Kagola, a poor student of the Vedas, sat at night reciting aloud the sacred verses of the Vedas, his pregnant wife by his side in the dim light of candles. One late night he heard a voice laughing and correcting him for mispronouncing a verse. The tired and short-tempered father was enraged, cursing the unborn child, causing him to be born with eight crooks in his body, naming him Astavakra for the deformity (asta meaning “eight,” vakra “crooked”).
The crippled and humbled child sought to redeem himself to his father, studying deeply in the sacred philosophy of India and, in time, becoming a great Vedic scholar. But his deformities caused others to judge him for what they saw, not for his knowledge, wisdom, and simple articulation of the essence of mystical experience. While still a boy, King Janaka heard of Astavakra’s wisdom and sought him out as a sage and teacher. When the boy’s father learned of Astavakra’s great scholarly accomplishments and the honor bestowed upon him by King Janaka of being the king’s teacher, Kagola blessed him, his deformity vanished, and Astavakra stood straight.
The story portrays the human tendency to dwell on appearances rather than on inner truths that are often concealed by what we see. In approaching Astavakrasana, the asana named for Astavakra, students are usually intimidated by what appears to be a very complex and difficult pose. In reality, it is one of the easiest arm balances, requiring basic technique and knowledge of what to do. When we guide students to pause, breathe, watch, feel, and patiently explore with the knowledge of what we are sharing, they find a sense of liberation in Astavakrasana and other apparently challenging asanas.
This extends into life off the mat, where we might shrink from certain actions in life out of misunderstanding the true nature of what is before us. With patience and learning, we can usually move forward with a renewed sense of freedom born of knowledge.