The story of Ashtavakra is one of my favourites. His grandfather was Uddalaka, a wise man with deep knowledge of the Vedas. Among his many students there was one, with strong disciple, his name was Kahoda, who was proposed to marry Uddalaka's daughter, Sujarta. They got married and while being pregnant Sujarta used to sit and listen to the reciting of the Vedas by her dad and husband. She noticed that whenever her husband does a mistake in reciting the verses her stomach twitches and one day her son spoke out of her womb to correct his father. Kahoda couldn't bear such humiliation, being corrected by a not even born son and cursed his own son to be borne crippled and so Astavkara was born with eight bends in his body (Astavakra means eight bends). The crippled child sought to redeem himself in his father’s eyes and devoted himself wholly to scriptures and sacred Indian philosophies. One day in King Janaka's kingdom a competition called Shastraarth was organised among the wise man. A Brahmin outside of the kingdom challenged the king, that if there is no wiser man than him in his kingdom all the man he defeats should follow him to his own house and stay there until he lets them go. The Brahmin proved to be the wisest and Kahoda was among the defeated ones. Hearing of his father’s defeat, Astavakra, when became 12, decided to make the journey to the palace of King Janaka. Despite of his pain and his limitations, Astravakra walked for thirty days to reach Janaka’s palace. When he arrived, the wise men of the assembly looked at him disdainfully. Ignoring them he bowed to the King and said "I have heard, that there is debate going on here...I wish to participate in the debate..." hearing this the assembly started to laugh. Their laughter turned into curiosity when it appeared that the boy began to laugh as well. King Janaka approached Astavakra and addressed him: ‘Who are you? And why are you laughing?’. When Astavakra spoke his answer humbled the men of the court: ‘Actually, I am not laughing. I am crying because despite my severe deformity I walked for thirty days for an audience with you. I heard that your court was full of learned men and I have been disappointed’. Janaka replied, ‘Do you not see learned men here?’. ‘No', Astavakra said, ' I see only cobblers, who look at the skin of the material and decide whether it can be made into shoes or not..Your people are not very different...They don't know what I can do...They looked at my body and decided that I can't be eligible for the debate... if you have such people as your advisers... my journey has been a waste of time’. Hearing this, all the wise man, Janaka included, became deeply uncomfortable, realising the truth of the boy's words. The time had come for Astavakra to enter into a debate with the Brahmin who had won the Shastraarth and in this debate Astavakra was victorious, winning his father’s freedom as well as the freedom of the other men who had lost to the Brahmin during the debate. Realising the wisdom of this small boy, Janaka and the other men who were assembled that day pledged to become his disciples and, realizing the wisdom and grace of his son, Kohala, sorry for the curse he had placed on him and proud of the boy's achievements, took Astavakra to the holy river and blessed him, lifting the curse and repairing his body.
Ashtavakra went on to become the spiritual teacher of King Janaka and is the author of Ashtavakra Gita – one of the greatest books on Advaita Vedanta.
Ashtavakrasana is a pose which requires good technique, however it is more accessible then you think. It really makes you create 8 bends in your body (if not more). What can we learn from it? It teaches us not to judge ourselves or others and no matter how long or hard our journey is, it is worth putting the effort in.
The story of Ashtavakra itself encourages us to make the most out of what we have got. Our body is the carrier of our soul and so has to be accepted, respected and nourished, doesn't matter how much external beauty it reflects. No-body is perfect and doesn't even have to be.