Health & Body

3 Dancer-Friendly Yoga Poses That Enhance Flexibility and Strength

Rachel Knuth (photo by Erin Baiano)

Yoga has long been a cross-training favorite for dancers, thanks to the mind-body practice's power to increase flexibility, strength, and focus. But with thousands of yoga poses out there, how can you know which postures are the best use of your between-rehearsals time? DS asked Jennifer Brilliant, a Brooklyn, NY–based yoga teacher and yoga therapist, and former dancer with Jennifer Muller/The Works, which poses will serve your dancer body best.

Photos by Erin Baiano. Modeled by Rachel Knuth.

Pose 1: Cobbler's Pose

"This pose is great for opening up the hips," Brilliant says. "It's also very calming."

Begin seated on the ground with the soles of your feet together. Lift up through your back, and allow your knees to open as wide as your hip flexibility will allow. Breathe deeply, and relax into the stretch.

Optional adjustment: If you have tight hips, place a supportive prop under your sitz bones. "A yoga block, folded towel, or book work fine," says Brilliant.

Pose 2: Downward-Facing Dog

According to Brilliant, "down dog is a great stretch for the shoulders, chest, spine, abs, and calves. It really does everything."

1. Start on all fours, pressing your hands down into the floor.

2. Curl your toes under and straighten your legs, coming up onto your hands and feet with arms and legs extended and gaze directed between your legs and behind you. Remember to keep your spine (including your neck) long and aligned, and your pelvis reaching toward the sky.

3. Come out of the pose by returning gently to your hands and knees.

Optional adjustment: If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly while keeping the hips high, so your back muscles can stretch a little more.

Pose 3: Dancer's Pose

"Dancer's pose is excellent for stretching out the thighs and for opening the chest," Brilliant says.

1. Reach from the outside of the right leg to hold your right ankle in your right hand, flexing the foot and ankle with your knee pointing to the ground. Lift the abdominal muscles so as not to tip forward, and release the pelvic muscles as much as possible. (Don't tuck under!)

2. Reach forward with your chest as you slowly kick your foot up behind you. Make sure both legs stay parallel, like a set of railroad tracks. Lift up through the chest—and don't forget to breathe as you feel the stretch in your chest, abs, and legs.

3. To come out of the pose, return to position 1, lift the knee up in front of you, and release the working leg to the ground. Repeat steps 1–3 with the left leg and arm.

A version of this story appeared in the September 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Strike a Pose."

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