Finding Grace in King Dancer Pose

Natarajasana (pronounced not-ah-raj-AHS-anna) is Lord of the Dance Pose or King Dancer Pose. Nata means actor, dance or mime and raja means king.

Dancer pose is a balance posture that also requires both strength and flexibility – there is a lot going on at once! I really love this posture. On days when I get it, it feels all at once strong and yielding, graceful and freeing. The balance part most definitely challenges me… The pose requires you balance on one leg, creating a stable base and then gracefully unfold and open your upper body. To maintain balance, you need the flexibility of mind to to both  focus intently and let go somewhat in order to make tiny adjustments, moving with the pose.

In Indian mythology, Natarajasana is depicted as a graceful figure with one leg and encircled by flames. This is thought to represent the destruction of the old self in preparation for the new. Our energy is in constant flow, a kind of cosmic dance.

Benefits

King Dancer pose provides a deep stretch to the shoulders, chest, groin, abdomen and thighs. It also strengthens the muscles of the standing leg and helps stabilize the ankle. The quadriceps and iliopsoas (hip flexors) of the non-weight-bearing leg receive an amazing stretch.

This asana helps to improve balance and as with any chest opening posture, cultivates an open heart.

Natarajasana is an asymmetrical posture. It is practiced on both sides to help restore balance between the right and left sides of the body.

A Few Cautions

If you suffer from back pain or lower back injuries or are pregnant, refrain from the back arching part of this posture – practice only the first part of the pose in an upright position. Exercise caution if you suffer knee pain (*see variation below).  Also not recommended in the case of high or low blood pressure.

Steps

  1. Start  in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Engage the muscles of your legs and press all four corners of your feet into the ground. Elongate your spine by lengthening the crown of your head towards the sky.
  2. Focus your gaze (Drishti) at eye height, on a point on the wall in front of you. Lengthen your left arm overhead keeping the upper arm close to your ear and your palm facing in or forward.
  3. Bend your right arm at the elbow, palm facing in.
  4. Bend the right leg at the knee, lifting the foot and clasping the instep(or anle if you are more flexible) with your right hand.
  5. Inhale and actively press your right foot back into your right hand. You will feel your chest began to open and your spine began to arch back.
  6. Continue to press the right foot into the right hand and on an exhale began to pivot forward from the hips.
  7. Your right hip will naturally want to open, however the intention of this pose is to keep the hips level and square.
  8. Hold the pose for a few breaths using a steady gaze to help maintain balance.
  9. To exit the pose, inhale and bring your torso back to vertical bringing your knees together. Exhale and release the right foot returning to mountain pose.
  10. Repeat on the opposite side.

Tips

Keep the foot of the lifted leg flexed to avoid cramping in the thigh.

Do the pose in stages going only as far as you feel steady before continuing.

Use a wall to help with balance. Face the wall standing about a foot away. Gently touch the front wall to create an anchor for balance. If you fall, no worries! Smile and bring yourself back into the pose.

Because this is a backbend, you may want to come into a forward bend (maybe Child’s Pose) after.

Variations

*If this is hard on your knee or you have an injury, keep the back leg extended straight and hold at the knee.

A more challenging variation involves reaching both arms upward alongside the ears with elbows bent and grasp the foot with both hands.

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