Exercising Consciousness-The Dance of Shiva

Dance of shiva is a physical exercise that helps to unify body and mind improving coordination, concentration, awareness, range of motion. It also develops clear, creative and positive thinking.

The practice is made up of 8 basic positions for each arm so that when both arms are used together there are a total of 64 arm positions combinations. The goal is to develop and practice the ability to connect all positions to each other. This can be made easier by first learning the positions and movements one arm at a time.

These one arm movements then become the building blocks for movements with both arms at the same time. Because both the movements and the positions are easy to define and recognize, this practice is easily done independently of a teacher. It is easy to self check and also easy to detect mistakes. It is an excellent tool for becoming more conscious.

Unifying Mind and Body

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The Dance of Shiva is a physical exercise that works on unifying the mind as well as the body.
At the most basic level the Dance of Shiva involves moving the hands in continuous spirals. There are two basic spiral patterns. In one movement the palms are kept facing up at all times. This basic pattern is called a horizontal spiral. In the other movement the palms are kept facing outwards. This movement is called a Vertical Spiral.

For the horizontal movement 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.

In the second movement 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 and correct them when necessary. In the process we practice sensing our body and controlling it.

As we practice doing the moves we get better at getting our body to do what we want it to do. We correct less and simply observe our body doing the movements we’ve asked it to do.

Key to observing is first having a clear idea of what we are trying to do. Moving our hands in spirals, whether horizontal or vertical, gives us that idea-a clear purpose to unify our ability to sense and control our body. Having a clearly defined idea we can practice being conscious of what we are doing.

Defining Clear Ideas

To make the dance more complex we can break down the basic movements into four segments each. We then get eight positions for each hand: four where the palms are facing up and four where the palms face out.

The goal of the Dance of Shiva becomes that of learning the necessary movements to connect each of these 8 positions to every other position. With this new intention the Dance of Shiva is then not only a physical exercise, but a mental one also.

Initially the mental work may come in memorizing movements so that we can move without thinking. We can learn the movements using one arm at a time and then once we are comfortable we can practice moving both arms at the same time.

With practice we won’t have to think about what each position is in order to move our arms there-we can do it without thinking. We know the positions and our mind and our body become unified in what we are trying to do.

We may get to the point where as soon as we think of the move our arms move to the position.
It is as if we are watching ourselves do the moves.

To get to this point we first have to memorize and learn the moves.

Basic Positions

If we consider only one hand, there are eight positions for one hand in the Dance of Shiva. We can call these positions 1, 2, 3, 4 and a, b, c and d.

  • 1, 2, 3 and 4 are names for positions in which the hand is held facing upwards.
  • a, b, c and d are names for positons in which the hand is held facing outwards.
  • We can call the positions 1, 2, 3 and 4 “Horizontal” positions because the hands face upwards. a, b, c and d are then called “Vertical” positions because the palms face vertically outwards.

    dance of shiva basic positions with one arm
    In Position 1 the hand is level with the top of the head, elbow bend ninety degrees, with the fingers pointing outwards. In Position 2 the hand is level with the belly button with the fingers pointing inwards. In Position 3 the hand is again level with the belly button (or there abouts) but the fingers point outwards. In Position 4 the hand is again level with the top of the head but with the fingers pointing inwards. In all of these positions the palm is held facing upwards.

    In Position a the arm points forwards with the forearm rolled inwards so that the elbow points outwards. IN Position b the elbow is bent and the fingers point towards the sternum. In Position c the arm points forwards but this time the forearm is rolled outwards so that the elbow points inwards. In Position d the arm reaches back behind the body. In all of these positions the palm faces vertically outwards.

    (Where possible. It may actually take some practice to get to this stage. That is one of the ways in which this practice can be used to help open and balance the body, by slowly working towards the “Ideal” positions.)

    Basic Movements

    Having defined these positions, we can then begin defining movements between these positions. The goal in doing so is to define enough moves that we can connect each position to every other position. We define a single movement as a movement that connects one position to another position. A single move connects only two positions.

    First of all we can consider movements that connect positions in the same plane. We can call these same plane movements.

    • The Forwards move connects 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4 and 4 to 1. It also connects a to b, b to c, c to d, and d to a.
    • The Backwards move does the exact opposite connecting 1 to 4, 4 to 3, 3 to 2, and 2 to 1 as well as a to d, d to c, c to b, and b to a.
    • The Transquarter move connects non-adjacent positions, (positions that are not right next to each other.) With the Transquarter we can go from 1 to 3, from 3 to 1. We can also use it to go from 2 to 4, and from 4 to 2. In the vertical plane we can use it to go from a to c, from c to a, from b to d, and from d to b.
    • For completeness we could also consider a “Zero” move that connects a position to itself. If we include the Zero move (and it is necessary) then we can say that we have Four “Same Plane” movements.

    Next we define the “Change Plane” movements. These allow us to connect positions not in the same plane.
    The assumption for these moves is that: a is equivalent to 1, b is equivalent to 2, c is equivalent to 3, and d is equivalent to 4 (and vice versa.)

    • The Change move connects a to 1, 1 to a, b to 2, 2 to b, c to 3, 3 to c, d to 4, and 4 to d. We can consider the remaining three movements to be combinations of the Change Movement and the Three “Same Plane” movements (Forwards, Backwards and Transquarter.)
    • The Change Forwards move connects 1 to b, b to 3, 3 to d, and d to 1. It also connects a to 2, 2 to c, c to 4 and 4 to a.
    • The Change Backwards move 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 a.
    • The Change Transquarter move connects a to 3, 3 to a, b to 4, 4 to b, c to 1, 1 to c, d to 2, 2 to d.

    Practicing the Movements and Positions

    In the video below is a practice set for practicing all the movements and positions. We start with “cyclic moves”
    Forwards, Backwards, Change Forwards and Change Backwards doing the right arm and then the left.

    We then do Transquarters, Changes, and Change Transquarters.

    As well as being a good practice for learning the positions and movements, the exercises in this video are also a nice practice for warming up prior to doing more advanced practices.

    Self Correction

    The nice thing about the Dance of Shiva is that the movements and positions are clearly defined. As a result, once we understand these basic movements and positions, we can easily check that we are doing them right. We can start by practicing the positions so that we know them without having to think about them. We can then practice the movements between those positions, again to the point where we can do them without thinking about them. Once we know the positions and movements while doing them with one arm at a time, our job is then that much easier when we use both hands at the same time.

    Yin and Yang-Sensing Energy and Controlling It

    Yin and Yang are relative terms that can be used to describe how one thing compares or relates to another, or to describe different aspects of the same thing. Understanding yin and yang we can create balance in what we are creating or doing. We can also use yin and yang “analysis” as a way of understanding what we are doing so that we can then create balance.

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    Transmitting Change

    In computer systems, wires can be used to deliver electricity from one place to another.

    Within our body Meridians serve that purpose, helping to transmit change from one part of ourselves to another.

    Where connection allows change to happen, disconnection prevents it.

    The connective tissue of our body comprises a network that connects bones, muscle and organs, all interlinked in our body’s version of a world wide web. It also houses energy channels called meridians much the same way phone lines and cable lines connect and contain the parts of the internet.

    Rather than just transmitting change in the form of electricity (or bio-electricity or qi) this network also transmits change via tension. That tension is applied and released by our bodies’ skeletal muscle.

    By learning to sense and control whether our muscles are active or relaxed, by learning to feel the weight of our bones and position them with respect to the forces acting on themm, we can control and vary the tension in our body and thus effect the state of the meridians. We can sense change and create it, at the same time directing the flow of energy within ourselves via the connective tissue of our body and the meridians within those tissues.


    Yin and Yang- Sensing Energy and Controlling it

    If we think of energy, change or information as equivalents, different forms of each other, we can use the terms “Yin” and “Yang” to denote the direction that change is flowing in relative to ourselves.

    We can also use Yin and Yang to refer to the flow of change relative to something outside of ourselves.

    If we think of energy in the guise of information as something that we can sense and something that we can respond to, we can also use the term Yin to refer to sensing the flow of energy into ourselves and the term Yang to denote controlling or directing the flow of energy out of ourselves.

    Using our senses we take note of the energy or information moving within ourselves or beyond ourselves. We can then shape the energy we send out in response.

    Sensing is yin while controlling or responding is yang. Both of them together allow us to handle change or shape it.

    Whether energy is moving from outside of ourselves to inside of ourselves, or whether it is moving from one place to another within ourselves, if we sense this flow then that sensing ability can be defined as Yin. Our response is Yang.

    One interesting thing to note, the better we sense the energy we send out, the better we can fine tune the energy we continue to send out based on what we are trying to do. The better we direct the way we use our senses the more we can choose the information we take in so that it is relevant to what we are trying to do.

    Thus while we can think of sensing as mostly yin, we can direct the way we use our senses which is Yang. And while we can think of controlling or responding as mostly Yang, we can sense the way that we respond which is Yin.


    Having a Clear Idea

    In each case, the thing that ties together Yin and Yang, helps them to work together is that of having a clear idea of what we are trying to do.

    Having a clear idea of what we are trying to do we can direct  the way we use our senses And we can then Sense the way we respond based on that clear idea.

    • Inwards, sensing in Yin.
    • Outwards, controlling is Yang.
    • Energy, information or change is what we sense and control.

    If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are trying to do then we can practice having a clear idea.
    We can also practice sensing the parts of our body and controlling the relationships between them.

    A clear idea is what we use to direct the way we use our senses and control what we do. Having a clear idea of what we are trying to do is what ties together and directs our ability to sense our body and control it so that we can create change and handle it. Having a clear idea we can unify yin and yang.

    Understanding what we are trying to do we can use our senses and respond to what we sense based on the idea of what we are trying to do. The better we can use our senses and the better we can control our responses the better we can handle change and the better we can create it.

    We can Dance in the Sea of Change.

    Conscious Connections: Rigid, Flexible and Disconnected

    Connection

    A connection joins two parts or two pieces or two ideas.

    In a mechanical or physical system a connection can be rigid so that the connected parts act as one integrated unit. Or the connection can be soft and allow the parts to more relative to each other while still maintaining a “connection.”

    In electrical circuits, switches can be used to “control” connections, either allowing electricity to flow or preventing it.

    Creating a Center

    When we look at something like a billiard ball, we can say that it has a well defined center because all the component parts of the billiard ball are connected and those connections are strong and firm. Thus when we hit the cue ball with our cue stick, the ball moves. All the parts of it move together as one unit.
    It rolls along the table and depending on how we hit it, it may spin in one direction or the other as well as roll. And then when it impacts the target ball, that ball also moves.

    A water bed mattress full of water does not have a well defined center. Imagine trying to move a water bed or even trying to push it. It deforms and nothing else happens unless we push to the limits of the mattresses elasticity. Ideally at this time the mattress doesn’t break, it simply shifts as we push it. Now, because it is deformed, we can say it has a center. We’ve tightened some of the connections between the parts of the water bed mattress and now we give it a center of sorts. We can push it on it and it moves.

    Rigid (or Strong) vs Flexible (Relaxed)

    Simple terms that can be used to denote the differences in state between say a billiard ball and a water bed are rigid and flexible.

    A rigid connection allows parts that are connected to move together. So when the billiard ball is hit, the energy of the collision is transmitted to all the parts of the ball via the connections between them. As a result the ball moves.

    It allows the parts that are connected to handle change together and stay connected.

    A flexible connection is like the water filled water mattress. The water particles inside the mattress can move relative to each other. Freezing the water turns the water mattress from flexible to rigid. With the water unfrozen the water particles can more relative to each other and the water mattress as a whole can deflect and deform, in effect absorbing change.

    Within our body, we can make the connections between the parts of ourself rigid or flexible (or relaxed). Our joints can be like a billiard ball, hard, firm, able to be pushed or moved, or soft and pliable like a waterbed, each part of ourselves absorbing and dissipating change. Our joints can also vary between these two extremes.

    Tension

    The main mechanism for varying our joints between being strong/rigid and flexible/relaxed is tension.

    By controlling tension we can vary the state of our joints between being rigid and flexible. Our joints can then can resist change or dissipate it.

    Mental Connections

    This model can also be applied to our mental state.

    Mental “flexibility” could be imagined as the ability to let ideas move freely relative to each other. Mental “stability” or “rigidness” could be the ability to firmly lock ideas relative to each other.

    I’d suggest that one isn’t better than the other. What is more important is the ability to freely choose whether ideas are flexibly connected or rigidly connected.

    Disconnect

    One final concept is the idea of disconnection. This is similar to the idea of a flexible connection however it is more complete. A flexible connection implies that there is still some connection between the two related parts. As an example we could relax the elbow so that the forearm can flop around relative to the upper arm.

    A disconnect is like unplugging a plug. Doesn’t matter if the switch is on or off, electricity isn’t going to flow.