Natarajasana is one of my favorite poses to work on and to be in, and I’m willing to bet that many other yogis feel the same. A combination of deep backbend and standing balance that requires strength, flexibility and intense focus–it’s a powerful and elegant pose!
The pose translates from Sanskrit to “King Dancer Pose” in English, named for the Hindu god Shiva. Shiva is known as the cosmic creator and destroyer, Lord of the great Cosmic Dance. You might have seen those Shiva statues around with him dancing, surrounded by an arc of flame? That’s the energy we’re invoking here!
There are many variations of it (see above), but this sequence is all about “full” King Dancer, with the overhead grip. The last variation of the four shown above. Of course, even if you aren’t aiming to “flip your grip,” the poses in this sequence will prep you well for any variation.
So, let’s start with warm up! I recommend Surya Namaskara A and for this one you gotta incorporate Surya Namaskara B which brings in Chair pose and Warrior 1 and is really essential for this.
Below, you’ll see a continuing sequence of some of my additional essential poses to warm up for this backbend.
In order from left to right: High Lunge with cactus arms to begin warming and opening the shoulders, and becoming aware of the shoulder blades coming together–and a knee dip in the back to work the legs and start targeting core and hip flexors. Humble warrior, getting deep into shoulders, neutral-hip warming and leg strength. Chair pose with arms overhead for quads and shoulders, which fully mimic the overhead grip you’re building toward. Warrior 3 with arms overhead to balance, again arms mimicking what you’ll end up in and also this pose helps you focus on squaring the hips and working a one-leg balance. Finally, Crescent Lunge which brings in the backbending-balance component.
Follow these with deeper prep poses below, working balance, hamstrings, and hip flexor stretches and strengtheners.
In order from left to right: Ardha Chandra Chapasana for balance, hip flexors, and backbending, Eka Pada Uttanasana for hamstring and hip mobility as well as balance, three of my favorite Anjaneyasana B variations focusing on opening hip flexors even more and adding side body and shoulder stretches. Musts for backbends!
Finally, the next poses below work at the deepest level to open and strengthen the shoulders for overhead reach, as well as prep the spine and core for a deep backbend. It’s not enough to simply open the shoulders–you first want to strengthen them to be sure that they have the stability to undertake this deep range of motion!
Left to right: Forearm Plank warms the entire core–front and back body; Dolphin pose opens and strengthens the shoulders while working core to lift up through the hips; one legged Dolphin intensifies this directive and adds hip work on the leg lift; Cobra Pose preps the spine for deep strength and extension (backbending), Dhanurasana takes the energy in Cobra one step further and mimics the lift necessary for Natarajasana.
Working with a strap on the overhead grip is a great idea as you progress toward full Natarajasana. Standing on one leg, bend the other knee drawing the foot in toward your bottom and make a small loop around the foot. Use as little slack as possible (that is don’t use the most available) on the strap as you hold the strap reaching back, palm up.
INHALE as you kick your knee and foot back and up, and as you EXHALE, draw the foot in by bringing your elbow in toward your body. Then INHALE again as you wind that elbow OUT away from you and UP toward the sky–at the same time inhaling your chest to point completely forward. Keep counterbalancing my kicking back and up and stay strong on the balancing leg. Reach your other arm up and overhead to find the strap and you can start to walk the hands toward the back foot as you balance, breath, and open into the backbend at the same time.
Lots going on in this pose! It’s a challenge–no doubt. Try the sequencing above and steps to flip your grip–the visuals are on my Instagram page a few posts back. Let me know how it goes for you!