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Teach Shiva


...the Power of Bent Arms and Legs...




Hundreds of books and articles have been written analyzing and defining Lord Shiva. Observing the 1000 year old bronze icon statue we see bent legs and arms. Present day yoga photographs and instruction for Nataragasana, the yoga posture from the statue Lord Shiva Nataraja, often depict the practitioner with a straight standing leg and arm.  What lessons does the statue offer?


“Nataraja was developed in southern India by 9th or 10th century artists during the Chola period (880-1279 CE) in a series of beautiful bronze sculptures.  By the 12th century AD, it achieved canonical stature. Nataraja ‘means King of Dancers’ (in Sanskrit nata = dance; raja = king)”.1  Lord Shiva is an artist’s attempt to explain the mystery of life, the constant ebb and flow that maintains the equilibrium of our existence.

Yoga is a method for training the body, breath and mind, to yoke the self to the universal self.   Lord Shiva is considered “the deity of yogins par excellence”.2  The image of Lord Shiva in Anandatandava, stimulated Fritjof Capra to write The Tao of Physics. He states that “every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction without end.   For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.  As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos, the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena”.3  The bend in the arms and legs is an integral part of this flowing rhythmic energy dance.

“Nataraja is a symbolic synthesis of the most important aspects of Hinduism, the summary of the central tenets of the Vedic Religion and the clearest image of the activity of god which any art or religion can boast of”.4 By including the bend in the legs and arms of the energy dance in a practice, students are presented valuable techniques to train the body, breath and mind.  These techniques correct, rehabilitate and prevent injury for the body including all the most common complaints (knees, lower back, shoulders, neck), and open pathways to clarity. 

Anatomy Lessons

1.  Mouth is closed requiring breathing through nose stimulating the diaphragm to properly function.

2.  Face and eyes are soft, eyes level with the floor.   When the eyes are level the sides of the neck are equally extended, not twisted or tilted to one side.  This position also affects the 6thChakra, your ability to intuit.

3.  Feet are slightly pigeon toed. This technique is also presented in excellent images in “The Magic Four” from Svaroopa Yoga published in Yoga International, July ’05, p. 86. 

4.  Knees are bent with knees released toward the little toe and perineum flat to the floor.  This aligned instruction is critical for releasing the inner groin, protecting the knees, and lower back. 

5.  Bent knee can be lifted to a degree higher than the hip.  A bent knee insures the psoas is being stretched correctly, protecting the lower back at L4, L5.

6.  Arms are extended from the shoulders with slight bend at the elbows with “crazy bone” pointing down, also important.  This places the shoulder blades down the back, allows the neck to lengthen and move freely, and establishes correct shoulder position for arm rotation.  

7.  The hand/arm positions are excellent examples of how to protect the shoulders by keeping rhomboids down the back while moving the arms in all four directions, N. S. E. W.  Moving the arm any distance with the rhomboids held down the back is difficult for most practitioners, a skill developed with training.

8.   Energetically the posture is properly charged.

9.   Lord Shiva’s Cosmic Dance incorporates two fundamental principles that create superior body fluidity:  proper stretching of the psoas, and strengthening the rhomboids, serratus anterior muscles of the back. The combination of a properly stretched psoas and rhomboids held down the back while twisting and balancing on one bent leg; enables gravity to adjusts all necessary intrinsic muscles in the image of our DNA, the double helix. 

Energetic /Spiritual Lessons

A fundamental energetic principle presented by Nataraja is in the leg position.  When we stand with 2 straight legs we direct energy up (yang).  When 2 standing legs are bent, energy is directed down (yin). Nataraja’s Anandatandava, stance is on one bent leg.  When we stand on 1 leg we send energy up, but if the one leg is bent, equal energy is sent down. Man is a conduit between Heaven and Earth.   We become a fully charged conduit that is both negative (yin) and positive (yang) when we stand on one bent leg, or when we shift from one leg to the other when we walk.  This energetic position is how the cell(s) become properly charged. When we are properly charged we are full of grace, we radiate through the ebbs and flows of life. When legs are stretch straight, energy only goes up (yang), with nothing going down (yin) to balance the practitioner.  This condition can create dis-ease within the body, breath and mind.  Practicing on one bent aligned leg allows gravity to make all necessary therapeutic adjustments.

The bend in the leg also releases the inner groin critical to spiritual development.  Barbara Levitt, Ph.D. states, “Just as straight legs lead to yang energy rising to the head, right-brained thinking (yang is the right side); so a tight inner groin contributes to repressed sexuality (kundalini).  Many cultural practices encourage the bend in the leg:  Hawaiian hula, Middle Eastern belly dancing, African drumming and dancing, Eastern practices such as Yoga according to the lessons of Lord Shiva, Qigong (Chi Kung), Tai Chi Chuan and other martial arts derivatives, producing spiritual cultivation.”   Ramamand Patel ( often stated in yoga class; “your inner groins control your whole life”.

The extended bent arm position protects the liver, heart, lungs, kidneys, and spleen; the yin organs of the body.  When the rhomboids are held down the back the yin organs are in neutral state.  When the Yin organs are neutral, Yang organs are neutral.   Death can be described when Yang (fire) burns ups Yin (water).  In Ayurvedic terms as we age we tend to dry up, moving towards vata, air and space.  With the legs and arms bent, the entire body is stimulated in yin/yang balance. Lord Shiva’s lessons become an invaluable blueprint for the practitioner.

Lord Shiva is found in Chapters 3, 6, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 17 of 18 Buddha Hands Qigong, a formidable system in China, offering physical fitness, physical therapy and energetic/spiritual development. Shiva posture is also found in Tai Chi, a branch of qigong, that has many systems “that are the end result of many hundreds of years of development by great thinkers, sages, and other men of vision.”5


Stand on two feet 45 degrees right to front, slightly pigeon toed and touching, knees release toward little toe with perineum flat to the floor, or sit in a chair shown in Yoga International July ’05, p.86. Gently extend arms with palms turned up, elbow crazy bone pointing toward the floor. Relax face, close the mouth, with soft, level eyes. Sit down in an imaginary chair, releasing knees toward little toes. Lift the left bent leg and twist hanging leg 45 degrees more to the right. The higher you lift the more you must bend and maintain the aligned standing leg. Bend in each leg is equal. Bent knee can be lifted until it is higher than the hip or chair image in YI July ’05, p.88. Leaving left leg parallel to front edge of mat twist body 90 degrees back to front, creating DNA double helix image, kundalini symbol. 

Shiva"s flexion / extension in the wrist and ankles, stimulates the 8 extraordinary vessels, regulating the 12 major organs:  Liver, Heart, Kidney, Spleen, Triple Burner, YIN organs; Gall Bladder, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Pericardium, YANG organs.  By creating gentle tension / release twist movemnts in the connective tissue stimulates the pathways to wellness.  The Psoas is stretched ~ "You can never have too big a butt".   The rhomboids, serratus anterior muscles are held down the back promoting proper alignment of torso, protecting the liver, heart, kidney, spheen and triple burner.  Vata (air and space ) is balanced.  Breathe thru nose, mouth closed, feet slightly pigeon toed, knees slightly bent, released toward little toe, arms slightly bent at elbows crazy bone toward the floor.

Beginners young and old can follow Lord Shiva lessons to avoid injury and make rapid progress.  From the beginning students create a "flow without time"s presence, so that each of us realizes we aren"t separate beings limited by space and time, but a One-Being continual and eteranl". 6

Three principles I have learned about Teacing Yoga.

1.  Treat all students as if they are well.

2.  Teach Vata principles.

3.  Teach Shiva, how the body moves without pain,.


---Leslie Sims specializes in “pain free” movement through regulation of body, breath, and mind in Yoga and Chi Kung (Qigong).  She is director of Now Yoga, Yoga Alliance 500/RYT, registered IAYT, was certified by Iyengar, and studies Ayurveda. For the last 8 years she has immersed herself in Hua Shan Taoist Chi Kung and Chinese medicine under Larry Johnson, O.M.D., L.Ac.  She is a pioneer in teaching the same posture from both the Indian Yoga tradition and a Taoist perspective. Understanding the universal principles inherent in both systems provides a blueprint for correct action and internal development.  She teaches privately, in groups, in retreats and workshops, locally and internationally.

1   “Shiva Nataraj in Indian Art: Understanding the Symbol of the Dancing Shiva”, Internet

2    The Yoga Tradition, Feuerstein (Hohm Press, 1998), p.111.

3    The Tao of Physics, Capra (Shambhala, 2000) p.245.

4   “The Dance of Shiva", in Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Indian Essays, rev. ed. (New York: NoondayPress, 1957), pages. 66-78.

5    Energetic Tai Chi Chuan, Johnson (White Elephant Monastery, 1989) back cover

6    The Yoga of Time Travel, Wolf (Quest Books, 2004), p. 200.

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