Natarajasana (not-ah-raj-AHS-anna) is a physically challenging, beautiful pose that requires flexibility in the spine, legs, and hips. To practice the pose, use a thoughtful sequence filled with plenty of preparatory poses in order to make sure your body – and mind – are adequately prepared. Regular practice will help develop strong mental fortitude and determined concentration.
Philosophy and Origin
A physical embodiment of King Nataraja, a form of the lord Shiva, lord of the dance pose (also referred to as king dancer pose) is a tribute to this powerful god of destruction. Embracing destruction and even death as part of the cycle of change and growth, this pose is a helpful reminder that no good can exist without evil, no birth without death.
In most depictions of King Nataraja, he is standing on one leg (hence the shape of the pose), gazing over the head of a small dwarf, whose presence represents ignorance. In this way, lord of the dance pose encourages our consciousness to elevate above ignorance, above the common thoughts and misunderstandings that cloud our view. The balance that comes from the pose awakens our understanding that clarity brings steadiness.
Benefits of King Dancer Pose
Natarajasana opens the shoulders, chest, and hips, as it stretches and strengthens the thighs, ankles, and abdomen. This pose develops greater flexibility in your spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. It also stretches the entire front of the body, while strengthening the back muscles, which improves posture.
Most notably, King Dancer improves your ability to concentrate and focus. By remaining calm while balancing and back-bending, you will learn how to focus your thoughts.
Do not practice this pose if you have a recent or chronic ankle or low back injury. Also avoid this pose if you are currently experiencing low blood pressure, dizziness, migraines, or insomnia.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot.
- Bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your right buttock. Reach your right hand down and clasp your right foot’s inner ankle. You can also loop a strap around the top of your right foot, and then hold onto the strap with your right hand. Draw your knees together.
- Reach your left arm overhead, pointing your fingertips toward the ceiling and facing your palm to the right.
- Fix your gaze softly at an unmoving spot in front of you. Make sure your left kneecap and toes continue to point directly forward.
- When you feel steady and comfortable, begin to press your right foot away from your body as you simultaneously lean your torso slightly forward. Keep your chest lifting and continue reaching your left hand’s fingertips up toward the ceiling.
- Raise your right foot as high as you can. Bring your left thigh parallel to the floor, or higher if possible. At the same time, press your tailbone toward the floor to avoid compressing your lower back. Do not let your right knee splay open to the side.
- If you are comfortable and steady here, you may go into the advanced pose. 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 your 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 your torso drop forward. Keep your pelvis square and your right knee drawn in toward the midline of your body.
- If you are holding a strap, walk your hands down the strap toward your foot until you can clasp the top of your foot with both hands.
- Hold for five breaths. To release, very slowly and gently return to your starting position. Then lower your right foot and come back into Mountain Pose. Repeat the pose on the opposite side for the same amount of time.
Modifications & Variations
- If you can’t hold onto the ankle of your raised leg, use a strap. Wrap a yoga strap around the top of your foot, then bend your knee and come into the pose. Hold onto both ends of the strap with your same-side hand.
- If it’s difficult to balance, rest your free hand on a wall, chair, or any other stable object.
- For a deeper stretch, hold your outer ankle with the opposite hand. For example, if your right ankle is raised, reach your left hand behind your body and hold onto your right foot’s outer ankle. Then extend your opposite arm forward and up.