Wa Yo Yogi

Leanne Kitteridge's adventures in Yoga

Anusara Chaos and the Dance of Shiva February 11, 2012

  • ‘Shrishti’ – creation, evolution
  • ‘Sthiti’ – preservation, support
  • ‘Samhara’ – destruction, evolution
  • ‘Tirobhava’ – illusion
  • ‘Anugraha’ – release, emancipation, grace

These are the 5 acts of Shiva. All of them are happening all the time, everywhere. This week they happened in a very impactful and resounding way throughout the Anusara Yoga community of which I am a member. Our teacher and founder of Anusara Yoga, John Friend, has been accused of and admitted to, behavior that is not in alignment with the Ethics and guidelines of Anusara. I learned one hour before I was about to teach Monday night that literally all hell had broke loose~ and my teacher , who I held in the deepest respect and  great esteem,  suddenly was shown to have clay feet.

I could wax on about what he did, but honestly, I don’t really care. John is a brilliant man and the method he synthesized is the best I have ever taught, practiced or experienced.  I am also very much a liberal and you can do what you want in your private life,  as long as it doesn’t hurt others and it’s not unethical to the standards of which you hold yourself and others. I hate hypocrites. But  I mean really… smoking weed??? It’s almost legal where I live! Unfortunately the issue is that John denied the behavior or hid the behavior from the community at large, which has now been to the detriment of all those associated with the method. He was not ” walking his talk” and that has created a large “disconnect” in a method that tries at its heart to create connection- to our own hearts, to the  pulsation of nature around us and to the Absolute.

We know when we are “disconnected” because there is this uncomfortable unsatisfactory feeling of rubbing up against something that creates a friction, a pain, a suffering. Part of this is truly God given as it causes us to then change the behaviour, the thinking, the heart- to move back into connection. This is  part of the Dance of Shiva- the dance of life.

We conceal our hearts and create illusions of what is the truth and then these creations of the ego become unable to sustain themselves and they crumble back into their component parts. The heart is still there- it is indestructible: but we continually go through this process of concealment and revelation, creation and destruction, as a cycle of manifested life. We dance the life of shadows and light until we die. The true yogi still dances, but there is an abiding stillness that remains at the center- at the heart.

The Dance of Shiva contains – “sthiti” – preservation; the leg that stands upon the demon of ignorance as it wiggles to get free. Can you stand in the chaos of this dance of life and not get swept away- lost in the chaos- thrown off balance to let the demon arise? This is what the yogi- in the form of Nataraja- represents. The yogi sees through the illusions, stands in the wildness and yet remains in a meditative state in the heart. Grace helps hold them there.

Awakening to the wisdom that this is the cycle and this is your dharma does not allow you to waver- the foot remains firmly rooted out of profound love. Grace is the power that holds the heart to the highest- even when life can be at it’s lowest.

When I signed my certification I signed on to a method – not a personality- and I have a profound love of this practice that is not going to let the chaos waver my steady leg – a leg that is in direct correlation to my heart. As I taught shortly after the chaos began , I felt the strength and power of the teachings flow through me and my heart sang a song of connection. There was nothing there that felt anything but beautiful. I realized that this is destruction of the old, immature, adolescent dependence that we had on John as the figure head and that we now have all the component parts in front of us to  create again . The heart is not lost, the heart is not broken, it is there waiting for us to Open To Grace and rebuild and create in a mature way- seeing the illusions, staying steady in the heart and yet remaining in the chaotic dance of life-

what will we create out of destruction?


Story of the Nataraj: Dancing Shiva July 23, 2009

Filed under: Anusara,yoga — shibuiyoga @ 11:08 pm
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I promised a month ago I would write about the Nataraj and some of John’s interpretations he gave us in Montreal. I will add some more information I have gathered from research and hopefully it will give you a fuller picture of this iconic statue.

My first encounter with the dancing Shiva was as a teenager reading William Deverel’s book called ” The Dance of Shiva” . It opened with a tale of Shiva’s dance of creation and destruction and then becomes this disturbing Jones-town like murder suspense novel. Let’s just say I didn’t see Shiva as the guy I wanted to worship…..

As time has gone on, Shiva’s story as the Nataraj has become one that I now have a better understanding of. In some ways it is still as disturbing and brutal, but when one sees destruction as destruction of ignorance and evil, and death as the natural cycle of life, then there is a fuller comprehension of the Nataraj as a symbol of the whole realm of the manifested world, which by default we sometimes see as disturbing and brutal. In Anusara, we look for the good, so I chose to now see Shiva in his dancing form as destroying all that keeps me from knowing my true nature and that when I have a revelation of Grace I too dance in bliss like Shiva. ( Well, maybe I dance in my heart rather than around the room but you get the point….) Shiva is like a guy who is a bit of a bad ass, the wild guy your mother dosen’t want you to date,  but has a really good heart.

The story of Shiva in his form as Nataraj has many different mythological origins. One of the more common ones is that Shiva becomes embroiled in a flight with a group of rishis living in the forest. During the fight the rishis create different weapons one being in the form of a tiger. Shiva quickly slays it and wears the skin as clothing. They then create a serpent which Shiva slays and wraps around his neck three times like a garland. It is said in this tale they also create the demon dwarf- Apasmara- purusha-which he slays by stepping down and breaking his back. Other stories say that Apasmara was terrorizing people who then prayed to Shiva to save them.

As the Nataraj, Shiva is shown in the Anandatandava– the dance of Bliss.  Even in Indian dance today a tandava has the following elements:

  • ‘Shrishti’ – creation, evolution
  • ‘Sthiti’ – preservation, support
  • ‘Samhara’ – destruction, evolution
  • ‘Tirobhava’ – illusion
  • ‘Anugraha’ – release, emancipation, grace
  • In Shiva’s form as Nataraj, all these elements are present: they are the 5 acts of Shiva.  First he is surrounded by flames. These flames represent wisdom and truth- that which sheds light. In the upper right  hand, Shiva holds the drum known as damaru which represents the creative input of the universe. From the stillness comes the first sound, the rhythm that accompanies Shiva’s dance. It is the pulsation of the universe -Spanda. I have also read that the drum being shaped like two triangles with their points touching represent shiva and shakti and their relationship which manifests the material world. The drum is the primordial sound that emanates from the stillness.

    Shiva’s upper left hand holds a flame representing destruction, dissolution or dissolving.  Notice how both the upper left and the upper right hand are on the same line so that creation and destruction are both equal to each other. The second right hand is in the form of a mudra called Abayamudra– the non-harming mudra. It can be interpreted as showing Shiva as a protector- one that you can take refuge in. The second left hand is crossing the heart and the hand is pointing down to the lifted foot. It reminds us that the heart has the power to remind us of Grace. The lifted foot represents anugraha– the revelatory power of Grace. It is in the forefront which shows us that it is more primary and holds the greatest significance.

     The standing leg sits at the exact middle of the figure- it is stittihi– the middle- it represents preservation and it’s power holds down the demon of ignorance and forgetfulness, Aspamarapurusha. Shiva’s dreadlocks are wild and outstretched in the Nataraj ( this photo dosen’t represent that as well as others) to represent the ongoing pulsation and wave like movement of the universe. If you look carefully at his face though, in opposition to his whirling body, it is completely serene. With his eyes half shut , Shiva is in the Turiya state of pure consciousness of spirit. Yet even in this state, he is moving wildly. He is in the hub and the periphery simultaneously. This is the ultimate goal of the yogi- to be both at the same time.

    One of the things that John mentioned that I had never heard of is that Shiva is very anglular in this form and that the bends in Shiva’s dancing form represent Maya. Maya we mostly come to  think of as illusion or the ” magic mirror” but originally it  meant the power to measure and John pointed out that all forms are in ratios of 1.168- the golden measure. The perfection of the universal is shown in the manifest. As Carlos Pomeda once said, “the world is telling me about the divine”. 

     Shiva’s manifest form as the Nataraj therefore is telling us about the divine. We see the 5 acts of Shiva in the form, but it is even richer than that. It begins to show us the deeper meanings of yoga and yogic life. I like to think that the Nataraj is a re-enforcement of chosing to stay in and of the world while still maintaining a higher awareness and doing appropriate action. Can I be whirled around in the dance of life and still hold to the centre? I am trying.      OM NAMA SHIVAYA………