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Dancer Pose, also known as Natarajasana, is an elegant yet challenging yoga posture that builds strength, flexibility, balance and focus. This beautiful pose is dedicated to Lord Shiva, known in Hindu mythology as the King or Lord of Dance.
In this complete guide, we will break down proper alignment, benefits, contraindications, modifications, sequencing, and everything you need to know to safely master Dancer Pose.
What is Dancer Pose?
Dancer Pose is classified as an intermediate to advanced standing yoga pose. It combines several elements:
- A deep backbend arching the spine backwards.
- Balancing on one leg.
- Externally rotating the hip of the lifted leg.
- Reaching one or both arms overhead to grasp the lifted foot.
The name Natarajasana comes from the Sanskrit words nata (dancer), raja (king) and asana (pose). It pays tribute to the Hindu deity Shiva in his form as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer.
The iconographic image of Nataraja shows Shiva with one leg kicked up into the air, encircled by a ring of fire. This depicts him as the source and ruler of all movement in the universe.
Though the shape of Dancer Pose appears graceful, truly tuning into the spirit of Natarajasana requires building strength, poise and fearlessness.
5 Benefits of Practicing Dancer Pose
- Improves Balance
Balancing on one leg while engaging in a backbend demands precision. It strengthens smaller stabilizing muscles like the gluteus medius. Mastering this pose enhances coordination and deeply challenges your core.
- Increases Focus
The precision required to balance and bind in Dancer Pose helps train concentration and body awareness. Keeping your drishti (gaze) fixed develops laser-like focus.
- Builds Strength
Dancer Pose strengthens your standing leg, ankles, hips and core. Lifting and externally rotating the back leg deeply engages the glutes and hamstrings. Keeping the chest broad works the muscles between the shoulder blades.
- Improves Flexibility
Backbending deeply opens the shoulders and chest. Externally rotating and extending the hip of the lifted leg increases mobility. Dancer provides a full stretch for the entire front of your body.
- Boosts Confidence
As an advanced pose requiring balance and backbend skills, conquering Dancer can build self-assurance. Its graceful nature also helps cultivate poise.
How to Do Dancer Pose Step-by-Step
Use these step-by-step alignment cues to properly position your body in Dancer Pose:
- Start standing in Mountain Pose with feet hip-width apart, weight balanced evenly through all four corners of each foot.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot. Bend your right knee, bringing your right heel to lift up toward your glutes.
- Reach your right arm back and clasp the inside of your right ankle with your right hand. Externally rotate your right shoulder.
- Lift your left arm out in front of you at shoulder height for balance. Engage your core.
- Initiate movement by tipping your torso slightly forward as you send your right leg back and up. Maintain a steady gaze.
- Continue lengthening the crown of your head forward to lengthen your spine as you lift your right leg higher. Keep chest broad.
- Kick your right foot strongly into your right hand to further elevate your leg. Align your right thigh parallel to the floor.
- Draw your lower belly in and up. Lift through the inner arch of your standing left foot. Microbend left knee.
- Hold for 5 full breaths, then slowly release back to Mountain Pose. Fully repeat the pose on the second side.
Tips for Beginners
As a balancing backbend binding pose, Dancer can be challenging. Try these step-by-step modifications:
- Use a wall or chair for support. Lightly rest fingertips to steady yourself.
- If you can’t reach your foot, loop a yoga strap around your ankle. Grip the strap instead.
- Focus on the standing quad stretch first by simply bending knee and lifting heel.
- Flex the foot of your lifted leg to avoid cramping the hamstrings. Keep ankle mobile.
- Build up to flipping your grip over time. Don’t force your range of motion.
Contraindications and Safety
Due to the balance and backbend involved, avoid Dancer Pose if you have:
- An acute back injury, especially around the lower spine.
- A recent or unhealed ankle sprain.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrists.
- Serious balance issues or vertigo.
Always warm up your full body before attempting backbends with flowing sequences like Sun Salutations. Never force yourself into the shape of Dancer Pose if you feel strain. Move slowly and mindfully into and out of the shape.
Modifications for Dancer Pose
There are a few different ways you can modify Dancer Pose to make it more accessible while still gaining the benefits of the posture.
Use a Wall
Facing a wall provides stabilization as you lift your leg and tip your torso forward. Walk your hands down the wall into the quad stretch, then lightly touch fingertips to steady your balance.
Try a Strap
If you lack the flexibility to bind your hand to your foot, loop a strap around your lifted ankle or foot. Hold the strap taught in your top hand to control the leg.
Block Under Back Foot
Flexibility issues often stem from tight hip flexors or quadriceps. Place a block under the ball of your standing foot to tilt your pelvis into a slight backbend. Lift your back heel to intensify the stretch.
Bend Standing Leg
Microbending the knee of your standing leg will relieve the hamstrings and release tension in the hips and lower back as you backbend.
Lift Leg to Hip Height
Rather than reaching for your foot, simply lift your leg into a low standing quad stretch. This builds strength and balance before increasing flexibility.
Half Dancer at Wall
Facing the wall with both hands on it, lift one leg up and back without the bind. Focus on squaring your hips and slowly building range of motion.
Mastering the Flip Grip
The deepest expression of Dancer Pose involves changing your grip on your lifted foot so both arms can bind overhead. Here are some tips for how to work up to the flip grip:
- Use a strap around your foot until your shoulders and hip flexors are more open.
- Walk your hands down a wall into the quad stretch, then flip one hand at a time.
- Once you can bind your foot with one hand, reach your top arm alongside your ear and work on lengthening through your side waist before reaching for the foot.
- Initially grab the outside edge of your foot with your bottom hand. As you advance, work on the internal rotation needed to grip the inner edge of your foot.
- Move slowly, align your shoulders over your hips, engage your core and only flip your grip once your standing leg is solid.
Natarajasana Prep Poses
Practicing key yoga poses that target similar areas of the body will help you build the strength, flexibility and balance needed to come into the full expression of Dancer Pose.
Try incorporating these preparation postures into your warmup before working on Natarajasana:
- Warrior III – Standing balance pose builds hip and core strength. Works gluteus medius.
- Crescent Lunge – Opens hips and stretches quadriceps, which must release to lift back leg.
- Low Lunge – Deep hip flexor stretch and gentle backbend prepares for external rotation.
- Frog Pose – Stretches inner thighs and hip adductors, which helps open hips for external rotation.
- Camel Pose – Backbend increases range of motion in your thoracic spine and stretches hip flexors.
- Bow Pose – Open your chest and grip strength. Lie on belly, bend knees, reach back for ankles and lift chest.
- Half Lord of the Fishes – External rotation of one shoulder needed to bind foot stretches rotator cuff.
- Dancer Pose Prep at Wall – With hands on wall, lift one leg back without bind. Build balance.
Natarajasana Follow Up Poses
After an intense backbend like Dancer, be sure to release the spine with forward folds and twists.
Try these counterposes:
- Standing Forward Fold – Releases lower back tension.
- Garland Pose – Binding squat internally rotates thighs after external rotation of Dancer.
- Wide-legged Forward Fold – Opens hamstrings.
- Reclining Spinal Twist – Lying on back with knees bent, drop both knees to one side. Keep shoulders down.
- Legs Up the Wall – Inversion calms the nervous system after stimulating backbend.
The Spirit of Natarajasana
In Hindu scriptures, Shiva’s dance as Nataraja represents the constant flow of energy between creation and destruction. Practicing Dancer Pose invites us to find steadiness and poise within the dynamic dance of life.
Work on mastering Natarajasana with patience and awareness. Regular practice builds the strength, flexibility and balance required to come into the full expression of the pose. Over time, you will build the fearlessness, power and grace of Lord Shiva!