The Legend of Ashtavakra
Two years ago, I was hit by a car on my bike. I doubled over, twisted and rolled on the pavement, and was left with injuries that changed my yoga practice fundamentally. I was suddenly crippled to the superflexible and easy practice I had known. Once, in class with a teacher I loved, everyone around me was blissing out to her complex sequence, and I was weeping in pain in a little ball on my mat.
Of course, yoga is not really about being able to flip and twist like you’ve never been hurt. Woven into the practice are stories and lessons to connect to as we move through the difficult task of living our yoga and our lives. Ashtavakrasana is a twisted, crooked arm balance named after the sage Ashtavakra (“eight crooks”), whose story is told in the Hindu text The Mahabharata. His story had an important lesson for me.
When Ashtavakra was a baby in his mother’s belly, he overheard his father mispronouncing a sacred prayer. At every mistake, the baby would squirm and giggle. This enraged his father, who cursed the baby to be born crippled, with eight crooks along his body.
But Ashtavakra was very intelligent, and still very quick to giggle. He lived his life as a sage, and one day won a battle of wits against the son of Varuna, the God of Water, who immersed him in the river Samanga, which cured him of his crooks and bends. Not that they bothered him.
His pose, Ashtavakrasana, looks very intimidating, but it can be surprisingly easy to achieve. Its very hooks and crooks press and snuggle into each other to facilitate lift and balance. Ashtavakra exemplifies the truth that just because things look rough from the outside, doesn’t mean there isn’t value, intelligence, and even sweetness on the inside. The hooks and crooks I developed after my bike accident taught me a lot about healing, integration, and how my body works. I became a better, stronger, and definitely smarter teacher, not despite these difficulties, but because of them.
This pose isn’t exactly easy, but give it a try: if you fall over, you might get a good giggle out of it!
Warm up with a few sun salutations. Hip opening, twists, and core strength all help to access this pose.
Start in Dandasana.
Lean to the left so that you can hook your right leg around your right arm, as high as possible, but at least above the elbow.
Plant your hands a little ahead of your sitbones, so that you are leaning forward. Your bum is going to need to lift up and back behind you. Then hook your left ankle over top of your right one, feet flexed.
Squeeze your inner thighs around your arm (a LOT), then lean forward, lifting through the core, and begin to straighten your hooked up legs. as you lower your chest forward and down like you would for Chaturanga.