What is Shiva Nata
((this was originally written for publication in a local newspaper, but I wanted to share it here as well.))
Shiva nata, translated to “dance of Shiva,” is a systematic approach to a traditional style of dance that has the potential to make you smarter, more compassionate, more creative, more intuitive, more coordinated and more self-aware. It can accomplish all this based on a fairly new scientific concept called “neuroplasticity.” And it can accomplish all this in as little as five minutes a day.
Neuroplasticity is the idea that your brain is not a concrete object inside of your skull that develops only until a certain point in childhood, but rather, that it is constantly changing and adapting through our entire lives, even in our senior years. Neuroplasticity is proved every time someone loses the ability to talk or walk after a stroke – but then with therapy regains that ability. It is also proved by recent advances in cochlear implants that allow people who have been deaf all their lives to hear for the first time.
The main way our brain communicates is through the connection between neurons. The more we do something, the more certain neurons fire. Similar to the ways that muscles become stronger when we work them out at the gym, if we are always thinking and doing the same things, those same neural connections can potentially become stronger. This leads to adages like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Because we can potentially become stuck in older patterns of thought, it does become harder for us to learn new things, and to create new neural connections.
Enter the dance of Shiva. Shiva nata is a mind-body exercise where practitioners learn 8 basic arm positions and then combine them into increasingly complex patterns. The actual process of learning and executing these patterns is what engages so much of your brain at one time that it helps to create these new neural connections. First, you have to learn the individual hand positions. Then you learn a pattern. Then you have to coordinate waving your arms around in this specific pattern. If that is not challenging enough, one can always learn the four basic foot positions (and the four different ways one can move in and out of those positions) and add those in as well.
Sound hard? That’s the point. No one ever went to the gym and said, “Yes, I think I’m going to work with the one pound dumbbells today.” When one wants to improve something about themselves, a challenge is always involved. In fact, the only way someone working on a Shiva Nata patterns can tell that they are actually giving themselves a mental workout is if they are, in fact, making a mistake every now and again while moving through a sequence.
But one of the great things about Shiva nata is that anyone can do it. Starting out requires very little beyond the interest to give it a try. No special gear or clothing needs to be purchased. Attending a class only requires that you wear comfortable clothing you can move your arms freely in. It can be done while standing, but even that is not necessary if you do not engage your legs. You can sit in a chair if that is more comfortable, or even cross legged on a comfortable cushion on the floor. Positions can be adapted if you have a limited range of motion. And of course, the teacher will never make it so hard that it becomes frustrating, it will be just enough of a challenge to jumpstart those neurons.
Since it is primarily an arm workout, you can expect your arms to be sore the first time you try it, and that’s ok, because you can take as many breaks as you want or need. A typical Shiva nata class can be anywhere from 30-60 minutes, but once you take the basic moves home with you, your own practice can be as long or as short as you like. If you are creating enough of a challenge for yourself (and there are infinite ways to make it a challenge), you can reap the mental and physical benefits just from a 5 minute practice while you wait for your tea to steep each morning.
Now that you know a bit of the scientific fundamentals of what Shiva nata is, and how it is practiced, you can visit http://www.missannalawrence.com/shivanata for more information. If you are ready to give it a try, the next big Shiva nata event will be held at the beach in Perth Amboy on Saturday June 30. More info is at the website. Also, watch next week for an article on who can benefit (and how) from starting a Shiva nata practice.