Hey Readers! I am so honored that you are here! One of my most favorite yoga poses is Dancer's pose, also known as Natarajasana (NAHT-uh-rah-JAH-suh-nuh) in Sanskrit (the so-called language of yoga). For me, this pose is the perfect blend of grit and grace. Dancer's pose requires quite a lot of strength and stability, but it also requires a certain level of gentleness and softness. I'll be honest - Dancer's pose in the traditional form is pretty challenging and unaccessible to most body types. But, guess what? You do not have to execute dancer's pose in its traditional form to garner the benefits. In reality, you can experience this pose from a variety of positions and orientations to gravity. In this blog post, I will go over different ways that you can express your own inner dancer.
Before going over the variations to Dancer's pose, I want to give a general overview of the joint and muscle actions in this pose. Dancer's pose is an asymmetrical pose, meaning that the left and right sides of your body are doing something different. Dancer's pose involves lifting one leg behind you and grabbing hold of the foot on that lifted leg. In general, the hip of the lifted leg is in extension, which requires contraction of the gluteal muscles (click here to read more about the gluteal muscles). Also, the knee of the lifted leg is in flexion, which requires contraction from the hamstring muscles (i.e. the muscles on the back of the upper leg), while also stretching the muscles on the top of the thigh (i.e. quadriceps). The shoulder of the arm that reaches for the foot is in extension, which requires the triceps, latissimus dorsi, and posterior deltoids. And, depending on how you reach for the foot, that same shoulder is either externally rotated (i.e. your palm faces away from your body) or internally rotated (i.e. your palm faces your body). The core muscles (i.e. abdominals, low back, glutes, etc.) should be engaged during this pose to stabilize your spine and help you balance. The stance, or balancing, leg is also doing a ton of work. Pretty much all the muscles of the standing leg are contracting in some way to keep you balanced. Thus, Dancer's pose sort of gives you a full-body workout.
Alrightey, then! Let's look at Dancer's pose in different positions. Some of the features of a pose will change a little based on the orientation the body is in, but the core features of the pose will typically remain the same. Most yoga poses can be expressed from a variety of vantage points, including:
Prone (i.e. belly down)
Supine (i.e. belly up)**
Quadruped (i.e. on hands and knees)
Kneeling (i.e. on the knees),
Standing (i.e. on the feet)
**With the exception of the supine position, Dancer's pose can easily be practiced from all of the aformentioned positions. The supine position is tough for Dancer's pose since it is rather difficult to reach one leg behind you if you are lying on your back, as there is no where for the leg to go.
Picture A above shows Dancer's pose from the prone position. To practice this variation, come onto your belly. From your belly, come onto the forearm of your left arm. Make sure you are actively pressing that forearm into the mat to protect your left shoulder joint. Bend the right knee, bringing your right heel toward your right buttocks. Reach back with your right hand and try to grab the right foot. If you cannot make contact with the right foot, no worries! Just the action of trying to reach the foot is great for building strength in the hamstrings and glutes of the right leg and the shoulder muscles of the right arm. Hold for a few deep rounds of breath. Then repeat on the other side.
Picture B above shows Dancer's pose from the quadruped, or hands-and-knees, position. To practice this variation, come into tabletop position. Reach your right leg straight back behind you. Bend your right knee, bringing your right heel towards your right glutes. Press more firmly into your right hand and gently float your left hand away from the mat. Reach your left arm back behind you, trying to grab for your right foot. Again, if you do not make the bind, no problemo! Just the action of trying to make the connection of hand/foot helps you experience the muscular benefits of this pose. Hold for a few rounds of deep breath. Then, repeat on the other side.
Picture C above shows Dancer's pose from a kneeling position. To practice this variation, come into a low lunge, with your left knee on the mat (or a blanket) and your left toes untucked (so the top of your left foot rests against the mat). Bend your left knee, bringing your left foot closer to your left glutes. Reach your left arm behind you and try to grab for your left foot. You can keep you right hand pressing into the top of your mat, or you could try to lift your right arm up towards the ceiling/sky. Hold for a few rounds of deep breath. Then, repeat on the other side.
Standing - Warrior III
Picture D above shows Warrior III (known as "Virabhadrasana III" in yoga), which is actually a variation of dancer's pose. Warrior III can be easier than dancer's pose for some people since you do not flex the lifted knee or grab hold of the foot behind you. To practice this variation, come into mountain pose (i.e. standing tall on both feet). Lift your right leg straight behind you, lifting from the inner thigh of the right leg (to keep your pelvis neutral). At the same time, hip hinge over the standing, left leg. Hands can come together at your heart center, as shown in picture D. Or, your arms can reach straight out in front of you for a greater challenge to your balance and core. Hold for a few rounds of deep breathing. Make sure to repeat on the other side.
Standing - Quad Stretch
Picture E above shows a standing quadriceps stretch, which is also a variation of dancer's pose. This variation of dancer's can be easier for some people since you do not hip hinge over the standing leg or lift your back leg too high. To practice this variation, come into mountain pose. Bring your right foot close to your right gluteal muscles by bending the right knee. Reach your right hand back behind you to grab the top of your right foot. Hold for a few rounds of deep breathing. Make sure to repeat on the other side.
Standing - Traditional Dancer's Pose
Picture F shows a version of the traditional dancer's pose. This pose can be challenging for some people due to the balance component and the actions of the lifted leg. To practice this variation, come into mountain pose. Bring your right foot close to your right glutes. Externally rotate through the right shoulder by facing your right palm away from you, right thumb facing back. Reach your right hand back from this position to grab for the inside corner of the right foot. Begin to hip hinge over the standing, left leg. Lift your left arm in front of you, up towards the sky. Kick your right foot into your right hand, while simultaneously pressing your right hand back into your right foot. Hold for a few rounds of deep breathing. Make sure to repeat on the other side.
Props to you for reading about how to let you inner dancer come out! Dancer's pose in yoga is a very challenging pose for many reasons. It requires the perfect blend of steadiness and ease. Dancer's pose is also a full body pose because essentially every muscle in your body is working in some way to keep you in the posture. There are so many ways to vary dancer's pose. You can play with this posture from your belly, hands-and-knees, kneeling, or standing. If the traditional version of dancer's pose does not work for your body, try one of these variations because you will still reap the same benefits. Let your inner dancer shine as you take your yoga practice to the next level with one, or all, of these variations! Thanks for reading!!
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about dancer's pose for your body, please consult with your physician, physical therapist, personal trainer, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT