Natarajasana, or King Dancer Pose, is the embodiment of King Nataraja, a depiction of Shiva, the god of destruction. Shiva represents change. With birth must come death; with destruction must come rebuilding. Nataraja represents Shiva as the ever-present change in the universe.
In statues of Nataraja, Shiva dances in a ring of flame that represents samsara, or the cycle of birth and rebirth. According to Alana Kaivalya, author of Myths of the Asanas, you can think of this cycle as reincarnation, or you could think of it as the continual cycle of life patterns that play out again and again. You know that lesson that life keeps trying to teach you? It’s quite intentional. These patterns exist to help us grow and evolve.
Around Nataraja’s neck is a cobra, its venom a symbol of avidya, or the veil of illusion that prevents us from knowing our true nature as divine. Nataraja has four arms: one holds a drum that signifies the rhythm of time; one holds the flame of enlightened knowledge thought to be the remedy to the illusion of avidya; and one hand is held up with the palm facing outward while the other faces downward, representing revelation and concealment—again, symbols of change.
King Dancer stands on one leg atop a small dwarf who represents ignorance. Shiva stands above him, maintaining mastery over ignorance. “By standing over the demon of ignorance, he is able to have a higher gaze, or a higher level of consciousness, which allows him to rise above daily drama,” notes Kaivalya. Standing firm in Natarajasana helps us to see life more clearly.
King Dancer Pose is quite challenging. It requires a release from fear. “Shiva’s dance is born out of a liberation from the fear of change,” Kaivalya states. The deep backbend and strong balance of the pose draw upon our ability to release fear and stand firm in our ability to take life as it comes. Some days we remain steady in the pose; other days, we fall. Such is life. Noticing the ebb and flow instead of fearing its consequences can truly set us free. This is the real goal behind Natarajasana.