Sanskrit & Poses: Celebrating Differences

by Hali Schwartz

I have always been fascinated about the story behind many of hatha yoga āsanas, and can remember countless evenings spent on a rooftop in the North Western Himalayas, listening to my teacher tell us stories from the Pūranas – the ancient tales of both Gods and humans, which belong to the South Asian tradition. One story REALLY stands out:

There once lived a man who was so inspired by the mystical union spoken in the Upanishads that he set about memorizing and reciting several of these verses every morning upon waking. His wife happened to be pregnant at the time, and the baby in the womb was able to hear the sounds of the shlokas (verses) as they were being recited. The issue was this: the man was not particularly skilled at pronouncing the words properly, in spite of his enthusiasm, and the baby, already a great jñāni (wise one), in spite of his not yet being born, would shake and contort in his mothers womb, every time he would hear the sacred words mispronounced. Alas, when it was time for him to be born, he came out quite disfigured. His mother loved and adored him all the same (of course!) as did his proud father. Rather than trying to pretend he was just like all the other babies born in the village at the time, they decided to celebrate his physical stature by giving him a name that would match – they called him ASHTĀVĀKRA – meaning ‘crooked in 8 places’. Astāvakra grew up to be a marvelously skilled philosopher, who would eventually draw the attention of the king, and become his guru, leading him to the highest state of rāja yoga, called samādhi, where union with the highest Self, the Self of all, is realized. Later on, after his passing, Ashtāvākras fame would continue to grow, until the masters of the hatha yoga tradition would name an āsana after him – ASHTĀVKRĀSANA, ‘philosopher’s posture’.


Astavakrasana or Eight-Angle Pose is a hand-balancing asana

We celebrate our differences, we do not disparage each other for them…this is the lesson of this tale.



Join Hali for her upcoming course: October 18, November 15 & 29, December 13 & 27, 2022

Tuesday mornings from 11 am-2 pm PT



Hali has been immersed in the world of yoga since she was a small child. When she was 19 years old, she would travel for the first of many times to live and study at the International Meditation Institute in the North Western Himalayas. It was there that she was introduced to Sanskrit, scripture study, meditation, chanting, pranayama, as well as hatha yoga āsana and restorative yoga. For the past 20 years she has been teaching all aspects of the yoga tradition in Toronto where she makes her home, as well as in India, Europe and the Caribbean.

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