Shiva Nata: the Dance of Shiva

Shiva Nata is brain training that kind of looks like martial arts, and acts like drugs-that-make-you-smart-and-hot.
It uses movement patterns to generate new neural connections and huge understandings that let you rewrite your patterns.
Sometimes we hate it for being so damn hard – but we get over that because Shiva Nata makes us graceful, coordinated and awesome. And because of the hot, buttered epiphanies.

101 ways to do Shiva Nata

Today’s post is from the lovely Elizabeth Borchert who did Shiva Nata with us at the Destuckification Retreat in California last year, and at the January Rally in Portland.

Endless variations and possibilities is one of my most beloved shivanautical themes. Thank you! .

A little while ago I was on a brainstorming kick, and challenged myself to come up with 101 Shiva Nata variations.

I thought you might enjoy them — so here they are!

101 ways to do Shiva Nata

  1. Saying numbers aloud
  2. Saying the direction of movement aloud
  3. As fast as you can
  4. So slowly your arms hurt
  5. While music is playing (so many possibilities with music)
  6. In silence
  7. While keeping your mind as silent as possible
  8. While having a conversation with someone
  9. Balancing on one foot
  10. When using your leg, not letting your moving foot touch the floor
  11. Jumping with each arm movement
  12. Moving arms smootly through the positions
  13. Staccato – stick in each position and move between them as fast as possible.
  14. One arm legato and the other staccato
  15. While lying on the floor
  16. While lying on the floor with your abs engaged in a crunch
  17. While hanging upside down (use a chair, monkey bars, inversion table, strong friend)
  18. Assign the positions words, and say the words (Havi has some great ones)
  19. Assign the positions notes, and sing the notes (Shiva Nata solfege)
  20. Now play those notes on an instrument
  21. Let your torso move – dance with it
  22. Singing your favorite song and flailing to the beat
  23. Focusing on beautiful form
  24. With rice crispy treats on your hands
  25. Hopping on one foot
  26. Writing the numbers on paper
  27. With eyes closed
  28. Not moving, but imagining yourself moving
  29. From the instructor’s perspective (right hand becomes your first hand)
  30. When you’re stuck on a problem
  31. When you’ve been doing some deep work and want to let it sink in – or move to another level
  32. Pretending you’re someone else
  33. For 30 seconds while waiting for something else
  34. Under a forest canopy
  35. In public
  36. Saying the numbers (or words or colors or notes) and NOT moving
  37. Assigning each position a color and saying the color
  38. Mixing up the order of starting positions using Shiva Nata cards or Willie’s charts
  39. Play with Shiva Nata cards
  40. Put dots on a piece of paper, assign them positions, and point to them instead of doing the positions.
  41. Move your arms, but not your legs, and imagine that you’re moving your legs. Now move your legs and imagine the arm movements
  42. With waltz rhythm
  43. With tango rhythm (slow, slow, quick, quick, slow)
  44. With dotted rhythms (slow, quick, slow, quick)
  45. With the DVD
  46. With a partner standing facing you. You can mirror each other (yes, one of you takes the instructor role to break your brain), or not (aah! Not doing what I’m seeing!)
  47. In front of a mirror
  48. With the numbers on a piece of paper in front of you
  49. Think about the transitions instead of the movements
  50. In a group, all facing the same direction
  51. In a group in a circle facing inward
  52. In a group, taking turns
  53. In a group, each starting at a different starting position
  54. In a group, taking turns calling out a position and everybody goes to that position
  55. While walking
  56. Watching someone else and not moving yourself
  57. Doing just one position, or just one spiral, or just one sequence
  58. Doing only two staring positions’ worth
  59. Taking up as much space as you can
  60. Taking up as little space as you can
  61. Breathing with a particular rhythm
  62. Generate a random string of numbers, and use that as your sequence
  63. While contemplating a mandala, flame, flower, or other meditation focus
  64. While praying
  65. Naming the positions in a foreign language
  66. Assign the positions to verb forms, and conjugating verbs in a foreign language
  67. Imagining that you can draw in the air as you’re moving, and seeing the patterns you make
  68. Adding a stomp to your leg movements any time you come back to center
  69. Teaching it to someone else
  70. Teaching it to several people at a time
  71. Alternating with a form of expression (writing, painting, etc.)
  72. Considering maybe flailing at some point in the future
  73. Consciously deciding not to do Shiva Nata today
  74. Visualizing movement along the cube Andre draws in the theory section of the DVD
  75. Wearing unusual footwear (whatever is unusual for you), or none at all
  76. Underwater
  77. Expressing an emotion of your choice with your arm movements
  78. On the roof of a building
  79. In a cave
  80. Deciding on how much you’re going to do ahead of time and sticking with it even after you get bored or feel your brain is fried
  81. When you don’t want to
  82. When you’ve just gotten some exciting news
  83. When you’re frustrated with how something is not working out
  84. While riding a wave on a surfboard (please share a video if you do this!)
  85. In a place you feel uncomfortable
  86. In a place you feel safe and loved
  87. Instead of the usual leg sequence, number the leg positions and do one arm and one leg
  88. Slowly, carefully, one position at a time, with full focus and intention on moving your arms (and leg) to the correct position with the smoothest possible movement
  89. Locate spots on the floor and assign them numbers. Using your legs, step on the numbers in sequence, like you’re playing Dance Dance Revolution
  90. Posting a position on Twitter or Facebook every half hour
  91. While watching children play
  92. While concentrating on a particular chakra
  93. Imagining energy flowing from one chakra to another along the paths suggested by the numbers, using the air around you for 8
  94. With small weights (or cans of soup) in your hands
  95. Imagining the air around you is thick
  96. Standing on a balance board
  97. A train! A train! Could you, would you, on a train?
  98. Clock face Shiva Nata. Point up (12), right (3), down (6), and left (9) instead of positions 1-4. Now, if you left hand is the hour hand, and right hand is the minute hand, instead of saying the numbers you’re pointing to, say the time indicated by your arm position.
  99. Sitting on a chair, use two arms and two legs
  100. Watching the DVD and imagining you’re moving along with it
  101. Reading about other people’s practices, or talking about your practice (okay, I’ll stop now)

Here’s the thing.

There are a bazillion different ways to do Shiva Nata, more than anybody could ever think of or list. I’m sure Havi could rattle off a whole bunch more (please, please don’t flail while operating heavy machinery).

The trick is not in how you ultimately flail (though some ways sure are a ton of fun – I can’t wait to do Shiva Nata in a group again). It’s in the willingness to be open to possibilities.

To experiment and see what a different approach has to offer. To bring awareness to the practice. And I’m sure Havi would add – the willingness to make it hard.

None of which, of course, applies just to Shiva Nata.

A Shivanaut story: clarity and paintball

Today’s glowing post is from the wonderful Jenia Laszlo. Jenia was at our Shiva Nata teacher training last June and is one of my favorite people!

Yay, Jenia! And thank you!
— Havi

My intention for today’s Shiva Nata practice was clarity.

As I wrote down “clarity” in my journal, I immediately decided that it was not clear enough and added “relationship with clarity”.

The original work plan was to mess with level 3, and then I decided that it would be nice to warm up with some level 2 squares, with alternating breath patterns, going very fast.

As it turned out, the “warm-up” was plenty (something that I forget and remember over and over again). After getting as far as H4 V2 starting position, my arms very loudly asked for a break, and every other part of the body was all “yes, yes, break please, let’s lie down”.

So I did. The tingle – it was everywhere. So sore! And after a couple of moments, my mind was all “Right, clarity. Do we have clarity already?”

Immediately, there was a vision: something very white, very light, transparent yet glowing. Weightless, uplifting. Shifting. Shifting away.

And there was another vision: arms trying to catch it. Chasing it. Running after it. Spray painting it.

Spray painting?

Yes! Apparently a version of me is hunting the clarity with a paintball gun. What’s that on the horizon, is that clarity? Bam! A thick cover of paint. Now the clarity has been identified, its shape can be seen and it can be captured and securely stored.

Except that it’s not clarity anymore. It’s a mere shell of it, and it’s not clear.

The real clarity, free, puzzled and bemused, is watching from the distance. The hunter, frustrated that the getting close to the spray-painted captured creature is not giving her the qualities that she wants, lifts her gaze.

Damn! The real clarity is over there! This is the fake one! OK, let’s run after the real clarity again!

I am tapping the hunter on the shoulder. Hey! I say. This game is not really giving you what you want, is it? And it’s pretty damn infuriating, isn’t it?

The hunter frowns. I don’t think she heard my words, but she has now decided to take a break. She puts down the gun and sits down leaning against the tree trunk.

It’s nice here, in the shadow. This chase has surely been tiring. And she thinks, you know what, what I’d really want now is some rest.

She stretches out on the grass, in the protecting shadow of the tree. Yawns. Closes her eyes. In a few seconds, I can hear her relaxed breath.

And I can see something light, glowing and warm stroking her hair.

Good to see you, clarity.

The Medicine of Dance of Shiva

This wonderful piece is from the fabulous Leonie. Leonie! We love her. Goddess Leonie!

When I was a kid, I had a gift.

I invented new sports within sports.

There was the Great, Grandiose Belly Flops at diving — the ones that made whole auditoriums gasp. There was the high, vaulted leap into the air. There was the graceful manoeuvre mid-leap into horizontal position. There was the moment where I seemed to hang in the air… before thudding into the water belly first.

I was poetic, I tell you.

And legendary.

Then there was the times I wondered about the hot, steaming attraction that soccer balls had for my head.

And why everybody else managed to be so graceful in netball, while I clambered around, running in to people, skidding to a halt on my knees, and being sent off field for being too “rough.”

These are the hallmarks of a goddess who is utterly and exquisitely uncoordinated.

Thus, why it’s taken me about a year to get the Dance of Shiva kit. For some reason, I didn’t want to have flashbacks of sucking so monumentally at all things intentional movement.

And then I read somewhere on this them there blog that if you’re uncoordinated, it’s actually a good thing. Because the whole purpose of the Dance is to suck at it. If you’re doing it, and you’re doing it well, and it’s easy for you – then it’s not the point.

When I read that, it was a little lightbeam. A permission of “hey ho! I can most certainly suck SUCCESSFULLY at that!”

So I did.

This is my diary of my very first Dance of Shiva session, moment by moment.

Package comes with that beautiful lil illustration of a many-armed dancing yoga goddess. Tear open the package, open the DVD player, and throw myself into it. Much like my vaulted leaps into the pool.

Around the one minute mark, I am overwhelmed with trying to get it done right.

Around the two minute mark, I falter through the basic arm movements, repeating them over and over to myself, like a mantra of epiphany-generation.

Around the three minute mark, I wonder if this is it. Over and over. 1, 2, 3, 4. Methodical. Moving.

Around the four minute mark, my arms start getting sore… but at the very top of my head, I feel a prickling of warmth, like more blood is flowing through my brain.

At the five minute mark, things get very still and my brain becomes quite. All of a sudden, those contrived moments begin to flow. Instead of staccato, they are lyrical, and I see the gently rhythm and spiral and crescendo I could not see before. There is stillness, and there is motion, and it is a moment of liquid beauty.

What to know what Dance of Shiva teaches me?

It needs to suck in order to make its magic in you.

All you need to do is turn up – as yourself – gloriously semi-functioning, utterly vulnerable, and delightfully uncoordinated. The Queen of the Belly Flop and the Reckless Netballery and the Magnetic Soccer Ball Head – she too, can be a goddess of the dance.

Because the parts where you are struggling? It’s where new brain synapses are getting made.

The points where you are flailing wildly and ballsing it up and tripping over yourself? They are the physical spots of transformation in your mind.

There is medicine and magic and goodness and would you believe it — a certain kind of grace — as you flail and try and fail and try again.

I’m sure there is a big ole lesson in here somewhere.

Architectural overhaul

I have been enjoying this fascinating book by Stefan Fatsis called Word Freak, about competitive Scrabble.

And my favorite part, of course, is about how about studying word patterns strengthens memory patterns in the brain.

As you study patterns, the synaptic connections get stronger and go deeper, encoding the new patterns and embedding them.

Here’s the phrase that I just love: he talks about how your brain undergoes a “long term and complex architectural overhaul”.

A long term and complex architectural overhaul.

That just so perfectly sums up my entire Dance of Shiva experience.

Having just spent the weekend running a Shiva Nata teacher training, where I got to practice with twenty smart, capable, radiant women, my brain is kind of melted. In a good way. It’s the next round of the next complex architectural overhaul.

And it’s pretty intense.

I’m not in a position to be able to describe it yet, but overhaul. Yes! That! That is the word.

And sometimes the word is exactly what you need.

Dance by numbers

This wonderful piece is from guest poster (and beginning Shivanaut) Sol Lederman. He’s @slederman on Twitter. Thank you, Sol!

I’m a Math geek.

I’ve published a popular Math blog for three years now. I’ve loved Math as long as I can remember.

To me Math (I honor the Muse of Math with a capital “M”) is about patterns, connections, exploration, insights (aka epiphanies), beauty, problem solving, creativity, logic, structure, and much more.

If only everybody got that the focus of Math needn’t be about memorizing formulas and grinding through boring and meaningless homework problems.

I also have a restless body and mind.

My mind likes to be active and my body likes to move. I like freestyle dancing, contact improv and other ways to be playful and in my body.

But, I’ve always shied away from dances with steps. If I were confident with my coordination I’d do more ballroom dancing. And contra dance too.

Enter Shiva Nata.

I’ve never considered myself to be “epiphany-deprived” so the idea of being hit over the head with insights on demand wasn’t the motivator to buy the Shiva Nata starter kit although I suppose I shouldn’t knock insights on demand until I’ve had some.

I bought the kit because of an intuitive hit that Shiva Nata could be a nice way to connect everything I love about Math with everything I love about being playful in my body.

I’ve not yet received the DVD but I did dive into the practice based on the downloadable stuff that comes with the kit.

I’m progressing slowly (coordination in my body isn’t well developed). I’ve intentionally focused just on the four horizontal arm positions.

I’m delighted that in less than a week and practicing just a few minutes a day I can do different patterns with different arms (e.g. 12, 23, 34, 41 and 13, 24, 31, 42).

And, I can do the patterns fairly quickly. For a dancer or choreographer this might be trivial but for me it’s an exciting step forward, especially in my confidence.

I’ve noticed that my experience in doing the very simple patterns slowly is very different from doing them quickly. And, doing the patterns in a flow is very different from doing them in a staccato “jump” although these different ways of moving all feel like they have their place.

I’ve not yet tried to overwhelm myself although I do have a blast when I screw up a pattern, enjoy the “play” aspect of this whole thing.

Once I start practicing with the DVD and having to follow along at Andrey’s speed I’m sure I’ll have lots of experience of flailing. I’ll be sure to report back on what that’s like.

I’m quite captivated by this thing that is Shiva Nata.

My brain loves the patterns and is intrigued by the promise of vastness and complexity.

My “dance legs” are excited about the prospect of walking into a dance class and actually being able to follow steps.

My body loves the feeling of the art when I’m doing the patterns slowly and smoothly.

My mind loves the structure of the practice—I can just dance by the numbers.

My mathematical sense will enjoy playing with the numbers and their patterns and my computer programming background will help if I decide to write programs to guide Shiva Nata dancers.

And, I bet I’ll thoroughly enjoy meditating after my thought-making ability is completely fried.

I have an urge to teach Shiva Nata once I get to a certain level of proficiency, whatever that is.

I bet a lot of people can benefit from focus (Shiva Nata takes tremendous focus when the patterns aren’t ingrained), the coordination, the ability to turn off their minds and maybe even from those “hot buttered epiphanies.”

Shiva Nata and fibromyalgia

This post comes to you from the wonderful Ealasaid, whom I got to meet at the Sacramento Shiva Nata day.

She’s now one of my favorite people, so I’m glad you get a chance to meet her too. And she’s @Ealasaid on Twitter if you want to connect with her there.

Shiva Nata seems like exactly the kind of thing I shouldn’t be doing.

Standing and waving my arms about, most of the time with them over my head or straight out in front of me? Standing on one foot and doing all that? At first I thought I was crazy.

But I tried it. I ran through the Level 1 arm positions and puttered around — and then I had my first epiphany. So, even though I knew it was a bad idea, I got the DVD and started practicing seriously.

The reason Shiva Nata is a bad idea for me is that I have fibromyalgia.

But, it’s turned out, the reason Shiva Nata is also a good idea for me is that I have fibromyalgia.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome best described as feeling like you have a mild case of the flu — every day. All day. It makes me sore and tired, and often makes it hard for me to stay asleep.

Some days are worse than others. The constant pain and stress cause secondary health problems, because they put the body in a constant state of stress.

When you have fibro, every day is an exercise in creativity.

If my fibro is flaring up and I’m in a lot of pain, I know my energy levels will be depleted much more easily.

I have to tweak my schedule to see if I can fit in an appointment with my acupuncturist, figure out what to put off so that I can spend my evening curled up with a book instead of out getting things done.

This kind of planning and reasoning is made a lot harder by brain fog, one of the most common symptoms of fibro. Being constantly sore and tired takes its toll on cognition, making it difficult to think clearly or remember things, let alone spot patterns.

It’s a lot like the fogginess most folks get when they’re sick, only it never really goes away.

Hot Buttered Awesome

Since starting my work with Shiva Nata, though, I’m noticing a real difference.

For one thing, I’m able to notice that there’s a difference.

I’m spotting my habits and starting to change them. I’ve taken on a new, highly detail-oriented job at work, and am handling it like I would have years ago, before I got sick. I’m finding it easier to look at my day ahead and see what kinds of adaptations I might need to make.

And all of this comes from the most important set of adaptations: the ones that let me do Shiva Nata every single day.

There are only a few: I don’t try to do entire long sequences, I do my best to learn the forms quickly so that I can turn off the DVD and go at a quicker pace (slow movements are far more painful than quicker ones), and I adjust my practice based on where my pain levels are.

On really bad days, I can only do a few minutes, and that’s okay. On good days, I go as long as I can.

For a recovering perfectionist like me, that kind of flexibility is practically a miracle.

Not to mention the epiphanies!

They sneak up on me at random moments, these sudden flashes of clarity where I can see the big picture, or some tiny key to a puzzle I was working on will simply drop into my head. I’m moving in leaps and bounds in all the right directions, and I can’t get over the amazement.

My fibromyalgia makes practicing difficult, but my practicing is starting to make having fibromyalgia easier to handle.

Havi often says that five good minutes a day is enough, and I’m proof she’s right.

Note from a brand new Shivanaut

The lovely Hamish MacDonald (author and micropress publisher) sent us this terrific email, which he kindly granted us permission to post. Prepare to be inspired. Because this is awesome.

The Starter Kit

I wavered for a long time before committing to buy The Shiva Nata starter kit.

The kicker was talking to my friend Lisa Pijuan-Nomura when I was in Toronto recently.

She’d taken classes with Havi and said that, yes, it really was all that. So I ordered it, and it arrived at my house just after I got back.

I did the introductory horizontal and vertical hand-movements session first, and over the past two days have been noticing all the patterns in my life — things that are such a given they’re usually just “reality”.

I go through these patterns as a car on a kiddie fun-ride follows its track.

But instead of just being in the car, identified with the driver role, I’m also outside, seeing the track. (“Oh, track. Do I want that?”)

Then I did the first practise session today, which felt alternately natural then mind-boggling. Afterward I sat down to write a little about the question I’d gone into it with. My mind was a perfect blank, then suddenly…

Well, what I really wanted to buy from the online shop at was Havi’s brain in a jar.

You know, just so I could talk to it and get back the kind of compassionate and brilliant insights that show up in her blog.

Instead, I got this kit, which turns out to serve the same function (except with my brain, which is probably more appropriate and a less icky proposition).

In this thinking session after the Shiva Nata practise (which was surprisingly physically hard, too; I can see this actually being good for my fitness level, too), I found myself having the same kind of caring yet no-bullshit, this-is-what-this-issue-is-really-about insights.

All of this is to say thank you.

This experience alone justifies the whole purchase, has given me a dose of happy clarity like a fresh load of laundry off the line, and it makes me excited about what’s to come.

Thank you,

- Hamish

Announcement! Shiva Nata class in Toronto.

Yay! And soon!


It’s a Dance of Shiva class. In Toronto. THIS MONDAY. I only just heard about it.

Josiane Richer will be coming from Quebec to teach.

What you need to know:

* When: Monday October 25 at 7 pm
* Where: Fraser Studios – 115 Danforth Avenue, Suite 203, Toronto (Broadview subway station)
* How much: Pay what you can!

Leave questions for Josiane or contact her or connect with her on Twitter.

Shiva Nata teacher training. Two useful questions.

Here they are!

Question: Can I come and not teach?

“It’s okay if I come to this and decide not to teach, right? I think I want to teach and keep having ideas about places/people I’d like to teach, but I can change my mind and chicken out, right?

“Right? Right. Okay, thanks, just needed to add that. Phew.”

Answer: Absolutely.

And it’s a legitimate question. And it is 100% okay by me if you don’t want to actually teach this stuff.

There were several people at the last training who had no intention of teaching and just came for the hot, hot, hot epiphanies.

And to eat pie. I mean, to deepen their practice. And to meet Selma and visit the Playground, of course!

And even though all those people ended up deciding that they actually do want to teach? That was not because I tried to convince them. It just kind of happened.

You do not have to teach.

I will love you just the same if you don’t. And I promise that I will never bug you about this or ask you if you’re teaching yet or anything like that.

Question: Can I come if I’ve done this before?

Jenia asked in the comments (and then a bunch of other people in the same situation wrote with the same question):

“I came to the inaugural teacher training in June 2010 and it was fantastic. So much was covered in a day!

“And now I’d like to come to another teacher training event (can’t get enough of this stuff!)

“Havi, what is your thinking: would it make sense for people who are already certified to come in February? (Or maybe there is a step-two teacher training coming up at some point?)”

Answer: Absolutely.

Anyone who has studied with me knows that I’m physically incapable of teaching the same stuff twice, so a lot of the material will be different.

And we have an entire weekend instead of just one day.

And you’ll be able to go even deeper with it.

I’ve studied with Andrey a number of times (in three different countries, too) and even when we’re covering material I’ve learned before, I’m at such a different place. That’s true even over a few months.

So you’ll get everything on a much deeper level and you’ll get to say ohhhhhhh that’s what she meant, and it will be awesome.

That’s it.

What else can I help with? Other questions?

The Dance of Shiva teacher training weekend is Feb 18-20, 2011 in Portland, Oregon.

It’s filling up quickly — I just heard from the First Mate that we have people coming from the UK and Australia too — and I am having a lot of fun developing new material for it.

That’s all for now!


Shiva Nata teacher training weekend in February!

A weekend! Shiva Nata! Teacher training!

A weekend of madcap Shivanauttery and instruction and turning you into someone who feels capable, confident, competent and ready.

Very exciting.

The when:

The weekend of February 18-20.

We start Friday evening at 5pm, go all day (with lots of breaks) Saturday, and have a half day Sunday.

The where:

Portland, Oregon.

At the Playground (my beautiful studio for all things Shiva Nata).

The who:

Anyone who has ever done Shiva Nata.

You think you aren’t ready but you actually are.

You do not need to be any good at Dance of Shiva or even want to teach (ask anyone who came last time!).

The world needs more people teaching this. The epiphanies will be outrageously great. And if you think you aren’t ready, you definitely are.

And if you teach anything else, it will help you with that too. Ooh, I should probably mention that on the actual page.


The details.

Details are here:

That’s it.

Registration is now open. The Playground is fully equipped with all the best toys, tea and really good snacks.

We’re going to have a ridiculous amount of fun. And take apart some patterns. And build some new ones. And surprise ourselves.

And if you have any questions at all, let me know in the comments. I might have some ideas. Or maybe someone who’s been to a training before be able to answer too.

Havi (and Selma)