Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) is a challenging arm balance that requires balance, flexibility, and a strong core and arms. This pose is named after Astavakra, an ancient Vedic sage who is believed to have been born with eight deformities after being cursed by his father while still in the womb.
Proper form and balance are critical to the pose. It relies on the familiar arm positioning of Chaturanga Dandasana in which you keep your shoulders in line with your elbows to give your upper body a strong foundation. But it’s not all in your arms; much of the lift in this pose comes from your abdominals.
A trick when coming into this posture is to be certain to press your top le towards your shoulder, says yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti. “Your leg will likely slip off your shoulder and that’s OK—just make sure it sticks to your arm,” she says. Also, after you cross your feet, hook your ankles tightly against one another. Then press your heels away from you to straighten your legs as you squeeze your arm with both thighs.
If you’re building up to this pose, use your props. For example, place a bolster under your bottom hip and leg to help find balance. Or bring blocks beneath your hands (see the variations below) to help give yourself lift. Remember, the pose will be there when you are ready for it.
Eight-Angle Pose basics
Sanskrit: Astavakrasana (ahsh-tah-vah-KRAHS-ah-nah)
asta = eight
vakra = bent, curved
Pose type: Arm balance
Targets: Upper body
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
- 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.
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.
- Avoid this pose if you have any wrist, elbow, or shoulder injuries.
Upright Eight-Angle Pose with blocks
Cross your ankles but keep your torso upright rather than leaning forward. Place blocks on the lowest height under your hands to create more space to lift into the pose.
Lifted Eight-Angle Pose with blocks
Come into the pose with blocks as described in the variation above. Then slowly lean your torso forward as you keep your legs lifted off the mat. Stay here as long as you can.
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.
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.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Your body in Eight-Angle Pose | 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.
Overall, the pose stretches the lower-side erector spinae and spinal rotators.
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.
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.
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 infraspinatus, teres minor, and posterior deltoids. This works in conjunction with the muscles that pronate your forearms.
Put Eight-Angle Pose into practice
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.