Dance of Shiva
We started using the Dance of Shiva early in the research project on fall prevention. The Dance of Shiva encapsulates all the practices that the students were learning over the course of the research study. Dynamic movement and transitions in a yoga practice are very important to balance, strength and cognitive awareness, as well as replicating real world situations. The Dance of Shiva is an obvious way to create that dynamic movement and transitions. The Dance of Shiva was not intended to be used during beginning classes in the study, since we needed to make sure the students had developed their skills, physical awareness and breathing practice before stepping into this dynamic play. It was a celebration to culminate the ending of the study.
Historical perspective: Nataraja (which means King of Dancers) is the image of Shiva dancing, depicting his role as creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe and the never-ending cycle of time (birth/death). The dance Shiva is performing is called ‘Anandatandava’ or the dance of bliss. Represented in the Nataraja is an element of balance between the doer (inner tranquility) and the doing (activity of dance). An interpretation of the symbolism of Shiva’s physical body is as follows:
Right foot: By stomping on the figure, he depicts having a hold on illusion.
Left foot: The raised foot symbolizes grace and the release from bondage.
Upper right hand: He is seen holding an hour-glass drum, representing male/female and the sound of creation.
Upper left hand: Here Shiva is the seen holding fire (agni) which is the fire of destruction.
Lower right hand: He is seen making a hand gesture (abhaya mudra) to allay fear.
Lower left hand: Here Shiva is making a gesture (gaia hasta) to represent liberation.
Our version: First let me say that I did not create this practice. I thank my teachers for introducing the Dance of Shiva to me. I wish I could credit this to someone specific. Since I do not recall who that was, I share this practice to honor all those amazing teachers.
We did not dive into specifics symbolism of the arms and legs during the research. We did, however, talk about the evolution between creation and destruction, with an emphasis on the process (transition) or the element of preserving. The balance of the doer and the doing was the focus.
I also recognize that traditionally the Dance of Shiva is represented with the right foot finding stability and foundation. Since we wanted to include elements of strength balance and cognitive awareness through dynamic movement and play on both sides, the symbolism would not translate directly through our practice of the dance.
There are some obvious limitations to replicating the traditional Nataraja or Dance of Shiva. An obvious one is our lack of 4 arms. 😊 The final pinnacle pause of the pose in the Dance of Shiva sequence was not the main purpose of this practice. I wanted to make sure that when we reach the apex of the pose, we would strive to look somewhat like the beautiful form of Nataraja. So we used the raised hand/arm as more of an arch, depicting the ring of fire (cyclical time) above Nataraja.
Videos: Like any pose or sequence of poses in yoga, there's always ways to make this accessible to many populations. We've linked below the video I did for Yoga U Online and corresponding article. We've included a version of the Dance of Shiva that can be used with the assistance of a chair. The third video is an adaptation of the Dance of Shiva in a chair.
University of Wisconsin Madison News
November 2, 2017 / By David Tenenbaum
Study: Yoga Reduces Falls among the Elderly
Yoga instructor Paul Mross, who taught yoga for the new study, shown here leading a class in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. “When it comes to fall prevention, we want to help you stand strong, but it’s not just standing,” he says. “We move in our life, we are reaching, doing whatever it is we need to function, and yoga helps us remain stable then, too.”
Duke Integrative Medicine
July 18, 2018 / By Carol Krucoff, C-IAYT, E-RYT
“Any falls in the last three months?”
Many physicians routinely ask this question because falling can have serious consequences, especially for older adults. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in the U.S. among people age 65 and older.
Wisconsin Public Radio
Air Date: Tuesday, November 14, 2017, 3:15pm / By Breann Schossow
“Every year, millions of people 65 and older fall. While most falls do not cause injuries, one out of five lead to serious ones, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of death from unintentional falls in the nation.”