Kathryn Budig Challenge Pose: Ashtavakrasana

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Ashtavakrasana hits the road in Sydney, New South Wales.

I love Australia.

I just got back from a week in beautiful Sydney teaching workshops at Power Living and soaking up all it's amazing energy. It's the beginning of their autumn, but just like Los Angeles, autumn there is gorgeous. I found myself lounging on Manly Beach watching Australians of all different ages, genders, and body shapes stride right into the water and into the waves. As a ground-loving Kansas girl, this completely astounded me--they were so ballsy! They felt no cold as the water hit their sweet spots, just determination to get into those waves and own them.

Australians are tough.

I had one particular Australian take me on a motorcycle tour of the city knowing that I wanted some great shots with the Opera House and Harbor Bridge in the background. We pulled up to a huge grassy knoll in the Botanical Gardens, which I thought was a perfect spot, but no--too simple. He pulled me over to the waters' edge and pointed to a rather large fence followed by an extremely tall pole dangerously close to the water where big hungry Australia sharks like to lurk.

I took a deep breath and channeled my inner Australian and went for it. Result? Possibly my favorite photo of all time. I chose Ashtavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) because it somehow worked in my precarious situation and I knew I had to cover the pose for Yoga Journal upon my return.

Ashtavakrasana is just like being an Australian bulldozing your way into the ocean--own it. There are lots of steps to getting into the full expression but each one is powerful, expansive and will make you feel 100 percent alive. Oh, and please practice this on the floor. We'll save the pole balancing for next week.

Step 1:

Begin seated with both legs extended. Bend the left knee and lift the shin bone up externally rotating from the hip socket. From this position you're going to cradle your shin: Take the inner left elbow around the left knee and the inner right elbow to the sole of the left foot. Sit tall staying on the tripod of your tailbone and sitz bones. Gently pull the foot in closer towards the right shoulder to further the rotation and opening of the hip. You can also focus on trying to make the foot level with the knee to deepen the sensation, but remember--be patient! No pushing in hip openers. Go for sensation, not pain.

Step 2:

The next step is to further the hip opening through a nice snuggle process. Take the left hand under the left calf and the right hand to the sole of the foot. Carefully push the knee out towards the left then give it a little boost up the arm. Continue this process until your inner left leg has journeyed closer to your left shoulder. When you can further the process anymore, hug the left inner thigh around the shoulder and place both hands down to either side of the hips. Activate the toes and keep the chest lifting. If this is plenty intensity, hold her for 8 breaths and release.

Step 3:

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Maintain the hug of the inner left thigh around the shoulder and bend both knees. Lightly cross the right ankle over the left.

Now imagine that your left arm is a huge grapefruit and juice it! Hug both inner thighs around the left arm as the legs extend up and toward straight. Keep the heart lifting and the palms on the ground for balance. The good news is this IS Ashtavakrasana, we just need to tilt it forward! This is a great variation to work to strengthen the hip flexors and legs to prep for the full pose.

Step 4:

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Keep the enthusiasm in your legs and place the palms flat shoulder-width apart slightly forward of the hips. Extend the heart forward as the elbows bend and continue to hug inward (elbows over wrists). Once the elbows are in full Chaturanga, draw the lower belly up, squeeze (juice!) the inner thighs and swing the hips up to the level of the shoulders. Be careful not to collapse in right shoulder--you want to maintain even shoulders to create a strong platform of balance. Keep the crossing of the ankles dainty and spread the toes. Take a few full breaths here and set the bottom back down to release.

Kathryn Budig is a yoga teacher, writer, philanthropist, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen + Yoga Journal blogger, foodie, and lover of her dog. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook or on her website.