Rhythm Riding with Nataraja

King Dancer

Free Your Heart this Winter

Guided by the original rhythm rider, Nataraj.

I don’t know where you live, but here in the Hudson Valley winter can be both beautiful and terrible. Forecasters are calling for one of the coldest, snowiest seasons yet, and despite everyone’s preparation measures (like new snow tires and even face masks), we all seem to be caught off guard in the thick of it. This month, I want to give Nataraj the spotlight and unpack the rich imagery of his story because it offers us a reminder to relish rather than lament the winter and every other cold, damp or seemingly low point in this crazy adventure called life.

Nataraj, King Dancer, Focus of the MonthIn Hindu mythology Nataraj is a four-armed, wild-haired dancer who balances atop a dwarf demon while he performs a dance said to destroy humankind’s ignorance. Whereas we mere mortals tend to fear nature’s cycles – of birth, death, and rebirth – Nataraj, an incarnation of Shiva, happily rides these rhythms, benevolently assisting in the destruction of the universe so that new life can emerge. In Nataraj’s eyes, winter is no time to shrink, mourn or hibernate, it’s a time to celebrate wildly as we prepare for the rebirth of springtime. May we all take a cue from Nataraj and be dancers this season!

Natarajasana, King DancerThe Pose: Natarajasana

King Dancer pose is a one-footed balance and back bend all at once. In it, the practitioner grabs one foot or ankle and reaches the other arm forward. There are as many variations of the pose as there are yogis, but it is always a balance, and it is always a heart opener. It also opens the shoulders, stretches the hip flexors, keeps the spine supple, and tones the back body.

To explore the pose’s significance, you might try it balanced upon a block which can symbolize the dwarf demon underfoot who if freed would see to it that we remain shackled to our own little turbulences. Stand on the block to symbolically break free of the patterns that keep you bound to fearful living.

The pose itself can strike fear, as many balance poses do (especially when we try them on a block). If it seems elusive, try it at a wall to cancel out any sense of instability. When you do eventually feel stable in the pose, draw your heart forward, tilt it up, and notice the pose’s power to liberate your spirit.

To deepen the pose, try grabbing your foot from overhead, with one hand and then eventually two. A strap around your foot can work wonders as you build the flexibility required of this incredibly challenging variation. Once you’re in, it feels a little like King Pigeon and requires the same flexibility in your lats, triceps, back, and hip flexors. Aim to square your hips and chest forward.

While you execute Natarajasana, in whatever form you have chosen, feel lifted and light, peaceful and celebratory. Let nature’s rhythms course through you without resistance. Keep the beat with your breath and give yourself over to the moment.

Happy rhythm riding,

Leigha Butler




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