Main event: Natrajasana, dancer’s pose

Heart openers are intense, beautiful, satisfying, difficult – and non-negotiable if we are to have healthy and happy spines, spirits, and souls well into old age. We continue this week with the elegant natrajasana, dancer’s pose, variations.

If you have been practicing the spinal extensions of the past two weeks regularly and daily (or nearly so), you ought to be noticing a lovely opening and lifting in your posture. It may also be easier to extend the mid-spine now, so we are adding variations onto some of our previous week’s poses to intensity their action.

Mid-spine bolster with hands in back bend

Begin with the bolster just catching the bottom of the shoulder blades, with head on a block to keep the hands apart. Eventually, you’ll be able to remove the block, but if you cannot keep your hands wider than your head with elbows drawn next to the ears and the heels of the hands flat, use the block. You may also wish to use a belt around the upper arms if you have a difficult time keeping the elbows in. Take care that your lower back does not over-arch.

Lift the hips to place the hands in position, then slowly replace the hips to the ground without losing the hands. Soften the back muscles to do so.

Dog in prayer with hands clasped

On the hands and knees (knees over ankles), interlace the fingers and place your forearms on the ground with the elbows just wide enough for your head to fit through them. Shift the shoulders and hips back, and wiggle the head through the upper arms, then release the forehead to the floor; if it doesn’t touch the floor, you can place something underneath to allow the forehead to rest. You can move the knees back if you find yourself sitting on your heels so that your hips are a little higher. If this feels ok, you can try placing your elbows on a block – note, they must stay on the block throughout the pose.

Make sure that your elbows do not move out when you take the position. If using the block, draw the upper arm bones back into the shoulder socket consciously. Keep the core strong so that the lower back does not sag.

Anjaneyasana, high to low lunge, with arms clasped

From downward facing dog pose, step forward with one leg into high lunge, then lower the back knee into low lunge. Raise the upper body and clasp the hands behind your back, elbows ever so slightly bent. Lift the heart and create a small backbend, taking care to keep the abdominal muscles well engaged. Repeat on the other side.

Be sure to press the top of the back foot into the ground, and imagine that you are drawing the front foot backwards (although it doesn’t move). Engage the core and lift the heart. You need not take the head back, only if that is comfortable for your neck.


From hands and knees, take one leg back and the opposite arm forward.

Reach strongly back with the ball of the back foot while lifting the inner thigh of the leg, toes turned towards floor, leg straight.

Find your core and balance and then bend the back knee while reaching back with the opposite hand to hold the foot. Open the heart and lift the back knee.

Reach back to hold the inside of the opposite leg while continuing to balance and breathe.

Virabhadrasana III, warrior III, preparation and variation

Place two blocks on the ground so that when you bend at the hips and place your hands on the blocks, your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your ankles. Lift one leg up.

Keep back leg lifted from inner thigh, knee straight, toes pointed down towards floor. Hips remain over ankle of standing leg.

Bend the uplifted leg and reach back with the opposite arm to hold the foot.

Take the hand opposite the leg that is lifted back, bend the uplifted leg, and reach the hand to the inside of the foot.

Natrajasana, dancer’s pose, variations

Find your roots, then bend one leg, holding it with the arm on the same side. Other arm reaches up – I create gyan mudra (hand gesture where thumb and index finger make a circle) to help me remain grounded.

Hold foot from inside, with arm in external rotation.

If you are confident in your balance, hinge forward. Micro bending the standing leg can help when you are first practicing this pose.

Lift foot towards ceiling while hinging forward at hip. The push/pull between the hand and foot is of equal strength. Be sure to keep the hips even (hip of held leg tends to hike up). My hips could be centered a little bit more over the ankle. 

If all went well with the previous variation, you can try using the belt to move closer to the full expression of natrajasana.

Step over strap with one foot, hook top of other foot in strap and curl toes back to keep strap on. Draw elbows up and “hug” the ears with them, while drawing the shoulder blades down. Engage core and equalize push/pull between hands and foot. elbows continue to move behind ears, while hands pull up.
Hinge forward at hip while keeping hips even. Again, my hips could be more over the ankle. 

Be sure to balance out the backbends with some forward folds and gentle twists. Happy practicing! 🙂