About Monika Nataraj: Her-Story
Happily not over-identifying with any external "identities", Monika most enjoys dancing the Divine into existence, finding Truth in every breath and sharing this with others. Since 1999, she has lived full time on the road as a "nomadic dancing mystic Shakti adventurer of the soul" studying and practicing with a host of incredible spiritual masters and in turn teaching a bevy of sacred traditions herself for 17 years. Her current manifestations are the result of a deep passion and dedication to movement mysticism, tantric yoga, meditation, travel and community work.
Monika is the creatrix of Mystical Dance® and Shakti Spirit®. She is a pioneer of modern sacred feminine practices and transformational teacher trainings. There are 230+ women from 42 countries to whom Monika has offered 200-hour certifications in the tantric arts.
Monika has brought in-person Tantric teachings, Yoga and sacred dance to 22 countries around the globe and to many thousands of people, as she delves into the inner connection of it All. She has journeyed to more than 70 countries across all 7 continents, has embodied varied avocations ranging from professional NYC bellydancer, corporate executive, yoga school co-director, non-profit foundation grant-maker, master scuba diver, teacher trainer, film festival co-founder and Mystical Dancer. She took the name Nataraj -- Shiva in the dancing form -- to remind her always that consciousness and creativity are eternally moving as One.
Monika continues to travel and teach extensively in Asia, Europe, North America and South America, at esteemed retreat centers and in the heart of nature.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver
Read more about Her-Story below.
At the tender age of 5, Monika began her formal dance training and performance life under the delightful instruction of Terry Hazel. Monika's early studies were in ballet, receiving Honors from the Royal Academy of Dance. She went on to explore jazz and tap and was in a modern dance troupe in University.
It was on an adventure to Cairo in 1992 that Monika discovered the mystery of belly dance. In New York City, she avidly studied for many years under the renowned expertise of Serena Wilson, Ibrahim Farrah and Yousry Sharif, all of whom she is indebted to for instilling in her a love and respect for Oriental dance as an art form. During this time, Monika was a popular Oriental dancer in the New York City night club circuit, performing regularly in NYC's major Arabic venues and cultural institutions.
Her "love affair" with the dance continued to blossom and was reflected in the opportunities that opened for her to represent Oriental dance to vast and varied audiences ranging from dignitaries of the United Nations, Middle Eastern royalty, families from the tri-state area, the pop culture of MTV and the NYC clubbing scene, and off-Broadway cabaret aficionados. Read more about Monika's belly dance performance experience in the US and India here.
Upon her initiation into the subtleties of yoga and meditation at the end of 2000 in India, Monika began to combine her knowledge of dance with chakra energy work, tantra and bhakti yoga to create the Mystical Dance® approach, re-forming the ancient tradition of dance as a tool for spiritual evolution. Since then she has passionately explored and taught the art of sacred and ritual dance and women's transformational leadership around the world. Monika offers Mystical Dance® intensives in India and Thailand where she spends a good part of the year, and in addition has led workshops and residential retreats in Turkey, England, Ireland, Belgium, France, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Spain, Costa Rica, Morocco, Israel, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Bali (Indonesia), China, Canada, Chile and the United States.
Monika continues to perform in ritual dance offerings with her students. She has been initiated into the mystical dance tradition of Sufi Sema (Sufi whirling and chanting) through Oruc Guvenc and her annual summer experiences with Tumata in Turkey since 2008 to the present, and has received instruction in the sacred system of Gurdjieff Movements in which she has completed an extensive teacher training. She also studies and performs Odissi Classical Temple Dance in India and has commissioned some original classical choreographies. Monika serves as a Core Faculty member at the esteemed Omega Institute offering dance movements and tantric teachings.
Her innovations in Mystical Dance® have given rise to a unique and inspiring 6-week, 250-hour Teacher Training Course which Monika has led annually in Thailand since 2011, along with pioneering sacred dance journeys around the world. There are currently 167 Mystical Dance® Teachers certified in 40 countries and 6 continents!
"Wherever a dancer stands is holy ground." ~ Martha Graham
Grateful for her outwardly charmed life in the West as corporate executive by day and professional belly dancer by night, Monika's soul still yearned for more. Monika experienced the undeniable impetus to seek true happiness and the inherent connection to all existence. In 1999, she made the conscious decision to leave everything from her exciting NYC life behind and set out on a 2.5 year quest for "Truth." Divine Grace fell upon her at the end of 2000 when she became a yoga and meditation student of Swami Vivekananda in Rishikesh, India. Everything began to shift profoundly for Monika, and there was no turning back. And indeed, this sacred immersion extended indefinitely! She steadfastly continued her studies with Swami in India, Romania, and Thailand, and in 2006 completed 42 months of intensive traditional tantric teachings of the Agama Yoga curriculum. She has spent the past 17 years full-time studying, practicing and teaching a broad range of mystical traditions.
Her early major influences include the Mahavidyas (the 10 Cosmic Powers/Wisdom Goddesses) and Kashmir Shaivism. Her perception of existence and non-existence changed profoundly once again through "Who Am I" inquiry, which she embraced in Satsang with radical Zen master, Dolano. She has been initiated specifically into the mystical aspects of dance through a special mantra sadhana with Guruji Rajkumar Baswar, with whom she explores in-depth tantric meditation, ritual and pilgrimage since 2006 until the present. Monika loves to play in the dance between the world of forms and the formless.
Monika is a senior teacher of yoga and tantra with Agama Yoga and is on staff at Agama headquarters center in Koh Phangan, Thailand. In 2007 she co-founded a major Agama branch in Dharamsala, India with Manu Akshobhia, where for 7 seasons they led a spring-summer series of month-long yoga immersions and comprehensive Tantra and sacred relationships workshops. Monika has brought the Agama system to Istanbul and Bodrum, Turkey. She is also an Agama Shakti Group leader, offering special tantric teachings for women. In addition to teaching yoga, meditation and tantra in Thailand, India and Turkey, she has held intensive tantra yoga workshops in Belgium, Spain, Canada and the United States.
While living in the Himalayas seasonally since 2006, Monika has had the opportunity to receive annual tantric teachings from H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. She has taken refuge within the Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist lineage directly from H.H. the 17th Karmapa and received the Tara empowerment. She has also been introduced to the practice of Dzogchen through direct transmission from Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and has begun the Path of the Warrior trainings under the Shambhala lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She is grateful for her latest Tibetan Buddhist journey which led her to Leh, Ladahk in 2014 to receive the Kalachakra teachings from HHDL, along with 150,000 other intrepid aspirants in the high Himalayas. Monika is also certified as a mindfulness meditation teacher through Kaia Yoga in the U.S.
Her synthesis of spiritual, tantric practices for women has resulted in the unique 200-hour Shakti Spirit® Teacher Training Course which Monika offers annually in Thailand since 2014; the Mystical Yogini® Teacher Training Course, accredited with Yoga Alliance, held in 2015 in Dharamsala, India and the Advanced Tantric Empowerment Teacher Training in 2016 also in Dharamsala.
Monika is humbled by the spiritual support, knowledge and inspiration bestowed upon her by all of her teachers and is eternally inspired by the grace of Maha Shakti.
"Abide in the Self. Then joyfully embrace All that follows as the delightful play of the Divine." ~ Monika Nataraj
A lifelong traveler, by age 30, Monika journeyed to all 7 continents, and by age 40, had ventured to more than 70 countries worldwide. Fascinated by cultures, mystical sites and directly experiencing the fullness of life by delving into the unknown, Monika revels in re-discovering herself through the reflections all around us. She has voyaged from the Antarctic to the Arctic, trekked the high Himalayas, scuba-dived in the world's last pristine coral reefs, safaried around the globe, payed homage at countless holy pilgrimage places, danced in wild carnivals and sacred temples, stood in awe before history's greatest artistic creations, and generally marveled at the endless wonders of this world. She has literally lived on the road (and out of the US) for seventeen years, and is now slowly re-rooting herself again in New York City while maintaining a super active 'traveling teacher' itinerary. She realized early on that the greatest adventure is the inner journey, but dharmas and karmas (and severe wanderlust) keep her globetrotting, despite being a Cancerian with a Taurus ascendant!
"The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience." ~ Emily Dickinson
After graduating with degrees in Chemistry and Art History from Case Western Reserve University, Monika worked for 10 years in corporate philanthropy and was director of human resources policy & strategy for Prudential Financial. She feels blessed for the community involvement projects she was charged with as the Prudential Foundation's Culture and the Arts and Education Program Officer. During this time she also served on the Board of Trustees of the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, Third Millennium: Advocates for the Future, and the Link Community School. Monika is former member of the prestigious National Advisory Board for the Ford Foundation's Community Development Corporation/Arts Resource Initiative. These experiences imbued her with a deeper sense of community service which carries through her current work which she views as seva or "karma yoga."
Monika is the co-founder/director of the Dharamsala Film Festival (DFF) in Dharamsala, India. This is a unique, spiritual film festival, founded in 2012, and highlights Consciousness and Creativity in independent films from around the world. Four full DFFs have been successfully offered. The DFF has also hosted many specialty events including bringing the renowned soulful chant artist Krishna Das and the stellar Sufi group Tumata to Dharamsala for the first time.
“Intoxicated with love, I too dance the rhythm of this moving world.” ~ Rumi