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Dancer Pose | Lord of the Dance Pose

Dance with cosmic energy in this challenging yet graceful balancing pose that relies on equal parts effort and ease.


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Natarajasana (Dancer Pose or Lord of the Dance Pose) is a deep backbend that requires patience, focus, and persistence. The pose is named after the Hindu god Shiva Nataraja, King of the Dance, who finds bliss in the midst of destruction. Like its namesake, Lord of the Dance Pose embodies finding steadying calm within.

In preparation for Natarajasana, stretch your shoulders, chest, hips, and inner thighs in the same manner in which they will be challenged in this pose. Practice balancing poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and stretches like Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose).

As you stand on each leg in Dancer Pose, you’ll strengthen your ankles and begin to correct any muscle imbalances you might have in your legs, hips, and glutes. You can use a strap to achieve greater access to Dancer Pose, and to keep your hips squared toward the front of the mat and your lifted knee in life with your hip rather than splayed out to the side.

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Sanskrit

Natarajasana (not-ah-raj-AHS-anna)

nata = actor, dancer, mime

raja = king

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Dancer Pose basics

Other names: Lord of the Dance Pose, King Dancer Pose

Pose type: Standing BalanceBackbend

Targets: Lower Body

Benefits: Dancer Pose improves balance and focus, posture, postural awareness, and body awareness. It can boost energy and fight fatigue, and help build confidence and empowerment.

Other Dancer perks:

  • Strengthens your core and back muscles, and stretches your chest and shoulders
  • Stretches the front of your hip (hip flexor), front on your thigh (quadriceps), and ankle
  • On the standing leg, it strengthens the front of your hip (hip flexor), your thigh (while also stretching the back of your thigh/hamstring), shin, and ankle.
  • On the lifted leg, it strengthens your glutes and back of your thigh (hamstring).
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How to

  1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) facing the front of the mat. Notice the symmetry of your pelvis and your torso.
  2. Press down through your big toe mounds and lift your inner arches. Rotate your inner thighs toward the wall behind and release your tailbone down.
  3. Lift your sternum away from your navel and soften your front ribs.
  4. Bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your backside. Reach back with your right hand to clasp your ankle. Ideally, you will reach from the inside so that your palm faces the right and your shoulder is in external rotation.
  5. Bring your right knee alongside your left knee. Pause and observe which of the elements from Tadasana have been lost. To bring your body back into symmetry, press down with your left big toe mound, draw your left outer hip into the midline, and bring the right side of your pelvis and chest forward in line with your left.
  6. Maintain the symmetry in your body as you start to press your right thigh back and up. Lead with your inner thigh and press your right big toe mound away from you. Simultaneously reach your left arm forward and up, leading with your inner upper arm.
  7. Reach your sternum away from your navel to maintain the lift of your chest while you extend back and up with your right thigh. Keep your right knee in toward the midline rather than splay it out to the side.
  8. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then release back to Tadasana.
  9. Repeat on the other side.
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Beginner tip

Many beginners, when lifting the leg, tend to cramp in the back of the thigh. To avoid this, keep the ankle of your raised foot flexed (that is, draw the top of your foot toward the shin.)

Explore the pose

Practice Dancer Pose near the end of the standing portion of your practice to ensure that you have spent plenty of time opening your heart, hips, and legs for optimal mobility and balance. Also, this helps avoid injury.

You can move even further into this pose by grasping your raised foot with your opposite-side hand by bending your elbow and reaching for the inside of your raised foot.

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Variations

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Dancer Pose holding onto a chair

For balance and stability, hold on to the back of a chair.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Dancer Pose at a wall

Stand facing the wall and rest one hand it wall and grab the opposite foot with your free hand. Your knee should face downward to stretch the front of your thigh (quadriceps). If you cannot reach your foot, use a strap to extend your reach.

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Dancer Pose with a strap

If you cannot reach your foot, place a strap around the top of your right foot and bring the strap over your same-side shoulder and hold it with your right hand. Bring your left hand to that hip or extend it forward and start to lean toward the wall in front of you as you gently press your foot toward the wall behind you.

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Why we love this pose

“I was never a dancer but in this pose, I feel graceful and long,” says Tracy Middleton, Yoga Journal‘s brand director. “Natarajasana is all about balance: You’re simultaneously kicking and reaching. It’s a balance of effort and ease that requires all of your attention. Some days I fall out of the pose, others I’m steady and strong. It’s a good reminder that as it is in yoga, it is in life. Every day is a new chance to find balance.”

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Preparatory and counter poses

When preparing your body for Natarajasana, you want to challenge it in the same exact fashion. Include poses that move your body in the same shape as Dancer Pose demands, deconstructing it body part by body part. Focus especially on poses that stretch your quadriceps, front of your hips (hip flexors), and shoulders.

Preparatory Poses

Anjenayasana (Low Lunge)

Humble Warrior

Virasana (Hero Pose)

Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III)

Ardha Chandra Chapasana 

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)

Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Counter poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Anatomy

Natarajasana presents the challenges of combining a backbend with a one-legged balancing pose. Understanding these two elements provide a starting point for achieving this advanced posture. Deconstruct the pose into its component parts to separate out certain difficult aspects: distinguish the backbending from the balancing. Become proficient at each of these, and then combine them.

Begin with the backbending component. The ability to deeply extend your hip and leg is a prerequisite to Natarajasana. Accordingly, stretch the psoas and its synergists, the pectineus, adductors longus and brevis, and sartorius in other poses first, then apply this to backbending poses, such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) and Ustrasana (Camel Pose).

Next, fine-tune your balance by practicing poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). Finally, reconstruct the pose into the classical asana. Remember that each part of the process benefits you. Each part is yoga.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

An anatomy illustration showing the body in Dancer Pose
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

In the standing leg, the quadriceps straighten your knee and the tensor fascia lata synergizes this action, in addition to stabilizing the knee joint from the outside. The hip abductors—which includes the tensor fascia lata as well as the gluteus medius—automatically engage when you stand on one leg. This balances your pelvis by pulling on the origins of these muscles at the iliac crest. If the adductors are weak, your pelvis sags over to the side of the leg that is in the air. Remember that primary stability originates from the pelvis.

To lift your back leg, the hamstrings and gluteus maximus combine to lift it. Squeeze the buttocks and tuck the tailbone during this phase. Later you will relax the hamstrings and engage their antagonists (the quadriceps) to deepen the arch. Your knee will tend to drift out to the side as you lift your leg. Counter this by engaging the adductor magnus to draw your thigh toward the midline. This will also synergize the action of the gluteus maximus in extending your hip.

Arch your back by contracting the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. Engage these muscles slightly more on your lifted leg. The standing-leg gluteux maximus also contracts to assist you in balancing.

An anatomy illustration showing the body in Dancer Pose
(Illustration: Chris Macivor)

On your lifted leg, engage the quadriceps to deepen the arch of your back. Note how contracting these muscles straightens your knee and lifts your torso.

Use your entire arm and shoulder to lift your foot by straightening your arm. Contract the triceps to do this. The posterior deltoid will synergize the infraspinatus and teres minor in externally rotating the shoulder. Your entire front body stretches in Dancer Pose.

Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Backbends and Twists by Ray Long.

Put Lord of the Dance Pose Into Practice

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About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.