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Lessons from Lord Shiva: The Power of Bent Legs and Arms

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 6th Chakra, 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.  

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