This month’s pose is Dancer, or Natarajasana. Dancer is also known as Lord of the Dance Pose. In sanskrit nata translates as actor or dancer and raja translates as king. This posture is a challenging balancing shape, and we recommend that you warm up with a well rounded vinyasa flow (with a focus on shoulder and heart openers) prior to attempting to put your body in Dancer.
Come to Tadasana at the top of your mat. Shift your weight into the left foot but keep your midline engaged. Bend the right knee and bring the right heel toward the right buttock. If that is not accessible, feel free to draw the knee towards the chest to grab the foot or ankle, and then take it towards the buttock. Keep the knees together. Reach down with the right hand and clasp the right ankle or foot. If you cannot reach the ankle, you are welcome to use a strap. Facing the palm outward and clasping the inside of the right ankle will provide the most openness across the chest, but if that is too deep of a stretch for the shoulder it is fine to hold onto the outside of the foot or ankle. Reach the left fingertips up towards the ceiling and find length in the spine. When you feel steady, begin to press the right foot back and away from your body as you simultaneously stretch the left and and your torso forward.
Raise the right foot as high as you can. At the same time, press the tailbone toward the floor to avoid compressing your lower back. Keep the hips square and do not let the right knee toward the midline of the body. Evenly distribute the backbend across your upper, middle, and lower back, and engage the abdominal wall to keep the spine safe. If this is extremely challenging, try coming into Dancer in front of a wall. This way you have a surface to place the extended hand on for some extra support.
If you are comfortable and steady here, you may want to try a more physically challenging version of the pose. Feel free to grab a strap to make this variation more accessible. While keeping a grasp on the right foot or toes, swivel your right elbow forward and then up, so it points toward the ceiling. You will need to drop your right shoulder slightly as you make this adjustment. Hug your right bicep toward your right ear. Your right forearm should now be reaching overhead and behind your body to hold onto the foot or the strap. Bend your left elbow and reach your left hand back to hold onto your foot or the strap. Draw both arms inward toward your head as your keep your shoulder blades pressing down your back.
As you press your raised foot back, keep your chest lifting. Do not let the torso fully drop forward, but keep in mind the isometric action of pulling it forward as the foot pushes behind you. Keep your pelvis square and your right knee drawn in toward the midline of your body.
If you are using a strap, you might try walking both hands down the strap toward the right foot. You might surprise yourself and be able to reach it!
Hold for five breaths. To release, come back to an upright position and gently return the right knee next to the left. Then lower the right foot and come back into Mountain Pose. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
This is not an easy pose and that is ok! Balancing asanas are wonderful opportunities for us to practice kindness and compassion for ourselves: how can you release judgement and instead love the wobbling and inevitable stumbles that Dancer entails? And how can you incorporate the concept of the dance into your daily life and your practice at large?