Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shiva Rea – The Devine Dance, as posted on

A single female dancer emerges from the darkness of the stage. Her presence is immediately captivating, the air suddenly fragrant with her appearance. Adorned in jewels from head to toe, radiant in a special red and gold sari, her long dark hair crowned in jasmine, she is the embodiment of the divine feminine, mirroring the images of goddesses from Lakshmi to Saraswati one sees everywhere in India. She begins her dance with an offering: With her hands in Namaste (Anjali Mudra), she dances her way to the altar to release a river of flowers over the golden image of Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. The rhythm begins. "Ta ka dhi mi taka dhe," a singer chants to the beat of a two-sided drum. Her dance unfolds from that moment in a spiral of complex movements driven by rhythmic foot patterns, precise hand gestures, and facial expressions arrested in sculpted postures in which time stops for a moment before the rhythm begins again. Even though her story is not familiar to me, I am lost in the grace of every expression and the pure stamina of her dance, which builds and releases through movement and stillness until, in a final crescendo of rhythmic fire, it ends in the stance of Shiva as Nataraja: her left leg crossed in front of her and extended to her right, as is her graceful left arm, while the right hand forms the Abhaya Mudra, which says, "Have no fear."

With that encounter, I first fell in love with the world of Indian classical dance some 12 years ago while studying at Delhi University. I had come to India as a student of both anthropology and Ashtanga Yoga, ready to immerse myself in Indian culture. After being blown away by an evening concert featuring all the many styles of Indian classical dance—Bharata Natayam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Kathak, Mohini Attam, and Manipuri—I found my way to an Odissi dance class at the Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi. It was here that I experienced the yoga of dance: postures, known as karanas, that reminded me of yogic standing poses in their grounding through open hips and strong legs; an intense concentration, as my awareness was asked to be everywhere at once; and an underlying relationship to the body and movement as a sacred means of unifying the Self. My study of dance started to transform my experience of Ashtanga Yoga; I started to push less and feel more, using the form to cultivate a unified consciousness and an inner grace.
Dance and Yoga: The Divine Connection

In the Hindu tradition, gods and goddesses dance as a way of expressing the dynamic energy of life. The image of Nataraja represents the god of gods, Shiva, as the Lord of the Dance, choreographing the eternal dance of the universe as well as more earthly forms such as Indian classical dance (which is said to have originated from his teachings). In Hindu mythology Shiva is also Yogiraj, the consummate yogi, who is said to have created more than 840,000 asanas, among them the hatha yoga poses we do today. While a cultural outsider may not relate to these mythic dimensions in a literal way, dancers in India revere the divine origins of their dances, which were revealed to the sage Bharata and transcribed by him into the classic text on dance drama, theNatya Shastra (circa 200 c.e.). What many practitioners of yoga do not know is that one of the central texts of yoga, Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, written around the same time, was also inspired by an encounter with Nataraja.

Srivatsa Ramaswami, Chennai-based yoga teacher, scholar, and longtime student of yoga master T. Krishnamacharya, includes a pivotal story of how Patanjali came to write the Yoga Sutra in his book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life (Inner Traditions, 2000). In Ramaswami's account,Patanjali, a young man with a great yogic destiny, is drawn to leave home to do tapas (intensive meditation) and receive the darshana of Shiva's dance. Eventually Shiva becomes so taken byPatanjali's ekagrya (one-pointed focus) that he appears before Patanjali and promises to reveal his dance to the young yogi at Chidambaram, a Nataraja temple in present-day Tamil Nadu. At Chidambaram, Patanjali encounters a golden theater filled with many divine beings and sages. ToPatanjali's wonderment, Brahma, Indra, and Saraswati start to play their sacred instruments. Shiva then begins his ananda tandava ("dance of ultimate bliss"). As Ramaswami tells it, "The great tandava starts with a slow rhythm and in time reaches its crescendo. Engrossed completely in the divine dance, the great sages lose their separate identities and merge with the great oneness created by the tandava." At the end of the dance, Shiva asks Patanjali to write the Mahabhasya, his commentaries on Sanskrit grammar, as well as the Yoga Sutra, the yogic text most widely used by Western yoga practitioners today.

For yoga teacher and Anusara Yoga founder John Friend, who has been inspired by Indian classical dance forms and is presently coauthoring a book on a Tantric view of the Yoga Sutra, the relationship of Patanjali and Nataraja is a key to understanding yoga as a living art. "The image of Nataraja connects yoga and Indian dance as art forms expressed through the body," says Friend. "Shiva is dancing out of his own delight, and it's the vibration of his joy that creates the longing to move. He is so full of bliss that he can't stand still. Indian classical dance forms express all of the emotions of the human experience. Western yoga students can learn a lot from these forms, whether through observation or study, to bring out the inner expression of yoga."

Body As Temple, Dance As Offering
The first movement I learned from my Odissi master dance teacher, Surendranath Jena, was Bhumi Pranam. Just as Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) honors the sun, this movement honors (the translation of pranam is "to bow before or make an offering to") bhumi, the Earth. Bhumi Pranam is done before and after every practice and every performance. With hands together in Anjali Mudra, I was taught to bring my hands above my crown, to my forehead (Ajna Chakra), the center of my heart, and then, with a deep opening through the hips, to touch the earth. Bhumi Pranam expresses the essence of dance as a sacred offering that recalls B. K. S. Iyengar's famous saying, "The body is my temple and asanas are my prayers."

In this case, dance is the offering; indeed, in classical forms such as Bharatha Natayam and Odissi, the dance actually originated in temple complexes, where 108 karanas were sculpted into the walls of temple entryways. These detailed reliefs reflect the traditional prominence of temple dancers known as devadasis ("servants of God"), who are thought to have incorporated some elements of yoga practice into their art. According to Los Angeles-based master teacher Ramaa Bharadvaj, "Of the 108 postures sculpted on the temples, only about 40 are part of the dance we do today. The rest require an extreme flexibility that would have been impossible without some training in the yogic arts."

In the temples, the devadasis were the primary conduits for the pujas (ritual offerings) performed in front of the sanctums for the audience of the Divine. According to Roxanne Gupta, Kuchipudi dancer, scholar, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, and author of A Yoga of Indian Classical Dance: The Yogini's Mirror (Inner Traditions, 2000), "The devadasi was revered as a living symbol of the goddess's shakti, or life-giving power." When the devadasi danced, she became the embodiment of the divine, intending to transform the space being danced in as well as the audience's visceral understanding, says Boulder, Colorado-based Sofia Diaz, a scholar who leads workshops on combining Bharata Natyam and yoga. "In Indian classical dance," she says, "every posture, every expression is considered an invocation to the Divine to incarnate, to be felt as a presence in the here and now of the dancer's body." The devadasi tradition began around the fourth century c.e. and continued into the twentieth century, when it was outlawed by the ruling British and Indian elite and transformed from a purely temple-based devotional tradition into a national art form.

There are only a few living devadasis left, and Bharata Natyam is usually done in a way that emphasizes entertainment (while still demonstrating a depth of devotion rarely seen on the stage). The text of Natya Shastra unites the various forms of Indian classical dance by means of a ritual performance format that is still followed (with some variations among different styles). Many forms begin with an invocation to the Divine, or pushpanjali ("offering through flowers"), to root the dance in sacred expression. A pure dance section called nritta follows, showing with great skill the movement vocabulary of the form and the union of the dancer with tala (rhythm). The heart of a dance performance involves abhinaya, a combination of dance and mime in which a dancer or dancers will embody characters of a sacred story cycle by expressing the lyrics and rhythm of accompanying songs through body language, hand mudras, and facial gestures. The songs are based on mythic stories such as the Shiva Purana, Gita Govinda, or Srimad Bhagavatam.

The most common storyline uses a classic bhakti (devotional) theme based on the longing of a lover (the devotee) to reunite with the beloved (the Divine), as typified in the popular story of Radha and Krishna. As Ramaa Bharadvaj notes, "Dancing is bhakti yoga, which is based on the structure of duality—lover and beloved, masculine and feminine—that leads to oneness. I love duality. I love falling in love with God through the characters of my dance. Although I feel the presence of God inside, I also like to embrace the Divine outside." The climax of abhinaya is similar to the culmination of a divine lovemaking: a crescendo of complex patterns and fullness of emotions that overwhelm both dancer and audience. The piece then slowly cools down from that climax and ends in pure dance, with a closing slokha (dedication to the Supreme). Says Bharadvaj, "At the end of my dance, I have reached my meditation."

The Balance of the Sun and Moon

While there are many philosophical and practical connections between yoga and dance, the principle of unifying opposites is essential to both systems. Practitioners of hatha yoga are often told that the word "hatha" represents the figurative joining of the sun (ha) and the moon (tha), respectively masculine and feminine energies. On a practical level, this often translates as the balance of differing qualities within a pose: strength and flexibility, inner relaxation and focus. Within Indian classical dance forms, this balance of the masculine and feminine is understood as the balance of tandava and lasya. Tandava is associated with strong, vigorous movements and is considered to be the vibrant dance of the virile Shiva. Its complement, lasya, the dance of Shiva's consort Parvati, embodies graceful, fluid movements. Dances are often classified as being tandava or lasya in the same way that certain asanas or pranayamas are classified as heat-generating or cooling. In Odissi, tandava and lasya become embodied within the structure of the karanas, with tandava being the lower body and lasya the upper body. Tandava is the strong stamping of the feet, like Shiva, and lasya is the fluidity in the torso and the grace of the hand movement or mudras. Cerritos, California-based Odissi dance artist and teacher Nandita Behera often describes tandava and lasya to her students through imagery: "I tell them, 'Let your lower body be like thunder, powerful and strong, and your upper body be open and graceful like a flower in full bloom.' When dancing, the lasya, or grace, of the dance should not be disturbed by the power of tandava, nor should the lasya weaken the expression of the vitality of tandava." Good advice not just for dancers, but for healthy relationships and a balanced life.

In Kuchipudi dance, a solo dancer can embody the two qualities in the form of Shiva Ardhanarishvara whose visage is half male (Shiva) and half female (Parvati). In costume, the dancer will dress differently on the two sides of the body and will perform the characters of both parts by showing one side or the other. Dance teacher and choreographer Malathi Iyengar sees this dance as a symbol of integration: "Every human being has tandava and lasya in her or him. At various times, depending on what is needed, the masculine or feminine comes out—in the dance forms and in life."
From Alignment to Mastery

Another area where dance and hatha yoga meet is in the actual sadhana (practice), where there are many parallels between the two arts in both the technique and spirit (bhava) of the dance. The tradition is passed from guru to shishya (student) in a live transmission; the teacher gives the proper adjustments and guides the students into the inner arts of the practice. All of Indian classical dance refers back to the Natya Shastra text for an elaborate classification of the form. If you thought the technique of asana was detailed, you should peruse the Natya Shastra: It not only describes all the movements of the major limbs (angas)—the head, chest, sides, hips, hands, and feet—but also offers a detailed description of the actions of the minor limbs (upangas)—including intricate movements of the eyebrows, eyeballs, eyelids, chin, and even the nose—to create specific moods and effects. As in hatha yoga, one begins with the basics of body mechanics and gradually moves toward the subtler aspects of the art.

The karanas, dance counterparts of asanas, are linked into a sequence known as angaharas. Ramaa Bharadvaj compares angaharas to the flowing yoga of vinyasa, in which the "dance" of yoga is experienced as the linking of one asana to the next through the breath. "Even though a posture can be held," she says, "it is really part of a flow. It's like the Ganges coming down from the Himalayas: Although it passes Rishikesh and then Varanasi, it doesn't stop; it keeps flowing." Like the alignment of asanas, the karanas are based on the center line of the body in relation to gravity and include not only placement of the body but also attention to the pathways of energies that flow through the body.

The dance forms emphasize staying grounded, relating all of the movements with gravity to the earth, then reaching to the heavens. As Malathi Iyengar points out, "In some Indian classical dance, the forms are done close to the earth, with a focus on opening the hip joints, as in Padmasana. In dance we are basically imitating the bent-knee position of the deities such as Krishna and Shiva. We believe this aesthetic was given to us by God."

The emphasis on stilling the mind through concentration on the inner and outer bodies, moving the practitioner toward an experience of freedom, also parallels the inner processes of yoga. When I was first learning the basic steps of Odissi, it took all ofmy concentration to keep a strong and consistent rhythm with my feet while tilting my head and eyes in opposition to my torso. I felt very mechanical and awkward, just like many beginning students of yoga. Only through repetition and focus on precision did I start to feel a flow of grace, or lasya. Watching the more experienced dancers practice and perform gave me a deep respect for the mastery that is the eventual fruit of so much sadhana.

Accomplished dancers transmit an aura of ease, joy, and playfulness, despite the degree of skill required. The greater the mastery of the dancer, the more breathtaking even the simplest movements become. As dancer-choreographer and yoga student Parijat Desai notes, "As in yoga practice, Indian dance begins to feel natural after long struggles with technique. Then letting go and feeling the dance feels beautiful and free." Ramaa Bharadvaj adds, "When Radha is dancing for Krishna, she isn't thinking about how perfect her posture is."

Studying Odissi gave me enough patience with my Ashtanga Yoga practice to allow me both to embrace technique and to let go. Both processes can lead to a state of embodied communion. Ultimately, yoga is about connecting to the Big Dance, which one can experience either abstractly, through the lens of spiritual culture, or more intimately, as did physicist Fritjof Capra. In his bookThe Tao of Physics (Shambhala, 2000), he describes the experience he had while he was sitting on the beach and watching the waves, observing the interdependent choreography of life: "I 'saw' cascades of energy coming down . . . in which particles were created and destroyed. I 'saw' the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy. I felt its rhythm and 'heard' its sound and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva."

A vinyasa yoga teacher and dancer, Shiva Rea teaches worldwide; for more information, see Shiva thanks her Odissi teacher, Laria Saunders, for her guidance.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Toes grinding into earth, with arms above my head. Detachment has begun. Are these even my limbs? My feet pound the tender grass, leaving verdant scuffs on my heels. The taste has begun to tingle my tongue, and my mind surrenders to the sway.
The rushing wind picks up my skirts, as I get carried away. I taste the air and soak in the sun slipping through the boughs above, and I begin to lose humanity. My soul takes flight through the light escaping through my every pore, and my heart beats somewhere far away.
I dance to the ground, as my soul flies, and then the kiss knocks me back down. The world still spins as he holds me down, letting his hands caress his love. He takes me into the soft soft ground, and takes me as I cry in ecstasy. I am immortal, in this moment, in his arms, and he in my femininity. He eats my heart as I consume his, his spiced kisses set me afire as I return the passion. We are one on this earth, and we love as we dance.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reading Aloud

It was like a swelling of butterflies came tumbling out
And smacked into my teeth.
They proceeded to tumble around in my mouth
cavorting and spinning.
They tasted like warm butter and golden lamps on nighttime streets.
They hit the roof of my mouth with such force that I was unable to keep them caged there.
So I opened my lips
In that dark room with only one light and the old green wallpaper.
The music was barely audible int he speakers on the desk and my arms we falling asleep from holding them up for so long.
They dripped past my lips to land on my lap with a crispness and then they rolled along my bedspread like sprites iceskating on jack frost's pond.
They lit up the room like some sort of screen and it was illustrated with such beautiful freedom.
Every single word tasted savory and every single freeing of a word was like another being invited to the midnight tea party.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Men may be martyred
Any where
In desert, cathedral
Or public square.
In no rush of action
This is our doom
To drag long life out
In a dark room.
-Christabel La Motte

(Can you figure the reference?)

Sky sky sky

Free fall
A resistance created by arms spread wide
Hold all in an embrace
Not softness in white
But icy water en masse
Blue blue blue

Monday, August 13, 2012

To Autumn, for inspiration:



She spun gold in coils and crystal fragments into tears

She danced whimsy into wonder

Feather-soft footsteps and undulating limbs

Felinity emanating

Her bloody smile and petal-soft feel

Her filthy smirk and gentle caress

Twirling sunlight into moonbeams

Thrusting starlight at her hips

Bitten lower lip and deep jade pools of unspoken agony

Bounding steps to a soft string and drum

The fringes of midnight conceal the break

Torn heart hidden by a vixen

Cornered she is not with her gypsy grin

Copper-dusted skin with her mudras of lust

Temptation is not the sin

The sin is not to dance

You Shouldn't Believe a Word I've Said!

Silly Eye-Color Generalizations  - Regina Spektor

There are those boys with earthly eyes
Their eyes are like the ground
You walk and walk
Kicking up dirt
But they don't make a sound

And when they kiss you, they sometimes leave 'em open
Just to make sure you don't drown
Yeah, the sweetest eyes
The truest eyes are
Probably dark brown

There are those boys with golden hazel eyes
The color of weak tea
They spend their nights howlin' at the moon
To let go of the sea

The scope of their depth is terrifying, thrilling
You think you're finally free
When they capture you
'Cause golden eyes are as sticky as
Honey from a bee
I'm drownin'

But those with blue
I shouldn't trust
'Cause I myself have blue
You fall for them so easy
You think you see right through

You take a leap, thinking blue water is deep
When suddenly it's just grey rain
Then puddles at your feet
They freeze to dirty ice
But somehow they'll melt back to clean blue water once again

Blue eyes, they change like the weather
Blue sea, blue sky, blue pain
I wouldn't trust my own blue-eyed reflection
As far as I can throw that mirror
Bum bum bum

But these are just silly eye color generalizations
You shouldn't believe a word I've said
'Cause when you're lying in your bed
Darkness 'round your head
Your eyes might as well be polka-dotted or plaid

Sexual Tension….

Thursday, June 7, 2012

of the Land

Others show grief through expressions of deep sorrow.
Some believe the dead will rise again.
Some keep their ancestors around.
Some fear the dead.
In our country we are to be excited, prepared, waiting to become part of our god again.
We will be the wolf snarling after the freezing hare.
We will be the buffalo standing as a collective whole.
We will be the great grey hawk reaching down to grasp the life out of the river as our wings stretch up to keep us the lofty creatures.
We will be the dust as it gathers in the desert while a great storm whips up the earth and the air to be one.
I ache to be there to be a part of our land again.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012



Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me.

Leave the men where they lay
They'll never see another day
Lost my soul, lost my dream
You can't take the sky from me.

I feel the black reaching out
I hear its song without a doubt
I still hear and I still see
That you can't take the sky from me.

Lost my love, lost my land
Lost the last place I could stand
There's no place I can be
Since I've found Serenity

And you can't take the sky from me.

Rain: The SKY

Monday, April 9, 2012


Folding, bending, breathing into that asana. Pause. 
All is pranyama breath. Acceptance. 

The softness of fingers grazing the spine as a lover traces his heart for you. 
Or perhaps it is her heart.

The husk of a sweet voice singing your favorite song.
Soothe and relax.

Holding hands over the sweet damp grass after rain.
The sun brings a blanket of fog and warmth.

The red stain of a berry on your lips.
Kissing after.

Meditation with toes touching sand.
The waves of the beach teach Patience. Love is Patience.

Crisp crackle of paper as your hands find the pages.
Feeling the familiar wrinkle of your favorite book.

Wine mulling happiness in your mouth.
Warmth and companionship to share by glass with friends.

Open heart and spirituality. 
God is love.

Soft knits and inner heat.
Stretching, dancing, being.

The pull of Serenity.
God grant me the wisdom...

Autumn: Fire

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Okay so I have an idea. We are winged creatures yes, but we can still cocoon and reemerge with something new at our backs to hold us aloft. I say wings not of glass anymore, but wings of words? or maybe wings of silver and iron? Who cares. The point is that I have an idea.
I will post and then end with a word and you will post based on that word. How does that sound love?


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Raina's first post of 2012: And it's almost April.

Autumn, my love. We're crazy. We are never on here anymore, but I can't bring myself to stop. So let's start again. You pick something. Let's run with it.

Friday, January 20, 2012


It all comes back to itself.
Like the waves of the ocean.