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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.
Eight-Angle Pose basics
Sanskrit: Astavakrasana (ahsh-tah-vah-krahs-ah-nah)
Pose type: Arm balance
Targets: Upper body
Why We Love It: “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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Eight-Angle Pose improves postural and body awareness, boosts energy, and can help build confidence.
Eight-Angle Pose: Step-by-step instructions
- Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose).
- 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.)
- 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.
- Press your hands into the mat and engage your abdominal muscles to lift your hips and left leg.
- 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.
- Press through your heels to straighten your legs. Breathe here.
- 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.
If you find it difficult to balance in this pose, rest your bottom hip and leg on a bolster.
These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- To avoid injury, warm up before coming into this arm balance; move mindfully in and out of the pose.
- Use your abdominal muscles—not your arms—to lift your hips. Build core strength in poses such as Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose) and Plank Pose,
- Practice hamstring stretches, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose).
- Place your hands about a foot in front of your hips in order to bend your elbows and lift your hips.
Variation: 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. If you like, keep your torso upright rather than leaning forward while you’re still learning the pose to maintain your balance.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)