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Eight-Angle Pose

Fire up your abs for this difficult asymmetrical arm balance, Eight-Angle Pose.


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

While Astavakrasana is a powerful upper-back strengthener, it’s important to build up both core and back strength before trying it. The more strength you have, the less likely you are to dump all of your weight into your shoulders, elbows, and wrists when you push up. Take your time over weeks or even months doing poses like Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) with good alignment to get your upper back and core in shape to bear weight safely in this peak pose.

Pressing your thighs together in this strength-building posture can help you float into the pose, says yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti. (The bottom leg tends to lag, so squeeze it firmly against your upper arm.) If that action causes a slight shift in your positioning, that’s OK, as long as you adjust your arms to compensate. “It’s OK if the weight of the legs pushes the shoulders down—just actively move the shoulders back enough to prevent them from getting overpowered,” she says.

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Sanskrit

Astavakrasana (ahsh-tah-vah-KRAHS-ah-nah)

asta = eight

vakra = bent, curved

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Eight-Angle Pose basics

Pose type: Arm balance

Targets: Upper body

Benefits: Eight-Angle Pose strengthens your back, arms, and abdominals; and it stretches the back body and back of the legs.  It improves your posture and body awareness. Astavakrasana can boost energy, fight fatigue, and help build confidence.

Other Eight-Angle Pose perks:

  • Strengthens your thighs, core, chest, arms, and back of your wrists (wrist extensors)
  • Stretches the palm sides of your wrists (wrist flexors), which counteracts the effects of typing
  • Provides a twist to the lumbar spine
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How to

  1. Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose).
  2. Bend your right knee, draw your thigh out toward the right side, and bring your right knee over your right shoulder. Firmly press your right leg into the arm to stabilize yourself. (If your leg does not make it onto your shoulder, hold it with both hands as high as you can comfortably maintain.)
  3. Tilt yourself slightly forward and place your hands on the floor on either side of your hips about shoulder-width apart. Continue to grip your right shoulder with your right calf and inner thigh.
  4. Press your hands into the mat and engage your abdominal muscles to lift your hips and left leg.
  5. Hook your left ankle over your right ankle and press your ankles together. Draw your inner thighs toward your upper arm, then bring your chest forward and bend your elbows while swinging your legs to the right.
  6. Press through your heels to straighten your legs. Breathe here.
  7. To exit the pose, inhale to lift your chest and swing your legs back toward the center of the mat. Exhale, uncross your ankles, and return to Dandasana.
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Beginner tips

If you find it difficult to balance in this pose, rest your bottom hip and leg on a bolster.

Explore the pose

Learning Astavakrasana can help you develop physical strength and flexibility as well as patience and self-awareness. A willingness to play with this movement, to try and fail, and to observe the effects of your actions will teach you about yourself and your practice.

Observe—without judging—the positioning of your legs. Does your top leg stay hooked over your shoulder? How much lift is in the leg underneath?  How much extension are you able to achieve with your legs?

As you try to lift your legs, draw your navel toward your spine; that action in itself will help you become stronger.

Be mindful!

  • Avoid this pose if you have any wrist, elbow, or shoulder injuries.
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Teacher tips

These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:

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Variations

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Eight-Angle Pose with blocks

Place blocks on the lowest height under your hands to create more space for you to lift into the pose.

While you’re still learning the pose, keep your torso upright rather than leaning forward. This helps you maintain your balance. Eventually, slowly lean your torso forward as you keep your legs lifted. Stay here as long as you can.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Side Crane Pose

If your hamstrings are tight, you can instead practice Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane Pose) to build arm strength. Draw your elbows toward your body as you would in Chaturanga Dandasana.

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Why we love this pose

“I sat back in class and quietly watched other students find their way into this pose for, quite literally, years. It just seemed…beyond me,” says Yoga Journal Senior Editor Renee Schettler. “That is until I started taking classes taught by Justin Levine at a studio in Phoenix. Thanks to his challenging and smartly designed sequencing, when we got to Astavakrasana, it honestly seemed the next logical way to position my body. Of course I would put my knee behind my shoulder! I flailed and flopped at first. (Not unlike my first attempts at a lot of things in life.) I suspect coming into the pose has to do with equal parts smart sequencing, arm and core strength, reaching through your heels, breathwork, humor, and relentlessness. But mostly, to me, it’s about the fact that you are usually stronger than you think. Even in your flailing.”

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Preparatory and counter poses

The more complicated the pose you’re attempting, the more preparation and warmup your body requires to properly open and engage it in similar ways. These preparatory poses mimic Astavakrasana by engaging your shoulders, abdominals, arms, and legs in the same manner. The counter poses release tension in these same areas.

Preparatory poses

Plank Pose

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)

Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)

Bakasana | Kakasana (Crane Pose | Crow Pose)

Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane Pose)

Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)

Marichyasana III

Counter poses

Dandasana (Staff Pose)

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Anatomy

Astavakrasana combines the components of a twist and an arm balance, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher. It’s a complicated pose, yet parts of it will feel familiar since your arms are in a similar position to Chaturanga Dandasana.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

(Photo: Chris Macivor)

Overall, the pose stretches the lower-side erector spinae and spinal rotators.

(Photo: Chris Macivor)

The gluteus maximus muscles lengthen from flexing the hips. The hamstrings and gastrocnemeus/soleus complex are stretched. Your oblique abdominals and transverse abdominus muscles are also lengthened.

When you flex your hips, you use the psoas and its synergists—the adductors longus and brevis and the pectineus. The tensor fascia lata and gluteus minimus also contribute to this action. When you bend and twist slightly to the side, you do so by engaging the rectineus abdominus and oblique abdominals.

As you straighten your knees with your feet crossed, it causes your legs to squeeze your arm. This action stabilizes the pose. A lock, or bandha, is formed where your legs wrap around your arm. Press your arm back into your legs while trying to straighten your elbows, producing a counterforce. These opposing actions take the effort of the pose into the bones and ligaments rather than the muscles to stabilize the pose.

(Photo: Chris Macivor)

Another action to take when you straighten your knees is to evert the feet (turn them outward) by engaging the peroneus longus and brevis muscles at the sides of your lower legs. This locks your ankles together. Also, attempt to pull your feet apart. Pull harder on the upper-side leg to engage the gluteus medius and tensor fascia lata more forcefully on this side. This draws your legs deeper into the twist, turning the pelvis in the opposite direction of the shoulders.

(Photo: Chris Macivor)

Press the mounds at the base of your index fingers into the mat by contracting the pronators teres and quadratus. Stabilize the elbows by engaging the triceps. Use the pectoralis major to press the body upward, holding your elbows close to your torso. The anterior deltoids aid to lift your trunk. Visualize the serratus anterior pulling the scapulae forward and tethering them to your throat. These are the same muscles that engage in Chaturanga Dandasana to lift your body from the floor.

Draw your shoulder blades toward the midline to contract the rhomboids. Externally rotate your shoulders by engaging the infraspinatusteres minor, and posterior deltoids. This works in conjunction with the muscles that pronate your forearms.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions by Ray Long

Put Eight-Angle Pose into practice

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About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.