Dragonfly pose (also known as grasshopper) is one of those poses that you see on instagram and can’t quite figure out what is going on with legs, arms, elbows and knees. Once we are over the confusion of how to twist our bodies into this exciting shape we can start to focus on the main aspects of this visually impressive arm balance.
As we can see from the image we need to have a deep twist in our lower spine, the strength in the core to maintain the twist and confidence in our forearms and wrists to maintain our balance. During the years that I have practiced this pose the one aspect where I have noticed major improvements is the flexibility and length in the outside of the hips or the external leg rotators. If you have tight hips or limited torsional mobility in your lower back the biggest challenge in this pose will be trying to stop your foot sliding off the side of your upper arm.
This flow has been structured to not really learn how to float in Dragonfly but really to prepare the body to attempt this challenging arm balance. For this reason the flow focuses on stretching the outer hips, preparing the shoulders and arms to maintain your body weight and also activating your core.
Warm Up/Body Lubrication
For this flow I suggest a couple of rounds of Sun Salutation A followed by a couple of rounds of Sun Salutation B with a few add-ons to target some specific body areas.
Sun Salute A
During the second round of Sun Salutation A try adding in three legged dog to lengthen out the hamstrings and then bend the knee and open the hips to start to stretch out the lateral abdominal muscles.
Sun Salute B
When you come into the lunge during the first round of Sun Salutation B add in Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) and Revolved Side Angle (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana). These two poses not only stretch the outer and inner hips but they will also waken your core if you focus twisting along the length of your back and not relying on the arms perform the twist.
In the second round of Sun Salutation B add in the dancing warrior series when you come into the lunge which consists of Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I), Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II) and Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana). Warrior 1 will start to stretch the pectoral muscles and activate the shoulders, Warrior 2 opens the hips and broadens the chest and Reverse Warrior will start to create length and space between iliac crest and the lower ribs.
From a comfortable all four pose on an inhalation reach your right heel up to the sky behind you and your left fingertips up to the sky while keeping your hips square, during the exhalation; round the back similarly cat pose and bring the left elbow down to the right knee below your chest. Repeat the progression 6 times changing arms and legs each time.
Gate (Parighasana) Leans
From all fours step you left leg out to 90° and raise your torso to form a vertical line along the right side of your body. Activating through the core and not folding forward or backward exhale to reach over your out stretched leg, inhale back to vertical, exhale to the opposite side and finally inhale back to centre. Repeat the progression three times and then change leg.
Cobra (Bhujangasana) – Plank (Phalakasana) – Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana)
From Downward Dog start to gracefully flow between Cobra, Plank and Low Plank returning to Downward Dog. Use your breath to guide the movement and complete 3 full rounds, if Plank is not part of your practise yet you can keep the knees on the floor.
Thread The Needle (Parsva Balasana)
After the exertion of the previous sequence control your breathing and come into all fours, this time reach your left hand forward about 30cm and then thread your right arm under the arch to place your right shoulder on the floor. Work to keep the hips square and the same sensation on both knees while pushing against the back of your right hand to intensify the twist.
Chair (Utkatasana) – Twisted Chair (Parivrtta Utkatasana)
From all fours go through a vinyasa and come up to a standing position with your feet together, bend the knees and tilt the pelvis as reach strongly through the arms to straighten the elbows and open the chest. From Chair pose take the hands to heart centre and twist to place the outside of the left elbow on the outside of the right knee, ensure to keep your hips square and work to keep your knees together. If you have the length you can lower the left hand to the outside of the left foot and reach the right hand to the sky. After 5 long breaths come back to centre and repeat on the other side.
Pyramid (Parsvottanasana) – Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
The next two poses are to prepare the hamstrings and outer hip rotators, from a hip width standing position step the right leg back about a legs length keeping the feet separated at hip width. With both legs straight reach the arms above head and then fold forward at the hips on an exhalation, work to keep the spine straight and feel the intense stretch behind the left leg. After five controlled breaths take the right hand to the left big toe and reach the left hand up to the sky, keep the weight evenly spread between both straight legs and use your core to activate the twist. Hold for five breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Bound Angle (Baddha Koṇāsana) – Head to Knee (Janusirsasana)
Come into a comfortable seated position with the soles of your feet together and let the knees drop away to the sides, keep grounding your sit bones into the mat as you push your knees down and straighten your back. After five breaths straighten your left leg and rotate your torso in line with the outstretched leg, on the next exhalation fold over the leg and consciously shorten the distance between the crown of your head and the dorsally flexed foot. After five breaths return to Bound Angle for another five breaths and then repeat on the other leg.
By this point in the sequence we are now prepared to challenge the trickier arm balance postures, the first of which is Baby Grasshopper. To begin sit in Staff (Dandasana) and then turn your torso to look over your left shoulder lace the left hand on the floor about 30cm away from your buttocks forming a straight line between your left hand, left hip and left foot, now cross the right leg over the top of the left leg and place your right foot on the outside of the left leg between the knee and the hip, lower your chest down to your left hand side and with your right arm reach in front of your right shin to reach the left foot. In this shape you now need to really turn on the gluteal and quadriceps muscles in the right leg (think pistol squats), feel the weight across the sole of the right foot and while you push down through the pillar of your leg spread some of the load to the left arm to gracefully raise your left hip and leg away from the floor. To hold the Baby Grasshopper lock the core muscles to maintain the twist in the abdomen and drop the shoulders to become parallel with the outstretched leg. Repeat on the other side.
To enter into Dragonfly start in a seated figure 4 position with your right leg crossed over your left leg and similarly to Baby Grasshopper now turn your torso to look over your left shoulder. Now comes the crux of the pose (in my opinion), without moving your right foot place your right triceps as high on the sole of the right foot as possible, now you need to grip with your right foot to stop the foot sliding off the elbow (the difficulty is greatly increased if you are sweaty or you have shiny yoga leggings on). The final stage of the pose is to balance over your hands, so now lower the right hand to the floor slightly wider than shoulder width, push through the left leg on the floor to raise the hips, once you have the sense of weight through the arms lower chest to the floor and float the right foot into the air. Finally extend your left leg and extend your toes to out the final touches to this challenging balance.
After such active twists and strength through the legs we want to release the tight muscles. Any reclined twists and supported Bridge poses should feel fabulous. Consider finishing your practice with a Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana) instead of Savasana.