Balance is not so much a point of absolute stillness as it is a dance, one that requires strength and flexibility in body and mind. On the mat and in the rest of life, balance means moving within your current capabilities and accepting the expansion that comes from there.
Natarajasana, or king dancer pose, is a celebration of this dance. At once a backbend and a balancing pose, natarajasana offers many ways to appreciate the journey of your body and mind. The best starting point for most people is using both hands on a strap with the foot lifted behind and away from the body. When you are comfortable there, you can let go of the strap and move into holding your foot with your hands. Eventually you can do the pose with the strap overhead. After that, you may be able to bring your foot and your hands together overhead. Let all of these progressions be part of the journey. Don’t rush or you’ll miss out on the experience.
Natarajasana is the same pose as danurasana (bow pose), but standing on one foot. Just like in danurasana, you will lift your bent knee and chest evenly at the same time. Also as in danurasana, you extend the spine in natarajasana evenly and keep the chest open and broad. As in all asanas, don’t go to pain. Let the pose unfold for you little by little and teach you how to dance.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Essence: Improves balance, opens the front of the spine
Anchor: Standing foot
Strength: Back side of the body and standing leg
Natarajasana from the ground up
You may see this pose practiced with one hand raised overhead or held in front. However, using both hands to clasp your foot or your strap provides a more even opening in the front side of the spine. Keep the torso facing straight ahead lends itself to greater balance and opening.
1. Begin in tadasana.
2. Shift your weight onto your right foot, lifting up and out of your right hip as you move. Bend your left knee and grab hold of your ankle behind you with both hands or wrap a strap around the front part of your ankle, holding it lightly with both hands. Your foot should be away from your buttocks, at 45 to 80 degrees relative to your thigh. Keep your shoulders broad and align your hips and shoulders to face straight ahead. Maintain this throughout the pose.
3. Engage neutral spine by extending your tailbone about ⅛ inch (½ centimeter) toward your heels. Move your torso forward from the hip joints about ¼ of the way, and at the same time, move your thigh back and up, lengthening through the spine to create a backbend. Hold for 15 to 20 breaths, then gently bring your torso up and foot down and switch to the other side.
Using a strap allows you to ease your way into the pose without straining. Over time, you will be able to walk your hands closer to your foot, and eventually do the pose as described above.
Or, you may hold the strap over your head for more opening in the chest and for a greater challenge for your diaphragm, chest and upper back.
Common trouble spots
Foot next to buttocks. This places too much strain on the knee and will make it difficult to extend evenly through your spine.
Opening hip to the side. Focus your intention more on opening the front side of your spine instead of lifting your hip to the side. Turning your hip shifts the relationship between your sacrum, your pelvis and hip joint. This imbalanced use of the SI and hip joints will lead to joint and lower back pain.
Collapsing shoulder blades together. Pulling on your shoulders collapses the joints, leading to instability. Instead, gently rotate your upper arm bones out to guide your shoulder blades down your back so you can keep your chest broad and heart open in front and back.
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