Yogi Superheroes Round 2 – Day 1 – Shiva, the Nataraja

Yep, it’s time for another week of superheroes.  Some are repeats, some are new….either way, you can come here each day this week for more details, more resources, and simple reminders of how powerful these characters’ qualities and images can be in your life.

We started today with the BIG GUY – Shiva.  Why is he the big guy?  Well, he is supreme consciousness.  Yeah, for real!  His name means “the auspicious one” and he represents our timeless and unbounded nature.  When we connect to Shiva, we are truly checking into that part of ourselves that is beyond space, time, and the body in which we currently reside.  We are connecting to the absolute, the life force that we share with every other being on this planet.  In classic human fashion, we have given him a human body to inhabit as well as a seat to sit in and a dance to do because for us, connecting to these forms is easier.   At the same time, it is important to remember that he is so much more than these representations – he is consciousness itself.

In this morning’s class we focused on Shiva in the form we call the “Nataraja” or “Lord of the Dance.”  You may have seen this image before…

This piece is unbelievably rich with meaning, and thousands of pages of text have been written about the iconography embedded within this image.  Click here for a great article that summarizes a lot of this symbolism.  For our purposes, however, I’d like to focus on the power of the Nataraja for us, the yogis of the world.

As you may know, the word “yoga” means “to connect,” and all of us who practice regularly know that we are interconnecting the many strands of ourselves and our lives on the mat.  We connect breath to body, body to mind, mind to spirit.  We connect ourselves to others in the room and beings far away whom we don’t even know.  And we connect to universal consciousness – Shiva.  In creating connection we often find ourselves containing seemingly opposite qualities such as strength and softness, power and receptivity, space for newness and commitment to what is.  Shiva in his form as the Nataraja is the role model for this.

In one hand, Shiva holds the “damaru” – the drum that symbolizes creation.  In his other hand (well, he has 4 hands, so, one of his other hands!) he holds “agni” – fire – the symbol of destruction.  These forces are placed at equal heights, and he holds them with equal care.  He himself represents the cycle of creation, sustenance, and dissolution, and when we look at him we are encouraged to remember our role in this cycle. We are creators, and we are detroyers – both, and simultaneously.

Similarly, Shiva as the Nataraja lives the seemingly paradoxical life of the ascetic meditator, and the wild dreadlocked dancer.  Who says you can’t be both?  In some myths and images he sits in mediation unmoving for thousands of years.  In others his dreads are waving wildly as he dances the anadatandava – often on the cremation grounds where he is reputed to enjoy hanging out.  He examines and enjoys both ends of the continuum of experience and is equally comfortable in both.  How can this be?  Well, Shiva is a yogi.  In fact, he is the ultimate yogi.  He can embody opposites.  And…so can you.

This video presents more detail about the imagery of the Nataraja…along with an asana practice to celebrate it.

For me, this is the power I draw from the Nataraja.  I am reminded that I can live anywhere along the continuum of experience, choosing my feelings, actions, and interests as I wish.  I can choose to invest deeply into the worldly pleasure of dancing on the cremation grounds, and I can choose to dive down into the depths of my own soul.  And the more I play to both ends, the richer my life is.  After all, Shiva is universal consciousness, and universal consciousness is me (and you, and your partner, and your enemy….).  It has become me, in my individual form, to experience itself….which is so amazing!  In honor of all the chemical reactions it took to get me to this point, I want to honor that gift by living a full life, and that means I need to go deep into any experience, pleasant or painful – or even both at once.  Invoking Shiva, or simply looking at his form, is a reminder of this.

And you’ll forget.  I sure do.  Which is why the Nataraja also gently counsels us to remember.  The arm that cloaks Shiva’s heart points to his gracefully upturned foot – a symbol of remembrance.  He dances on the dwarf of ignorance but does not kill him, he merely keeps him in check.  There he reminds Shiva – and us – that we will continue to dance between remembrance and forgetfulness of our divine nature.

But….the more we practice remembering, the more we remember.  That’s why it’s called a “practice,” right?

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~ by bridgetannlyons on September 19, 2011.

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