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.

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