Insights from ‘Natraj’ on Non-Verbal Communication in Social Work

Every social worker must have knowledge of the problem solving process. Social workers use multiple tools, techniques and approaches to the problem solving process to help the clients deal with their malfunctioning and maladjustment. There is already much literature that provides an interpretation and analysis of problem solving processes. However, this article brings a new dimension to one aspect of problem solving process; non-verbal communication.

While helping people, a practitioner applies non-verbal communication skill not only to understand clients’ behavior and feeling but also s/he does communicate non-verbally to assure warmth, empathy and genuineness. One cannot deny there is massive use of non-verbal communication in the problem solving process. Non-verbal communications are frequently used by both the social workers and clients during this process, although most social workers find difficulty understanding this basic form of communication. Often, social workers seem to be confused how this can be transformed from their sides to the client in helping them to help themselves. In addition, practicing non-verbal cues while rendering services is not only challenging but also demands a higher degree of sensitivity and deeper understanding.

Natraj also known as Lord Shiva, is one of the holy symbol in Hinduism. This symbol literary means Lord of Dance or King of Dancers, and came from Sanskrit (Nata=Dance and Raja= King). Natraj was developed in South India around the 9th and 10th century by artists during the Chola period (880-1279 CE). This form of Shiva’s Dance represents:‘Shrishti’ (Creation), ‘Sthiti’ (Preservation), ‘Samhara’ (Destruction), ‘Tirobhava’ (Illusion) and ‘Anugraha’ (Grace). In this classical dance one can easily observe how ‘Mudras’ (Gestures), ‘Bhavs’ (Facial Expressions) and ‘Kriyas’ (Action or Movement) are beautifully combined for cosmic representation. Further, these three elements can be widely applied in social work problem solving process to assist with non-verbal communication.

A social worker should have a good understanding of how s/he is going to use ‘Mudras’, ‘Bhavs’ and ‘Kriyas’ during Non-Verbal Communication with clients. The social worker might use a variety of techniques during the intervention process. ‘Mudra’ must be sensitive to the clients’ personality, culture, ethnicity and linguistic background. For example, it is said in social work practice that a practitioner should use gestures to address the client. However, pointing a finger to the client with use of ‘You’ sentences may make the client feel in a state of being dominated. In ‘Natraj’, there is use of gestures which sometimes portray feelings of good dance wherein destruction is also being represented with the gestures. A ‘Natraj’ dancer knows when and how these gestures should be used. The same way, a social worker must internalize how s/he should use gestures to communicate with clients. ‘Bhav’ is closely related with emotions that can be captured from facial expressions provided by social workers to clients. A non-verbal communication without ‘Bhav’ is like a body without a soul. During ‘Natraj’ dance, the audience can feel this one on the face of dancers according to beats of Dhol’s rhythm (music). The dancer changes his/her ‘Bhavs’ to suit the music and is easily able to impress the audience who is watching. Likewise, a social worker needs to present these ‘Bhavs’ while s/he is communicating with the client. A client does not feel they are having an empathetic relationship with the social worker unless there is flow of emotions sharing care and support.

Finally when there is natural flow of ‘Mudras’ and ‘Bhavas’ from the social worker, clients feel there is a positive contribution to the change process. This can be termed as ‘Kriyas’ (Action). If a social worker is able to use ‘Mudras’ and ‘Bhavs’ correctly, s/he does need to be worry about ‘Kriya’. It comes automatically. Here, one should also know that ‘Mudras’ can be taught/learned but ‘Bhavs’ are directly connected with the heart. A social worker needs to feel it within so that s/he can practice with clients.

Two things are very important when combining these elements in the social work problem solving process. Firstly, in the way a dancer is totally lost in his/her own world, a social worker completely needs to be accountable for what s/he is doing. Secondly, the social worker needs ‘Shakti’, or energy, which comes from continuous analysis of the intersection of your personal and professional self.

General sets of non-verbal communication have been analyzed below. A social worker can practice these non-verbal communications effectively if s/he has insights from ‘Natraj’ dance especially ‘Mudras’, ‘Bhavs’ and ‘Kriyas’.

Desirable Facial Expressions: • Express direct eye contact • Warmth and concern reflected in facial expression • Eyes at same level as client’s • Appropriately varied and animated facial expression • Mouth relaxed- occasionally smiles

Undesirable Facial Expressions: • Avoidance of eye contact • Eye level higher or lower than client’s • Staring or fixating on person or object • Lifting eyebrow critically • Nodding excessively • Yawning • Frozen or rigid facial expression • Inappropriate slight smile • Pursing or biting lips

Desirable Postures or Gestures: • Arms and hands moderately expressive; appropriate gestures • Body leaning slightly forward; attentive but relaxed

Undesirable Postures or Gestures: • Rigid body position; arms tightly folded • Body turned at an angle to client • Fidgeting with hands • Squirming or rocking in chair • Slouching or placing feet on desk • Hands or fingers over mouth • Pointing fingers over emphasis

Desirable Physical Proximity: • Three to five feet between chairs

Undesirable Physical Proximity: • Excessive closeness or distance • Talking across desk or other barriers

Source: Hepworth and Larson (1986)

To conclude, social workers have both scientific and artistic skills. They get formal training to socialize themselves in terms of social work problem solving strategies. If we put just a little effort towards understanding ‘Natraj’, we would be able to use non-verbal skill efficiently with the clients.


• Das, S. (2012). Natraj: The Dancing Shiva. Retrieved from • Hepworth, D. H. and Larson, J. A. (1986). Direct Social Work Practice: Theory and Skills. Belmont California:Wadsworth Publishing Company. • Kirst-Ahman, K. K., Hull, G. H. (2010). Understanding Generalist Practice. USA: Brooks/Cole • Kumar, N. (2009). Sati and Shiva: Attachment to the Unattached. Retrieved from • Pattnaik, D. (1997). Shiva: An Introduction. Mubai: Vakils

• Storl, W. D. (2004). Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy. Rochester • Tripathi, A. (2010). The Immortals of Meluha. New Delhi: Tara Press. • Yadav, R.K. (2012). Integrated Social Work. Kathmandu: Amisha-Shi

By: Raj Kumar Yadav
SJS Member Submission

Article was originally posted at: with permission of the author.

Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment

Related Posts

Subscribe to the SJS Weekly Newsletter

Leave a Reply