Embrace Natarajasana (Dancer Pose)
I struggled with Natarajasana. For months and months, I wobbled back and forth and completely out of the pose. After a particularly frustrating experience, my teacher at the time reminded me that the only way I would be able to find the pose was if I let go. This baffled me. Let go? I’ll fall out! How can letting go help you sustain? Finally, one day as I was lifting up into it, I decided to try to let go of my expectations, let go of my judgments about my ability to do it, and just experience it in whatever form it came. And SHAZAM – I was there, steady as a rock. Natarajasana is about the dance of life, the dance of the universe, Ananda Tandava. The cycle of creation and destruction. This dance is not some external experience, it’s internal, within our hearts. It’s when we are at ease and aligned with that flow that we can be in our fullest expression of it… the physical asana is just a way to check back in. Let’s get ready to embrace Natarajasana!
FREE YOUR HIPS. The hips are a key physical aspect of this pose. They are a key emotional one as well. We hold a lot of tension in our hips! See what happens if you approach these openers with a sense of surrender. Even if you don’t get to Natarajasana, you can embrace the attitude in this asana.
OPEN YOUR HEART. Sometimes this can be the most fearful asana to work on. The heart is something we are often afraid to expose. Move slowly through these openers, giving yourself the support you need. Allow the dance of your heart to happen with ease, not force.
BREATHE IN BALANCE. As you drop into these, don’t worry about the full expression. Dive deep into the steadiness of the mind. The body will follow. It’s not about staying in the pose, it’s how you react to falling out of it. Can you let those judgments go?
FIND YOUR FOCUS. This is not one of those asanas where you can plan your dinner menu while you are doing it. It takes a great deal of focus, so allow yourself to be present with every sensation, every movement. If thoughts arise, just let them float away.
WARM UP: BACK
Two things you need to know about back bends:
1. Lengthen your tailbone down – it will keep your low back long.
2. Keep your shoulder blades on your back and away from your ears.
Bhujangasana (Cobra). Start by laying on your stomach. Place your hands under your shoulders with your elbows behind you. Press into your palms to lift your chest off the floor. What’s important to remember here is to keep the shoulders moving down your back NOT up towards your ears. Try to focus on drawing your elbows together behind you. If that feels easy, you can advance to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog). Press your hands firmly into the floor and straighten your arms. For this pose, only your hands and the tops of your feet touch the floor. Again, roll your shoulders down the back and engage your legs. Your quads should be awake! Try tucking your tailbone down to lengthen the lower back. Hold for 5 breaths.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose). Again, laying on your stomach, lift your head and shoulders up off the floor and lift your arms up along your sides. Keep your neck long, your gaze slightly forward and down. If you feel that you can keep your shoulders on your back, then lift your feet and legs off as well. ENGAGE your core. Even as you are here, press the pelvis into the floor, keeping the low back long. Hold for 5 breaths.
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). Draw your feet into your hips and reach back with your hands to grab the outside edge of your ankles. Kick your feet into your hands to lift your torso off the floor. Again, TAILBONE DOWN! Keep lengthening that low backand keep your shoulder blades on your back. Your gaze is forward, not up. Hold for 5 breaths.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow or Wheel Pose). Turn over onto your back. Plant your feet by your hips (hip distance apart), with your knees up. Plant your hands by your shoulders, fingertips pointing in towards you. Press into the hands and lift up onto your head. Use this moment to make sure your knees and elbows are not flying out to the sides. Lengthen your tailbone, and begin to straighten your arms and legs, lifting your head up off the floor. Keep drawing the shoulders onto your back. Hold for 5 breaths.
For more on back bending check out Embrace Ustrasana (Camel Pose).
WARM UP: HIPS
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). If you’re not sure how long your lunge should be, a good measurement of distance is your down dog. Start with the right leg forward, with your front knee and ankle aligned on top of each other. Drop the left knee down onto the floor – you should feel a lengthening in the left hip flexor. Back toes are down. Again… drop the tailbone down. Arms can be lifted towards the sky or placed on the right knee for support. Hold for 5 breaths, then do the other side. If that feels good, try a high lunge.
High Lunge. All the alignment points remain the same as Anjaneyasana, just lift your back knee off the floor. This variation will help you strengthen the core as well. Hold for 5 breaths, then do the other side.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). From your high lunge place your hands on the earth on either side of your foot and start to lower yourself down. Bring your left knee forward and your foot to the right hand or hip crease. Your right leg is down behind you. Your left foot can be parallel to the top of the mat or close to your hips. If your hips are floating, you can place a blanket or block under your left hip. Your hands are under your shoulders. For more spice, tuck your right toes under and lift your back knee up off the floor for 3 breaths. Then lower it back down. Keep tucking your tailbone down.
If this is challenging, you can lay on your back with your right foot planted, knee up, and cross your left foot over your right thigh – left knee out towards the left. Your foot must stay flexed. Take your hands around the right thigh on either side, and draw it down towards you. Hold for 5-10 breaths, and then do the other side.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose II). To move into the advanced version, place your left hand on your left knee and reach back for the top of the right foot. You can kick into the hand to begin opening the hip, then start to draw the foot towards you bringing the foot into the crook of the elbow, sinking into the hips. Can you guess? Yes, drop the tailbone down. If you can, reach back with the left hand and grasp the right hand opening your chest towards the front of your mat. Hold for 5 breaths, then do the other side.
Vrksasana (Tree Pose). Start by standing, with your feet hip width apart. Root down into your left foot.
Level 1: Bring your right foot to your left ankle, with your knee out to the side.
Level 2: Bring your foot to your calf.
Level 3: Bring your foot to your inner thigh.
Bring your hands to your heart in prayer. Drop the tail bone down and feel the bowl of the belly engage. Find your focal point – preferably something not moving. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then do the other side.
Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose). Standing with your feet parallel, balance on your left foot and lean forward. Take the right foot off of the earth. If needed, use a block in front of you for support. Try to keep your hips parallel to the earth. If you can, balance without the block. Your arms can be along your sides, out to the side, or in front of you. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then do the other side. For more Warrior instruction, see The 5 Warrior Warm-Up.
Natarajasana (Dancer Pose)
Natarajasana (Dancer or Lord of the Dance Pose). We have arrived! Standing with your feet parallel and your left foot rooting down, lift the right leg up, bending the knee, and reach for the outside of the foot with the right hand. Kick into your hand to lift the leg and open in the torso. As you kick deeper, you can start to lean forward. This is where it is key to keep dropping that tailbone down to release the low back. Keep your hips parallel. To go deeper, you can loop a strap around your right foot, lifting with that. If you want to go even deeper, take both hands to the strap, elbows towards the sky, and walk your hands down the strap. If you can reach your foot, release the strap, holding onto the top of the foot with one or both hands. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then do the other side.
The variation in the photo has a bind as well.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). We’ve just come out of a very deep back bend, so its time to unwind gently. Step back, take your feet wider than your mat, hands shoulder width apart, and let your spine unwind!