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Our lives are full of things we can objectively succeed at doing, and sometimes we make yoga one of those things. We might see a pose like Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) and, rather than consider “How might this asana help toward building strength?” or “How can I explore subjective physical challenging yet non-grasping toward an end goal?” we instead tend to ask, “How do I achieve this cool shape?”
What results is a pose that, on quick inspection, roughly represents the asana, but doesn’t particularly embody it.
Prep for Eight-Angle Pose
Let’s break down Eight-Angle Pose into its essential requirements. You’ve got most of your body weight in your arms, with the external rotator muscles engaged and going no deeper than in a Chaturanga. If a stable Chaturanga is hard for you, of course doing Chaturanga with more weight, for a longer amount of time, and while executing a complex balancing pose is going to be even harder!
On top of that, Eight-Angle Pose is a very significant twist, with your pelvis and chest almost at a 90-degree angle in relation to each other. You’ll need more than a little core strength to get your bum off the floor—exactly how much you need will vary significantly depending on your personal proportions and weight distribution.
All this means that your long- and short-term preparations for Eight-Angle Pose need to address these factors. They’re relatively obvious, though, and I’d like to look instead at a couple of the less in-your-face actions that are often overlooked and neglected.
Engage your legs
First, pay attention to the engagement of your inner legs. Given the chance, many yogis will externally rotate legs at every opportunity to create some height or drama; think a split–Downward-Facing Dog with plenty of drama, ballet point, and turn out! There’s nothing fundamentally bad about this, but strength in the other direction is often neglected. We want those adductor muscles, which draw your legs toward the center of your mat, to fire up.
In Eight-Angle Pose, I encourage the legs to actively squeeze together against the arm; that’s not so hard for the top leg, but the bottom leg would like to dangle free. Crossing the angles by placing your bottom leg on top, will give you a little more leverage to get that juicy squeeze so you can feel strong in the pose.
See also: Yoga Anatomy 101: Adductor Know-How
Extend your upper back
The second less-considered action in this arm balance (and many others) is creating some feeling of upper back extension, while the arms bend to a strong, stable Chaturanga. If you’re not thinking about lengthening the front of your torso and engaging the back of your torso, those shoulders will likely nose-dive toward the floor, which is not a great action, especially when you’re in a weight-bearing arm balance. Before you try to teach or do this action in a demanding pose, it makes sense to get familiar with the action in more accessible poses such as Plank, Chaturanga, Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III), or even Tadasana (Mountain Pose). If it helps your learning style, perhaps even visualize an energetic circle moving upward on the front of your torso and downward along your back.
How to do Eight-Angle Pose (Correctly)
When you practice this arm balance, let yourself consider the intentions behind what you’re trying to do rather than the shape you’re trying to make.
To recap, here are the key building blocks you need to consider when attempting Eight-Angle Pose:
- Find a stable Chaturanga base you’re able to hold without dropping your chest below elbow height
- Cultivate significant twist evenly throughout your spine
- Build your core strength so you can lift yourself up
- Squeeze those adductors by using an ankle bind for leverage
- Create some length and lift in the front body as well as some feeling of extension in your upper back
See also: The Secret to Better Arm Balances
About our contributor
Adam Husler has taught his signature style of alignment-focused yoga at classes, trainings, and conferences in 20-plus countries. Fueled by a fascination with anatomy and a desire to ask “why,” Adam offers creative, effective, and clearly sequenced teachings that focus on balancing flexibility and strength, physical and mental. Adam offers mentorships and trainings to qualified yoga teachers from his London base; is a member of Jason Crandell’s teaching faculty; and co-hosts the Honestly Unbalanced podcast by having open conversations with people who’ve spent their lives trying to improve yours.