August Focus: Ashtavakrasana

Ashtavakrasana, or Eight-Limb Crooked Pose


Ashtavakrasana is a beautiful pose, with many aspects that can inspire us, and there are many poses that can prepare us for its full expression. The story behind the pose teaches us to find the truth within ourselves, and to stand, balanced in our truth, from the deep resolve of our spirit. We take our shaky limbs and our trembling hearts and prepare slowly, step by step, from simpler physical acts to more difficult ones, building our strength and our courage simultaneously.

Ashtavakrasana combines the challenge of arm balancing, requiring strength, with the courage needed to dispel doubt. It is a pose that asks for an unusual coordination of leg-to-arm strength. While seated, we use the legs to squeeze around the arm, then tip forward into chaturanga, actually giving the practitioner great lightness of limbs, making this intriguing arm balance possible.

We’ll explore poses where we can practice both balancing and building strength with poses like earring (lolasana), and scale (tolasana). We also need flexibility with this pose to get the leg around the shoulder, and compass (parivrtta surya yantrasana), and archer (arcana dhanurasana) are two that will readily assist.

Ashtavakrasana is named after a wise boy with crooked limbs who bravely stood up to King Janaka and the court. The story goes:

King Janaka, after waking from a disturbing dream, became obsessed with knowing who he was and the idea of Self-Realization. After some of his ministers failed to give him a satisfying answer, he had them thrown into the dungeon.

Ashtavakra was a boy living with his parents. His father was called to answer the king’s question. When he didn’t return, his mother was very worried and Ashtavakra went to see the king in order to free his father.

As he walked into the court, he was immediately mocked for his physical disabilities. Looking up at the king, the boy spoke out loudly, “King Janaka, why have you filled your court with cobblers?”

A shocked silence filled the great hall, and the king asked calmly, “Why do you belittle my most trusted ministers like this? Don’t you know they are my most respected advisors?”

Ashtavakra replied, “They must be shoemakers, because they look at me and see only my leather; only my deformities and my young age. Do they not know that the soul is not limited to age or to this physical body?”

The king understood and all the court felt deeply embarrassed. Ashtavakra then sat on the chair reserved for those trying to answer the king’s question.

After hearing the king’s dream, Ashtavakra spoke: “All things change and that which remains true is within us. Feeling that reality within dispels all doubts, but thinking and talking only leads to more doubt and discontentment. If you truly want to know yourself, I have that mirror and I can help.”

The king’s heart opened to the wise young boy and they became best of friends: King Janaka became a student of the young boy and Ashtavakra’s father along with the other prisoners, was released.