At the most basic level the Dance of Shiva involves moving the hands in continuous spiral like patterns. There are two basic spiral movement pattern in this practice. In one movement the palms are kept facing up at all times. You could imagine moving your hands while balancing oil candles on them. The goal would be to move the hands in such a way that you don’t spill any oil nor do you cause the candles to blow out.
A second movement involves moving the hands in continuous spirals while keeping the palms facing outwards. In this case it is a bit more difficult to balance something on the hands and so you might imagine holding a sword or knife and moving it in such a way that the cross section of the blade always stays in the same plane (the vertical plane from front to back).
While we don’t actually hold anything in our hands in this version of the Dance of Shiva the intent of keeping the palms facing upwards or outwards is a part of what makes it so powerful. It gives our hands a purpose.
Having a purpose for the hands we can sense our hands to make sure they are doing what we want them to. If our hands aren’t horizontal we can make them so. As we get better at learning to sense our body and respond to what we sense our mind and body are better able to act as one.
Using our mind and body at once, Dance of Shiva is an excellent exercise for improving coordination between the two.
To make the dance more complex the basic movements are broken down into four segments so that we get eight positions for each hand, four in the Horizontal plane where the palms are facing up and four in the Vertical plane where the palms face out.
Horizontal positions: 1, 2, 3 and 4
Vertical positions: a, b, c and d
If we use both hands together this then gives us a total of 64 hand position combinations.
With these 64 positions the goal of the Dance of Shiva becomes that of learning the necessary movements to connect each of these 64 points to every other point.
With this new intention the Dance of Shiva becomes even more of an exercise for the mind as well as the body.
Initially the mental work may come in memorizing movements and sets of movements so that we can move without thinking. But after that the mental effort can come from visualizing the positions before we move into them so that our mind leads the body in every action.
We may get to the point where as soon as we think of the move our arms move to the position. Our thought becomes the action.
Then our mind and out body truly are acting as one.
Often times we create “artificial limits” for ourselves. These are limitations of the mind where we “think” that we can’t do something because it is too difficult or because we haven’t got money or time or because other people say we can’t. Some of these limits may be real but some of them are not. With the Dance of Shiva we learn to see the real limits and we then see the space between those limits. As a result we then see the way to move forwards as opposed to the reasons for stopping.
When we first begin to learn the Dance of Shiva we learn one set of habits. Then we learn additional habits. Eventually we learn enough habits that they are no longer habits. Instead, they become options, possibilities. And we are free to choose from among them.
Dance of Shiva isn’t just about learning how to sense limits and move within them it is also about learning to create out own limits to help define what we are doing. Then once their purpose has been served we can let go of those limits and create new ones. It is as if in one instance we sense the road so that we can drive on it and in the other we create the road.
The actual movements themselves work on the wrists, shoulders, ribcage and spine. By being aware of these parts as we do the movement we become more conscious of our body. In particular we become aware of it can actually do. By exercising the parts of our body to the limits of their range of motion we learn to sense their limits and if these limits are due to tightness or lack of muscle function we can then begin to press these limits back.
Because some of the movements can be quite difficult we may have to figure out exactly what we have to do in order to allow ourselves to do the movement. What's the best ways to rotate our forearm or wrist so that our palm stays upright or "outright." Do we roll out shoulder and upper arm inwards or outwards? Will sliding our shoulder blade forwards or backwards help us in any way to make the movements easier?
Taking the time to think about what we can do we can then go about testing these different possibilities. We can then afterwards make decisions based on what we have experienced.
Doing the Dance of Shiva we may find that it helps improve our coordination in activities outside of the Dance of Shiva. We may also find that the practice of “making connections” i.e. that of joining one point to any of the other points also helps us to make connections between ideas in outside life. We may find that we see solutions to problems easier. They may just “appear” or become obvious to us. It is as if the practicing the Dance of Shiva can help make us smarter or help us to rediscover our natural smartness.
Balancing the mind and the body and helping us to flow the Dance of Shiva can be an excellent exercise in and of itself. It can also be a fun game to play with kids (and other adults) and it can be a warm up for other activities whether mental or physical. It can be something we do as a break from other activities and it can also be something that we teach or share with others so that they can realize more of their true potential. And like with teaching anything else, teaching the Dance of Shiva we realize a little bit more of our own potential by helping others.
As mentioned there are two basic Spiral movements used in the Dance of Shiva. We refer to the first type of movement as a Horizontal spiral because the palm faces upwards while the second is referred to as a Vertical spiral because the palm faces vertically outwards.
In both of these types of movements the hand can move Forwards or Backwards and so in each case we have a Forwards Spiral and a Backwards spiral.
Breaking down these spirals so that they have four stopping points each, we can label these stopping positions in the Horizontal plane as 1, 2, 3 and 4 and in the Vertical plane we can label them as a, b, c and d.
Horizontal positions: 1, 2, 3 and 4
Vertical positions: a, b, c and d
The goal of the Dance of Shiva now becomes that of learning the necessary movements to connect each of these positions to every other position.
Because there are eight positions for one hand we need seven movements to connect one point to every other point. From position 1, we need seven different movements so that we can connect it directly to positions 2, 3, 4, a, b, c and d. Likewise for each of the other positions.
Sticking to movements that connect positions in the same plane to begin with, we already have two of the movements that we need. We can connect 1 to 2 and 2 to 3 and 3 to 4 and 4 to 1 using the Forward spiral. In the pictures below we connect positions 4 to 1 by moving Forwards.
Forward from 4 to 1
We can also connect 1 to 4, 4 to 3, 3 to 2 and 2 to 1 using the Backward spiral.In the picture that follows we connect position 4 to 3 by moving Backwards.
Backward from 4 to 3
How do we connect 1 directly to 3 and 3 to 1? We invent a new move called the Transquarter. This is like a shortcut move that breaks the rules.
Transquarter from 1 to 3
Moving from 1 to 3 and back from 3 to 1 the palm does not stay horizontal. Instead it turns forwards and down or forwards and up so that in either case it returns to the horizontal position. The same thing happens when we use this movement to connect position 2 to 4 and 4 to 2.
Below the Transquarter is used to connect position 4 to 2.
Transquarter from 4 to 2
Incidentally, if we want to "connect" a position to itself, i.e. if we don't want to move the hand we can use a Zero move. This move is important when it comes to describing movements that involve both hands.
Now we have all the moves we need to connect points in the same plane.
We can use this same terminology that we used to describe movements in the Horizontal plane to describe movements in the vertical plane.
A Forwards move can connect a to b, b to c, c to d and d to a. A Backwards move can connect a to d, d to c, c to b and b to a. A Transquarter move connects a to c, c to a, b to d and d to b. A zero connects a position to itself.
While the forwards move in the vertical plane looks different than the forwards move in the horizontal plane we can use the same name, “Forwards” to describe this movement because of the way that we’ve named the points and because the name of the movement describes a direction as opposed to say the actual position of the hand as it is moving. So even though a Forwards move in the Horizontal plane has the palm facing upwards while in the Vertical plane it faces outwards, this doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in either plane it describes the move that connects one point to the one that follows it.
Now we consider how to join points in different planes. How do we connect point 1 to points a, b, c and d? That's where the Change movement comes in.
Using a Change we can connect point 1 to a. We can also connect a to 1.
Using a Change Forwards movement we can connect 1 to b, b to 3, 3 to d and d to 1. We can also connect a to 2, 2 to c, c to 4 and 4 to a.
The Change Backwards movement does the opposite. It connects 1 to d, d to 3, 3 to b and b to 1. It also connects a to 4, 4 to c, c to 2 and 2 to 1.
I hope you can guess how the Change Transquarter works. It connects 1 to c and c to 1. It connects 2 to d and d to 2. It connects 3 to a and a to 3. Finally it also connects 4 to b and b to 4.
Now we have the eight basic movements (including the zero move) so that we can connect a position to any of the other positions. Understanding the limits we can move within them.
The movement icons below ideally help you to understand the essence of each movement.
What if we want to use both hands together? If we use both hands together there are a total of 64 different hand positions. From each of these positions there are 64 possible movements. The goal of the Dance of Shiva is learning the positions and the movements so that we can Dance among them freely.
But, we don't have to learn all the positions and all of the movements to be free. We can learn little bits at a time and practice being free with those little bits at a time. We learn a little bit, make it a part of our experience and then grow outwards from there.
For lessons on the dance of shiva you can check out the Dance of Shiva Learners Guide Part 1. This guide is designed to get you familiar with the cyclic movements and also all positions where both hands are in the same plane.
Part 2 in this series will focus on non-cyclic or jump moves.
For more advanced practitioners you might be interested in Formula for Freedom. This booklet shows how to create an algorithm of 4, 8, 16 and even 32 moves, with all moves non repeating. If you are familiar with the dance of shiva as andrey lappa teaches it, this is very similiar to his level 3 except that mirror moves are not used.
This yoga workout includes exercises for working towards foot behind the head, the front to back splits and increasing arm strength and body awareness with yoga push ups. And it includes some more basic yoga poses like bridge, pigeon and seated forward bend.
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This selection of psoas stretches with a focus on lengthening the lower fibers of the psoas. You'll need some body awareness for these stretches but you may find that these stretches also help you to develop it.
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At one of his workshops Richard Freeman constantly invited us to lift our kidneys or our 12th ribs or even the back of the diaphragm in order to lengthen the psoas major. I later found out that via connective tissue (or anatomy trains) these are all connected.
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Bridge yoga pose can be used as a preparation for wheel pose or as a counterpose to re-energize the body after forward bending. It can also be used as a preparation or substitute for plough pose and/or shoulderstand yoga pose.
Foot behind the head can be a challenge both mentally and physically. To make it easier work towards it while laying on your back and prepare with variations of pigeon and happy baby yoga poses.
Happy baby hip stretch can be used as a substitute for low lunge and as a preparation (or alternative) for marichyasana type yoga poses as well as foot behind the head. And it's an easy way to stretch the hip extensors without involving the hamstrings.
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