We all know the Shiva Nataraja deity (Lord of the Cosmic Dance), yes? For those who may not be familiar, Shiva Nataraja is dancing inside a circle of fire, the Agni Mandala. The Agni Mandala is also a circle of grace, where all possibilities are present. The deeper meaning here, through the Ashaya lens, is that life has your back. Everything in life is for your awakening.
Why does Nataraja dance? For the play of it. For the delight of it.
He dances the eternal rhythms of the universe into existence for no particular reason other than that he can. There’s a spiritual theme running throughout the statue which contains the divine paradox of steadiness and wildness, both occupying the same space at the same time.
That’s what a paradox is. Nataraja balances standing on one leg while he dances ecstatically. This one leg stabilizes the entire creation. His second leg is lifted and represents the lifted foot of grace, or Kunchakapada.
His head is still, or so it appears. However, his dread locks are horizontal, showing us that he’s in such ecstasy that his head is spinning from side to side, making his locks fly out horizontally. Like the hub of a fast spinning wheel, his head appears to be still while the periphery is wildly moving. A perfect paradox of steadiness and wildness that instructs us to stay steady in the storm, calm in the chaos. Keep your eyes on the prize. Stay focused on what the heart most deeply desires.
We all want to shift from suffering to happiness. Finding balance in body, mind, and heart is the way to get there.
And you never know when your capacity to balance might just come in handy.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an experience of balance that left me completely awestruck and ecstatic. Remember in late March in New England we had huge snowstorm? Most areas received two feet of snow, but here in the Berkshires, we got almost three feet of wet heavy snow.
Many branches of trees came down. I have four birch trees on my property and saw how flexible they can be. The tips of the tallest branches had bent all the way over almost 180º to touch the ground and were buried under the three feet of snow. After the storm, I went out to the trees on my xc skis and tried to free up the branches. Just as I scooped away the heaviest snow, like a medieval catapult, the birch trees thrusted themselves back to the upright position, except for a few branches.
At about 25 feet up, a fairly large branch cracked part way. I tried to use a manual pole saw to cut it down but the pole and my ladder weren’t tall enough to reach. Several weeks later, my neighbor said he would help me cut it down, but only if I went up on the ladder. I agreed to give it a try.
He brought over his 30’ ladder and a pole saw that had a chain saw at the end of it. I said to myself, “This is going to be interesting.” I stepped up the ladder part way, turned to grab the saw that my neighbor handed up to me, and proceeded to go up and up and up. Near the top, 30 feet off the ground, I felt mostly stable. But I have to admit I was scared. I positioned the saw and pressed the trigger. It worked, kind of. I couldn’t get the right angle. Those who’ve cut branches with a chain saw before know very well that if you cut too close to the crack, the weight of the branch will pinch the saw. That’s exactly what happened to me. The saw blade got pinched and now it was stuck in the cut of the tree.
I had to figure out how to release the pressure of the branch that was pinching the saw. The only thing I could think of was to balance on the ladder with one foot, while I lifted the other leg, and pushed the branch out away from the groove. So there I was, standing on one leg, 30’ up on a ladder, holding a pole chain saw in one hand while pushing the branch away with my other foot.
What kind of cosmic dance was I doing? It was crazy. But it worked!
As I pushed the branch away with one leg, I was able to wriggle the saw free and start a new cut which went straight through and the branch fell safely to the ground. Wow! I’m so grateful for my practice of yoga. And I must have had a little help from grace!
What sets Ashaya Yoga apart from all other yogas is the integration of body, mind, and heart.
First, your body will become physically stronger and more flexible, and your balance will improve. Next, mentally and emotionally, you’ll learn how to attain what I call, “emotional agility” (a term coined by leading psychologist Dr. Susan David), which means that you learn how to flow in and out of emotions. You don’t just get stuck in an emotion. You know how to feel it, experience it, and let go into it while gleaning the insight from it. Then, and what I feel is the most important aspect, Ashaya brings you home to your heart where you recognize your true nature which is joy and love.
As for physical balance, as we age, our muscles become weaker and we lose muscle mass. Our feet tend to tighten or flatten which makes balance more difficult. Sometimes we develop misshaped feet and toes like bunions, fallen arches, heel spurs, or neuromas (nerve pain usually in the top of the foot) which make it difficult to walk.
Ashaya Yoga has a therapeutic practice for the toes, called Toe-ga. (Learn about it in my Yoga Therapy manual). Toe-ga keeps your feet limber and strong throughout your lifetime. With flexible feet that are aligned, not only do you maintain good balance, but the rest of your body will thrive – including your knees, hips, pelvis, and spine. The feet have a physical and energetic connection all the way up to the neck!
All I’m saying is that physical balance is a key component to happiness - aging gracefully and living without pain.
Maybe you’ll never have to stand on one foot on a 30’ ladder ever in your lifetime. But working on your balance will definitely come in handy in everyday activities – walking on uneven surfaces, climbing stairs, or simply getting into and out of your car!
There’s no upper limit to happiness.
The sky is the limit! May you be happy, and may your happiness increase with age, increase with wisdom, and increase with balance.
May you continue your practice of Ashaya Yoga (or begin it if you’re new to Ashaya) with vigor, to develop the integration of body, mind, and heart, and especially to develop your ability to balance, and thereby have greater access to happiness.
I look forward to seeing you on the mat.
Todd and the Ashaya Yoga Team