Dancer’s Pose, Natarajasana, (nuh-tuh-raa-jaa-suh-nuh)
nata (dancer) + raja (king) + asana (pose)
Also Known as: Dancer Pose, King Dancer Pose, Lord of the Dance Pose, Utthita Ardha Dhanurasana
Balance equal parts strength and softness as you gracefully come into this beautiful pose
Dancers Pose Fundamentals
Awaken the cosmic energy within you with this elegant yet challenging balance pose. Dancer’s Pose is one of those positions that look impressive to everyone, but its true value is much deeper than mere aesthetics alone. In fact, learning the position can be anything but graceful, as it requires a good level of patience, flexibility, persistence, and balance to be achieved.
The name Natarjasana comes from the Shiva’s Nataraja persona, which represents him as the king of the cosmic dance. Nataraja’s dance is the source of all movement, creation, and destruction in the universe.
Nataraja’s dance symbolizes seemingly contrasting things, but this signifies a wholeness, true spirituality, where duality does not exist. One of the purposes of Shiva’s dance is to aid humans in transcending this duality, release them of the illusory idea of the self, and finally guide them to reach self-realization.
When we practice Dancer’s Pose, the deeper aim isn’t merely physical. We are trying to emit the same awareness, power, and liberated feeling Shiva demonstrates in his dance.
We mentioned even Shiva’s dance shows duality, and these two aspects are called Lasya – a calm dance that symbolizes creation, and Tandava – an aggressive dance that symbolizes destruction. Our yoga practice can sometimes be closer to the Lasya energy – easy, simple, smooth, and gentle. Other times, we can struggle, and feel restless, angry, and irritable, feeling clover to the Tandava energy. Instead of trying to practice one side without the other, the Dancer’s pose teaches us to balance – physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Dancer’s pose expands the chest and abdomen, and stimulates the heart (anahata) chakra, bringing love and compassion – both towards others and ourselves.
Dancers Pose Benefits
- Improves focus, balance, body awareness, and proprioception (a sense of where your body sits and moves in space).
- Builds compassion and confidence, and boosts energy.
- Strengthens the core, and the ankle, hip, and thigh of the standing leg.
- Stretches the chest, shoulders, hips, and the calf and thigh of the raised leg.
- May help improve posture with time, by opening the chest and shoulders, and toning the muscles surrounding the spine.
- By expanding the stomach, it tones the organs in the abdomen and may improve digestion
How To Do Dancers Pose: Step-By-Step
How To Get There:
1. Begin in Tadasana at the top of the mat. Become aware of your posture – roll the shoulders back and down, keep your hips squared and balance the weight of your body on all four corners of the feet.
2. Shift your weight onto your right foot. Bend the left knee, bringing the left heel close to your buttock.
3. Grab the inner side of the left foot with your left hand. By clasping the ankle from the inside, your shoulder is in internal rotation, further working on your flexibility.
4. Keep your left knee close to the right. Take a moment to check your form. Is your weight evenly balanced throughout the standing foot? Are your hips squared? Is your spine long?
5. Raise your right arm in front of you for balance. Now push your left thigh back and up, pressing the foot away from you. Don’t open the left knee to the side.
6. At the same time, shift your torso forward for counterbalance. Keep your chest open, and fix your gaze onto a single point for balance.
6. Hold for at least 5 deep breaths and release. Realign in Mountain pose and repeat the same steps on the other side.
Tips And Tricks:
- Spread your weight evenly across all three arches of your feet. Before you learn to stand on one foot, learn to stand on both feet in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). In the beginning, practice lifting the foot only an inch off the ground to learn how to evenly distribute your weight for maximum balance.
- Your foot should point straight ahead. If it’s difficult to do so, you might need to work more on strengthening the gluteus medius, as it is possible your foot turns inward to compensate for lack of glute strength and redistribute the weight through the body. If that’s the case, work more on building strength in the gluteus medius, with poses like Tree Pose (Vrkasana).
- Improve balance by using Drishti (focused gaze). To do so, simply fix your gaze on a single point – it can be the tip of your nose or a point somewhere in the room in front of you.
- Give yourself time – and accept falling is a natural part of the process. If you lose your balance, laugh it off and try again. Mastering this pose takes time, and even experienced yogis can lose their focus.
- If you feel cramping in the back of the raised thigh, keep the foot flexed (draw the fingers toward the shin).
- Keep the bottom leg strong – activate the glutes, thighs, and calves to improve your stability.
Dancers Pose Variation:
Dancer’s Pose Variation: Dancer’s Pose With A Strap
If you struggle to lift your leg high up behind you, it’s likely because you need to develop flexibility in the arms and the lower back. In this case, practice with a yoga strap.
Wrap the yoga strap around the front of the ankle or the foot, and hold it with both hands in front of you, so the strap comes towards you over your shoulders. Walk your hands down the strap, elevating your arms and pointing the elbows towards the ceiling, and keeping the hands behind the upper back. As you walk your hand up, you will naturally lift the back foot and thigh. Pause when you feel a comfortable stretch.
Dancer’s Pose Variation: Advanced Variation – Overhead Grip
The full expression of the Dancer’s pose includes an overhead grip. That means that you aren’t reaching back with your left hand, but would be reaching one or both arms overhead, with the elbows facing towards the sky.
This variation requires a high level of flexibility in the shoulders, back, and the psoas muscle. It is an advanced stretch, so make sure you properly warm up before and do it towards the end of your practice.
To work on the overhead grip, use the previous variation and practice with a yoga belt. Only begin to practice without the belt when you can walk your hands close to the raised ankle. Begin practicing with only one hand in the overhead position and the other extended in front of you. Only when you feel stable enough and have developed a good amount of balance, then try the pose with both hands.
Dancer’s Pose Variation – Hold Onto A Chair or Wall
It’s difficult to maintain both good alignment and balance in this position when you are first starting off. To build confidence, stability and balance, use a help of a chair or a wall.
Simply stand in front of a wall and chair and hold onto it with the extended arm. This will allow you to get deeper in the stretch while not losing balance. Just don’t put too much weight on the arm, your standing leg should still do most of the work.
Precautions & Contraindications:
Foot Turns Inward. The standing foot should point straight ahead. If it turns inward, that may mean you have collapsed foot arches or weak glutes, particularly the gluteus medium muscle. If you are not able to straighten your foot, work on building glute strength before you attempt the pose. Something that may also help you is spreading the toes and learning to evenly distribute weight through all four corners of the foot.
Locked Knee. Don’t hyperextend or lock your knee, but also don’t bend it too much. Your standing leg should be long, but keep the knee soft and slightly bent. Engaging your quadriceps will help support the knee.
Practicing without a warm-up. Dancer’s pose is a powerful backbend, and you should always do it at a later point in the class when your body is already warmed up. Also, perform some less intense backbends before this pose to prepare your back.
If you have an ankle or back injury, refrain from doing this pose. Also avoid it if you have a slip disc, as a lot of pressure is placed on the lower back. Those who struggle with serious balance issues or dizziness also shouldn’t practice it, as well as those who have carpal tunnel syndrome, as you need to twist the wrist generously to grab the toes.
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