He was recognised for being himself.
Despite the challenge brought about when approaching this posture, can we learn from the very story that named the pose in order to help us master it?
Yogis come in all different body shapes, sizes and ages, along with varying levels of strength and flexibility.When we let go of perfection, of what we think our practice should look like,this pose becomes a powerful reminder that you can shine proudly just as you are. The steps below will help you on your journey.
1 Stop worrying about what we look like
If there is one piece of advice I could give to everyone, it is that yoga is not about what you look like – despite what Instagram tells us. Yoga is all about how we feel.
Whether it’s a Warrior One or Astavakrasana, yoga is a practice of meeting yourself on the mat exactly as you are on any given day. For many reasons that might mean that you won’t master the pose on the first attempt… or perhaps even on the two thousandth!That is not only perfectly fine, it’s also perfectly normal.
You are a strong rider because you kept hopping in the saddle even if you couldn’t stay on the right foot, even if you couldn’t get on the beat, even if you accidentally unclipped and nearly fell off your bike multiple times... (No? Just me?)
The more you come back to the mat and try again, the more natural and the less strange it will feel and the less you will care what you look like.
2 Let go... literally!
My teacher liked to say that the best yogis know how to fall. When we knock ourselves off balance, we are moving beyond our current limit! We are forging new frontiers! (Even if that frontier looks an awful lot like the floor.)
The good news is that Astavakrasana is nice and close to the floor so we don’t have very far to fall.If you’re nervous about falling, here are my top tips:
-When you get wobbly, remind yourself to put your toes down first
-Engage your core to help with stability
-Use pillows – lots and lots of pillows!
3 Celebrate who you are right now
This doesn’t mean that we don’t still have goals or that we stop striving for greatness. Celebrating who we are just as we are is the release of pressure from trying to hit an unrealisticgold standard. It allows us be human and to recognise that humanity in others.
This means that we don’t have to wait for an imagined day in the future when we will finally have it all together and will be exactly how we always hoped and dreamed we would be. Letting go of perfection allows us to celebrate who we are today and to extend that kind of invitation to everyone around u
When you’re having a great time at the party, it’s hard to stop yourself from getting others to join you on the dance floor, right?
4 Open to possibility
When we aren’t concentrated on being perfect, suddenly a whole horizon of possibilities opens up to us. Instead of rigidly focusing on only one possible outcome, the world becomes our playground. When a ‘mistake’ occurs, let the air become electric, watch everyone sit up a little taller and listen more intently. Suddenly everyone becomes more engaged with what is happening. We get excited because it feels like we are witnessing real magic.
The next time your work day, your date or your vacation with the kids doesn’t go according to plan; can you allow yourself to let go of how it was supposed to be and instead zoom in on what new, exciting, unplanned direction it could go in now?
5 Just ride
See what I did there?When we allow ourselves to be open to possibility, when we celebrate who we are here and now, when we stop worrying about what we look like and allow ourselves to fall, a certain kind of relaxation opens up within us.
Like anything, this takes practise. Letting go of perfection is a skill built as an accumulation of moments. The more we give ourselves permission to be in this practice the more we will find ease and relief in every day life. When we trust that the outcome doesn’t have to be perfect, we allow ourselves to just ride.
An overview of Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana)
Eight-angle pose is a fun yet challenging pose that forms the peak of a yoga sequence. It is a combination of a strong arm-balance, deep twist and hip opener.
This pose stretches the side body and hamstrings while also working the musculature of the shoulders, hips and legs. It requires core stability while also working all layers of the core, particularly the obliques.
Practising this asana gives us a wonderful opportunity to develop our physical balance that in turn helps us to grow our level of focus, resilience and stamina. Challenging arm-balances like this help us to conquer our fears on and off the yoga mat.
The benefits of Eight-Angle Pose
-Buildsstrength in the hands, wrists, forearms, elbow joints, shoulder joints and shoulder girdles (collar bones and shoulder blades)
-Improves hip joint mobility and helps to strengthen the hip flexors and inner thigh muscles
-Develops core musculature; tranvserse abdominus, obliques and rectus abdominus
-Improves mobility in the thoracic spine and creates length along the side of torso that improves both the posture and breathing
-Improves stamina, focus and concentration
-Helps to develop balance and spatial awareness
-Encourages us to trust ourselves and overcome fears
Contraindications to practising Eight-Angle Pose
It is suggested that eight-angle pose may not be an appropriate asana to practise if you have existing wrist, elbow or rotator cuff injuries, although modifications are always available.
Here are some variations and helpful modifications:
-A good warm up for this pose is to come into Lizard Pose and begin to thread your shoulder under your front knee.
-Another preparatory pose is Eka Hasta Bhajasana (Elephant’s Trunk) where, from Dandasana, you lift one leg and thread it over your shoulder.
-If you are struggling with the lift-off, place the unbound elbow on the mat. Either place that hand to your chin or clasp the opposite wrist.
Top tips for Eight-Angle Pose
-Keep your hands as active as possible by spreading your fingers wide and energetically squeezing your thumbs and index fingers towards each other
-Broaden your back by wrapping (protracting) your shoulder blades and drawing them away from your ears
-Draw your lower belly up and in
-Send your hips back and you send your torso forward
-Hug your legs tightly together