my shiva nata practice

More about my Shiva Nata practice

There are many, many ways to explain Shiva Nata. Many ways to practice it, too. I put together this page for those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, and to write about my own practice, for the curious.

Shiva Nataraja: Art by South India Artist Arumugam Manivelu, ca. 1999

A word on the name: Shiva Nata takes its name from the Hindu god Shiva, in his form as the Dancer (nataraj or nataraja = dancing lord, nata = dance).

Lord Shiva, when he dances this dance, can destroy the world. As a yogic art (more about that in a second), Shiva Nata breaks down old mental patterns in order to make space for new ones.

Now, let’s dive in, shall we? Please read on…

What is Shiva Nata?

Shiva Nata, also called Dance of Shiva, is actually two things together: the physical movements of your body and then the mental fireworks. Physically, is a yogic art that combines eight different arm positions (and eight different leg positions, in advanced practice) that are combined using formulas or patterns. There are seven levels (and a theoretical eighth level) that increase in difficulty and complexity.

Very simply: your arms move in spirals. Backward and forward. There are two different spirals: one horizontal, one vertical.  (Your legs can do this too, as you get better at it!) You can stand still while you do it, or you  can balance on one leg, or you can turn in a circle. It will give you awesome arm muscles and it’s great for improving your balance, too.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

But it’s the mental fireworks that make Shiva Nata way more interesting…

Like any mind-body practice, Shiva Nata helps your mind and body work together, but somewhat uniquely, Shiva Nata is specifically not about getting it right. It might bring you serenity later, but in the moment it’s not usually about being a serene yoga zen monk.

Part of its glory is the crazy, flailing, getting-confused part, where you think you are telling your arm to go one direction and it just doesn’t because your brain is so deliciously, delightfully scrambled.

Shiva Nata gently invites that brain-scrambled feeling, in order to help you learn more about yourself. What happens when you aren’t perfect? What happens if you fail? What happens when you brain forgets how to count? What happens if you give your brain and your body so many things to keep track of, it just can’t anymore?

Neurologically, the point of Shiva Nata is to cross the midline of the body. And thus to build neuroplasticity: the ability of your brain to adapt to new situations and new challenges, both physically and mentally. You do this by making Shiva Nata hard, and then moving to the next level to make it really hard, and then so difficult that when you try to learn the next level you can’t remember how to do the first level anymore. This has actually happened to me, when I learned Level 3. So crazyfun.

More about the fireworks, please!

Mental fireworks may take the form of: sudden epiphanies. Unflappable calm about something that used to freak you out. Unlikely solutions. Realizations about patterns in your life you never noticed before. New determination. Joy, laughter, letting go.

The fireworks, that crazy-cool moment of wow, is the feeling of your brain rewiring itself. Writing new patterns. Building new synapses, quite literally.

It’s pretty awesome.

Where did I learn it?

I learned Shiva Nata from the number two teacher in the world, Havi Brooks, who studied with Andrey Lappa, the founder of Shiva Nata. I learned Shiva Nata at Havi’s very first Rally (Rally!).

(Aside: If you, like me, learn best in person, I highly recommend going to a Rally. It is the most fun retreat workshop dressup yoga flailtastic unlikely adventure brain-exploratory experience ever. Yeah. Hard to describe. Read more about my Rally experience here: Part One and Part Two.)
 

After that first in-person experience, I purchased Havi’s Shiva Nata Starter Kit and began practicing with Andrey Lappa’s DVD at home. It is kind of weird to stand in your living room and watch an ex-Soviet yoga monk whirling on a mountaintop, but if you can get past that weirdness, it is super helpful to have a visual guide when you’re practicing.

Since then, I have also studied and practiced with Larisa Koehn and Danielle Cornelius. In the Portland area, we have a MeetUp group, Portland Shiva Nata, which hosts informal workshops and events, many of them free. Havi Brooks also hosts workshops (which I have attended) and trainings (not yet, but perhaps soon!), which you can find out about here.

How do I practice?

I absolutely love doing Shiva Nata in a group, following a more experienced Shivanaut, but more often I do it by myself. And as I said before, there are many, many ways to do it:

Meditatively, like a slow dance, when I want to connect to my body.

Fast and whirling, to my favorite speedrock songs, so my arms can barely keep up.

Deliberately, rhythmically, hitting each position with precision and grace.

Formless and loose, feeling the motion of the spiral more than the points that define it.

Assigning words to the eight positions, and meditating on how they interconnect.

Assigning numbers to the positions, and getting lost in mathematical combinations.

With an intention in mind (tell me more about this pattern that’s bugging me) or with nothing in mind at all (help me interrupt my bored and tired brain).

But on a practical level, how do I do it? I often close my door and do it in my office at work. I turn off the lights and turn off my computer monitors. I take off my shoes. I do it by memory, for the beginning levels that I know by heart, or I keep a worksheet in front of me if I’m trying to learn a new level or practice something super-hard (generally, the harder you make it, the bigger moments of epiphany-fireworks will come).

Yeah, but how do you get better at Shiva Nata?

This was confusing to me, as a beginner. The point of Shiva Nata is to flail, right? But how does one actually learn those higher levels? Those tricky formulas? I had to figure this out and I wanted to write a little bit about my practice, in case it’s helpful to you.

Learning the beginning levels was somewhat easy (or it was for me; everyone varies) and by the time I came home from Rally, I knew enough to get through Level 1 by heart. Enough to practice, enough to flail (because even an easy level can be made difficult if you make up new words or go super fast or add in the legs). But I really wanted to learn more, not just flail more.

The DVD got me through Level 2. But I really struggled learning Level 3. Watching Andrey do it on the DVD was interesting, but not helping my brain understand the pattern. I was just following him; I couldn’t have told you what the pattern was if I’d tried.

So I used a wonderful visual resource created by Beth Freeman. I printed it out in color and went through it a couple times. I kept going until I could speak part of the formula out loud (with great difficulty, going verrrrrry slowly) and then I wrote the formula down. Like a math problem, I went through the different combinations on paper. With my voice. And then with my body.

Eventually something clicked and now my body just knows the pattern. Kind of like how your body can just suddenly learn how to balance a bike? It felt like that. When I learned Level 3, it was native in my muscles and bones, even though it needs more practice.

So for new Shivanauts, perhaps my experience can help you. Remember that Shiva Nata practice is two things: you’re practicing and flailing the levels you know and don’t know, and in a completely separate practice, you’ll be teaching yourself. It’s good to involve lots of different kinds of learning — watching it on DVD, watching a teacher in person (the two are entirely different). Watch yourself in a mirror. Write it. Sing it. Stitch it. Translate it into Excel. Perhaps my technique will work for you: experiment bringing it into a different learning modality and then bring it back into your body. Go slow, experiment, laugh.

Part of Shiva Nata is learning more about yourself, how you learn and how you flail and fail. But the workshops and trainings don’t teach you the levels. That’s the part that you figure out how to do on your own.

Where can I find more resources?

Need a local Shivanaut buddy or teacher? There are many across the globe, you can find them (and add yourself to the map) on a wonderful Google Map over here.

Kalinata.net maintains an excellent Resources page where you can find links to blogs, studios, and videos (my favorite is the awesome Larisa leading a Shiva Nata class to Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean!).

The archives of Havi Brooks’ separate Shiva Nata blog is an excellent place to read up on the practice, as is her Fluent Self blog.

****

So there you have it. Do you have a question for me about all this? Ask away! I’m happy to expand on this in the comments. Thanks again for reading, friends. xo

4 Responses to my shiva nata practice

  1. Pingback: Announcement! Three new things. | my seed house

  2. Pingback: Being in the awesome, sitting with the hard | my seed house

  3. Laura says:

    Beautiful! I love this, Jesse. Thank you!

  4. David says:

    For me the Nataraja is a very powerful image where the fire surrounding Shiva symbolizes how our bodies will be consumed and that nothing is permanent; our bodies cannot remain still for a second. The dance with all of the limbs symbolizes the life force that dances inside us. Shiva in the centre with his foot on top of the dwarf symbolizesis the destroyed ego.

    There are many ways to interpret the image, and I am only leaving this comment as no one else seems to see what I see.

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