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.
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.
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.
From hands and knees, take one leg back and the opposite arm forward.
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.
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.
Bend the uplifted leg and reach back with the opposite arm to hold 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.
If you are confident in your balance, hinge forward. Micro bending the standing leg can help when you are first practicing this pose.
If all went well with the previous variation, you can try using the belt to move closer to the full expression of natrajasana.
Be sure to balance out the backbends with some forward folds and gentle twists. Happy practicing! 🙂