{NOTE: originally posted March 5, 2010 here: }

Writing: Chrisandra Fox

Photography: Faern


Nataraja is one of the many names for Shiva, the Lord of the Dance, and the great source of yoga. Shiva dances the Tandava, a divine dance that produces all rhythm and movement within the cosmos. In this cosmic dance, so beautifully represented in Indian art, Shiva dances the manifestations of eternal energy in the rhythms of creation, protection, destruction, concealment, and release or liberation from the world of illusion.

And, yet, he embodies the enormous paradox of manifesting fierce outer activity while dissolving into deep inner tranquility.

We can express our own dance of eternal energy while practicing Natarajasana, a vigorous standing balance posture that incorporates deep back bending, hip opening, an abdominal massage of the vital organs, and circulation of the heart energy.

This posture challenges our internal stability, as we stand rooted through one leg, and invite rhythms of movement through lifting the opposite leg. Here, we find a creative tension that preserves our balance and yet allows us to then go deeper into the pose to witness the great opening of the heart.

The field of the dance of Nataraja is the universe, which is the center of the heart or consciousness of each person. As you practice this pose, stay connected to your breath and cultivate a steady presence – like an unwavering flame – in the center of your heart.

The Pose

Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Stand strongly through your left leg as you bend your right knee and bring your right heel towards your buttock. Take hold of your big toe, the inside of your right ankle or, to modify the pose, a strap looped around your ankle.

As you inhale, raise your left arm overhead, extending through your fingertips, and engaging your shoulder blade firmly on your back ribs.

Press your right foot against your hand and use the resistance to float your right thigh towards the sky. Keep your hips steady left to right, so that your right thigh is not turning out. This will keep the back wall of your pelvis broad and even in preparation for the deeper backbend. Lower your left arm parallel to the floor, gazing towards the tip of your nose, or your fingers.

Your spine may dip forward – keep a lift through your spine and abdomen, lengthen your belly as you inhale, and gently tone your navel center as you exhale. Can you soften your lower front ribs? Can you bring the fullness of your breath to your kidneys in your back body, even as you deepen your backbend? Ground through your standing leg, spreading across the bases of your toes and drawing energy up towards your heart.

Feel the creative tension in the shape of the pose, as your torso moves forward and your leg presses backwards.

There are many wonderful variations you can take in this pose.

To deepen the backbend and bind the pose, bend your right elbow out to the side, and sweep your inner elbow up alongside your ear. Lift your left arm overhead, and bend left elbow. Grasp your toes with your left fingers, or take hold of the strap in both hands. Now, lengthen through the shoulders as you lift elbows towards the sky. Press your right foot and shin back as you explore the radiant opening of your heart, chest, shoulders, and abdomen.

Keep your eyes in a soft and steady gaze. Nataraja is often depicted with a stoic expression on his face, suggesting neutrality, equanimity, and balance within the chaos of his dance. You may find just the hint of a smile, as you attune to the vibratory nature of the pulse of your being, and dance to the rhythm of your breath.

Chrisandra Fox teaches weekly classes at Yoga Tree, Yoga Garden and leads The Heart of Renewal Retreats in California and beyond. She teaches in Yoga Tree’s 200-hour Teacher Training.

Faern is a mixed media artist, photographer and yoga practitioner in San Francisco. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook.


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