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YogaJournal.com is challenging you to get in the season’s thankful state of mind with gratitude-geared practices all month long. Share yours using #yjgratitudechallenge.
I am immensely grateful for the practice of yoga and what it provides me. My appreciation used to be for the physical benefits—the strength and the shape it gave my body, the amazing postures I could execute with enough discipline, and the knowledge that my body and mind linked together are endlessly powerful.
After tending to a shoulder injury for the past month, though, I became grateful for yoga in a very different way. Replacing all vinyasa with simple yin and long walks made me thankful for its patience; for the permission to rest and take a break; for the reassurance that it would be right there waiting for me whenever I was ready to return.
Taking that month to let my shoulder recover left me feeling strong and connected. I chose this posture as a celebration of my gratitude to the practice for waiting for me and a demonstration of my love for my (healthy-again) shoulder. How better to show love than with a hug?
I hope you’ll enjoy this fun variation on the traditional shoulder-hugging Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) as much as I do. It’s a next step for those of you looking to spice up the traditional pose a bit. If Astavakrasana is new to you, then let that be your journey! Or take it from me, hanging out in Step 1 or deciding that today isn’t a great time for asana at all are both totally valid. No matter what, be honest and gracious with your choices and know that yoga is always here to offer you just what you need.
Step 1: Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Step your right foot forward between your hands. Bring both of your hands to the inside of your front foot as you wiggle your right foot over to the right side a few inches. Stay on the ball of your back foot with your feet hip-width apart and your back leg straight. (Modification: Feel free to drop your back knee if this version is too intense.) Grab your right calf with your right hand and begin to wiggle your shoulder behind your right leg as if you were putting on a backpack strap. Once the shoulder is as deep as it will comfortably go, place both hands onto the ground shoulder-width apart, fingertips facing forward, and heels of your hands below your elbows. Extend your heart and your gaze forward as you drop your elbows to a 90° angle. Take 8 breaths or hold up to a minute.
Step 2: Prep Pose
Start sitting with both legs extended in front of you in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your right knee grabbing the inside of your shin with both hands. Then reach for your foot with your left hand and calf with your right hand. Gently press your shin back with your left hand, boosting it up with your right hand. This is the same actions as in Step 1, where you’re trying to put on your backpack strap. Try this 2–3 times or until your hip has opened as much as it wants to. Hug your right thigh to the midline, as if you were velcroing your thigh to your torso. Place both hands next to your hips and elevate your right shin parallel to the ground to fire up your core. Hold for 8 breaths.
Step 3: Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose)
Clearly this is a huge peak pose on it’s own, so if this posture is new to you, explore it on its own first. Otherwise, let’s kick it from here! Maintain the shape from Step 2, as you bend your left knee and hook that foot over your right one. Squeeze your inner thighs together so they’re sandwiching your right arm. (No joke, really try to hold onto your arm with your legs.) Keep squeezing as you inhale and lean back. Exhale as you rock forward pushing into your hands to lift your seat. The action to think of here is FORWARD. Bend your elbows to a full Chaturanga position as you squeeze and extend your legs toward straight. Gaze forward and level your shoulders. Hug your elbows toward the midline. Hold just long enough to find this shape, and then move to…
Step 4: Eight-Angle Shoulder Hug (Astavakrasana, variation)
Keep the shape of Astavakrasana, but undo the crossing of your ankles. You’ll need to keep hugging your inner thighs to your arm to prevent collapsing. Now let’s amp up the hug. Keeping your top leg where it is, straighten, engage, and powerfully extend it. Then bend your bottom leg, hugging your left heel toward your bottom. You’ll notice the leg wants slip down; draw your inner thigh up as much as you can toward the crook of your elbow. Try to take 5–8 breaths here and be grateful for the amazing moments that your body and discipline provide you!
About Kathryn Budig
Kathryn Budig is the yoga teacher behind AIM TRUE, a regular writer for Yoga Journal, and a presenter at YogaJournal LIVE!