Challenge Pose: King Dancer (Natarajasana)

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I recently attended a college basketball game where the cheerleaders ran rampant. Out they would come, tumbling and flipping with huge smiles on their faces, cheering on the home team and getting the crowd fired up. One spectacular moment involved a tiny cheerleader being propelled into the air by her male partner. She daintily balanced on one foot as she whipped her second leg into Natarajasana (King Dancer Pose) in 2 seconds flat. Not only did she manage to fling herself into this deep backbend, she did it smiling and then yelled, "GO TEAM!"

My jaw was on the floor. All I could think about was the determination and breath work needed to execute the pose standing on solid ground, and here she was in the air, balancing on her partners hands. Granted, her alignment was awful and the yoga teacher in me winced at the external rotation of her hips. But overall, good show!

King Dancer Pose is an absolutely gorgeous standing backbend with a very apropos name, as it shows off your dancing skills (or lack thereof). This posture requires balance (as demonstrated by the amazing cheerleader), and a really good attitude (ditto). You will wobble, but for the sake of today, we'll just call dancing. The key is not to panic when you start to move, because it is a dance, so dance with the movement. Keep the breath steady and enjoy the fluctuations that arise, because that's what it's about: finding balance within chaos.

Enjoy this dance. Keep practicing, and, when in need of inspiration, go to a basketball game! It'll sure make you gasp, smile, and feel like the ground isn't such a bad place to be. 


Step 1: Present Yourself

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Make a small lasso with a yoga strap. Bend the right knee and place the loop over the ball of the right foot. Find a point to gaze at (this will help you balance. Look down and forward if it's a struggle) and grab hold of the strap with your right hand, palm facing up. The closer down the strap you grab, the deeper the backbend, so you may need to play around to find the perfect distance for your body. Place your left hand on your left hip and weave the right elbow out and up until it points towards the ceiling. The right shoulder remains happily in its socket as the base of the neck relaxes. Hug the right bicep in toward your face and keep your tailbone slightly tucked.

Step 2: Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Reach the left arm straight up with the palm facing inward. Outer shoulder extends long, inner shoulder relaxes down. Bend at the elbow and reach the left hand back to grab the strap as well. Hug the triceps of both arms in and around the bone to help keep the shoulders down and neck easy. At this point your, right leg is not engaged, the work is all coming from the rotation of the shoulders. That is about to change. . . .

Step 3: Open Your Heart

Keep the work of the arms. Begin the push the foot back and into the strap. This will engage the back leg and tempt you to lean forward. Avoid the temptation to do so (this becomes Warrior III with a chopasana) by keeping the heart lifted, outer arms in and gaze soft. Continue to energize the back leg by pushing the strap back. Once you have that juice in the leg walk one hand down a touch and then the second hand. Push the shinbone back again paying careful attention not to open the hips. The pelvis remains square, right knee hugs to the midline. Draw the elbows in tight around the head.

Step 4: Now Dance!

Continue the actions of pushing the shinbone back, walking the hands down, and keeping the chest up, arms in. Eventually you'll be able to keep all these actions and reach the foot. Once you have the foot with both hands, release the strap to come into full pose. Do your best to keep the hips squaring and drawing the right knee to the midline (it loves to splay out to the side . . . not so good for your sacrum). Draw the front hip bones up and soften your buns. Careful on the exit as it's very easy to sling-shot out. If you still have the strap, soften your grip to slide out slowly, keeping the gaze forward and legs hugging to the midline.

Kathryn Budig is a yoga teacher, writer, philanthropist, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, MindBodyGreen + Yoga Journal blogger, foodie, and lover of her dog. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook or on her website.