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Balanced to the Core

Build strength and find serenity without leaving your home. This dynamic sequence will build strength and calm from the inside out.

By Elizabeth Winter with Lisa Black

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Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) can be intimidating for first-timers: You're lifting your hips, wrapping your legs around your arm, lowering your torso into a pushup position, balancing your entire body—and ideally maintaining a sense of calm, ease, and grace. If the pose seems out of reach, don't be discouraged. Focus on building arm and core strength, and over time you'll come to experience the empowerment and exhilaration Astavakrasana offers.

Lisa Black, owner of Shakti Vinyasa Yoga in Seattle, says, "As a teacher I use this pose to show students the possibility of reaching a seemingly unattainable goal." To that end, Black begins her sequence with foundational poses to prepare the body and build confidence, and encourages students to focus on strength-building poses such as Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose) and Eka Hasta Bhujasana (Elephant's Trunk Pose). Begin by holding each pose for three to five breaths, increasing the number of breaths over time.

The key to success in this pose? Black advocates remaining playful and having fun with the challenge. "I experience freedom, weightlessness, and a sense of elation when practicing Astavakrasana," she says. Include this sequence in your regular repertoire and, with patience and perseverance, you will, too.

Before you Begin

Salute. Warm up with 5 to 15 minutes of your favorite Sun Salutation.

Awaken. Energize your abdominal muscles with some core exercises—for example, reclining leg lifts.

1. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Begin in Plank Pose with your abdominals engaged and thighs lifted. Exhale and bend the elbows to 90 degrees, keeping them hugged into the ribs and drawing the shoulder blades back and down. Do not allow your shoulders to sink below your elbows. Press back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).

2. High Lunge, variation

Step your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand, coming into a lunge. Keeping the back thigh lifted, slide your right shoulder behind your right shin and press the shoulder forward into the calf.

3. Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)

Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hold the backs of your thighs, and straighten your spine. Rock back onto your sitting bones and lift your feet off the ground. Straighten the legs and lift them to a 45-degree angle, reaching your arms out in front of you.

4. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

From Dandasana (Staff Pose), bend the right knee and place the foot flat on the floor to the outside of your left knee. Bend the left knee, keeping the leg on the ground, so that the heel of the left foot is near your right hip. Inhale, lifting through the crown of the head and extending your left arm toward the ceiling. Exhale as you twist your torso to the right and slide the left elbow to the outside of the right knee. You can use the leverage of your elbow against the thigh to twist more deeply, but focus on twisting from your core.

5. Marichyasana I (Marichi's Twist)

Uncurl from your twist, extend your left leg straight out in front of you, and flex the foot. Place your right foot to the inside of your left thigh, with the heel as close to the right sitting bone as possible. Lengthen your torso forward over the left leg and wrap your right arm around the right shin, bringing your hand to your lower back. Reach your left hand around your back and clasp your fingers or a strap if your hands don't come together.

6. Rocking the Baby

Unclasp your hands, lift your torso, and draw your right knee in toward your chest. Open your knee to the right and place the sole of the right foot in the left elbow crease, wrapping both arms around the shin. Keep your shin parallel with the ground as you lift through the crown of the head.

7. Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose).

Sitting in Dandasana, pull the left heel in toward the right inner groin, keeping the leg on the ground. Pick up your right leg with the left hand, holding the outside of your right foot and allowing the right knee to bend. Turning the torso toward the left, slide your right shoulder under the right shin so that the leg stays high up on the arm. Place your right hand on the floor next to the right sitting bone and straighten that arm. Still holding your foot, straighten the right leg and pull your foot upward as you straighten your left arm overhead. Inhale and lift the spine before exhaling as you twist your torso to the left.

8. Eka Hasta Bhujasana (Elephant's Trunk Pose)

From Dandasana, take hold of your right leg with both hands and place the right knee as high as possible on your upper right arm, squeezing the arm with the leg. Keep your left leg fully extended and place both hands on the floor on either side of the hips. Exhale as you press through your palms and lift the sitting bones and left leg off the floor.

9. Astavakrasana(Eight-Angle Pose), preparation, variation

Lower the hips back onto the floor and cross the left ankle over the right while continuing to squeeze the right shin against the right arm. Straighten the legs out to the side, squeezing them toward each other.

10. Astavakrasana

Exhale and press your palms down to lift your sitting bones off the floor. Extend your legs farther out to the side while -pressing through the balls of the feet. Bend the elbows to 90 degrees, lowering your torso forward until the shoulders are in line with the elbows. Draw your shoulder blades down and toward each other. Lift your hips so that the tailbone is in line with the breastbone. Gaze straight ahead and allow the neck to be free from tension. Repeat the entire sequence on the other side.

After you Finish

Fold and Open
Practice: some seated forward bends and hip openers like Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose) and Pigeon Pose to cool the body and relax the mind.

Twist
Lie on your back and pull your right knee into your chest, keeping your left leg extended. Draw the knee across your body and lower it toward the floor as you open your right arm out to the side. Repeat on the left side.

Recline
Rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose) for 5 to 10 minutes to mark the end of your practice.

October 2008

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Reader Comments

Lynette

I would love to see a video of this to see how this is done

Carmen

Awesome! But how long should I be holding these poses for?

Jenna Gall

Awesome sequence!

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