Tami Simon: You’re listening to “Insights at the Edge.” Today my guest is Shiva Rea. Shiva is an internationally renowned vinyasa-flow yoga teacher, and one of the most innovative and pioneering yoga teachers today.
With Sounds True, she has created more than a dozen teaching programs, including the award-winning DVD Yoga Shakti, as well as several audio teaching programs, including Yoga Trance Dance and Yoga Chant,as well as several music compilations that are designed for yoga practice.
In this episode of “Insights at the Edge,” Shiva and I spoke over Skype (you may hear a few Skype-like sounds!) and we spoke over the sound of waves in the background. This is an incredibly empowering conversation about fluidity, both of our cellular makeup, our bodies, and how to be fluid in our life, even during difficult times. Here’s my conversation with Shiva Rea.
So Shiva, I’m speaking with you, you’re in Southern California. I believe that we will even hear the waves in the background during this conversation together. Is that correct?
SR: Yes, which I know sounds very exotic, but I choose to live in the wild part of L.A., which is in Malibu, and I have a little apartment where it’s on kind of pylons, and the ocean comes underneath the house. So really the waves you hear are very near. And the wild dolphins come into the bay, and just the other day we were kayaking with about six dolphins and two babies. And for me it really, really keeps me grounded in the rhythm of nature. So yes, you’ll be hearing the ocean. And we actually have a bit of a swell right now, so I think that’s also why you can hear it quite clearly, we have a big swell coming in.
TS: Exciting! Well, I would of course expect you to live in the wild part of town! Now, I know you’re also a surfer.
TS: And that you’ve actually combined your yoga practice with surfing, and I’d love to hear a little bit about that. I mean, isn’t surfing hard enough to do without trying to do a yoga posture while you’re surfing?
SR: [Laughs] Oh no, no! Well, the thing about surfing is it’s very much like the rhythm of life, is that there are the sets that come in, and depending on the swell it can be three waves of sometimes the bigger waves; in the beginning sometimes it can be a set of eight waves. Then there’s the space in between, and I have to say, coming from a meditation background, that the space in between is really extraordinary because that’s where, resting on the board, there’s this communion with nature and feeling the ocean underneath you. And it actually can be quite a stable time. So I’m a long boarder, I’m not a short boarder, and so long boards—my board’s nine feet, which is really the best board for surfing in this area, it’s really quite stable.
And so the thing about surfing is it also can be pretty upper-body intensive, so the yoga asanas that I do on my board are not while I’m going down a wave, although I’m sure there’s some advanced surfers that can do—actually I have some friends who do crazy things like headstands on a board. I’m not at that level, but I do go into yoga asanas on the board. It’s really balancing, and mainly I’d like to be in meditation and mantra in between the waves.
TS: OK, so just give me the picture, though, when you’re doing some kind of yoga posture on the board at your level. Show me what it would be like. Describe it.
SR: Well, actually one of the things when you’re beginning to learn to surf is you have to really— I don’t know, Tami, have you ever been skydiving? I’ve only been once in my life.
TS: No, I’ve never been skydiving, and I went surfing once and it was a disaster. But keep going; I’m with you here, Shiva.
SR: I was a dweeb the first three lessons; I was just a total dweeb, totally awkward. But you have to really press your pelvis into the board, kind of like bow pose [in yoga], when you catch your feet and you press your feet into your hands—even kids do it—and your chest is open, that back bend that’s like a bow. And so literally you’re pressing your pelvis into the board to balance, which you need to do anyhow just to be able to balance on a surfboard, like when you’re paddling. And then I reach back and catch my feet and go into the backbend, and it’s such the perfect counterpose to all the paddling and everything. So that’s the visuals.
And I’ve been doing yoga long enough that I really don’t care about whether people think that’s strange or not. I do yoga in the airport, I do yoga in the grocery store. You become like a cat. And so I have taught surfers some yoga in the water, just because they would see it and they would go, “Oh, that looks good!” But I don’t think the cool, cool surfers are probably doing much yoga. They might not want to expose themselves to this kind of alternative behavior.
TS: OK. Now, you said something interesting; you said that the rhythm of the waves, which we can of course hear, has a similarity to the rhythm of life itself. What do you mean by that?
SR: Well, meaning that when the sets come in, that’s when there’s this co-participation in life. But the main part of that is that we have no control over the ocean or the waves or the intensity, or sometimes surfers bemoan when there’s no waves and there’s just these little waves—they call it “one foot over toe” when it’s just little teeny waves. And the thing about that is that when the waves do come in, it’s very much like when there are life circumstances that happen to us, or opportunities that arise, including challenges. And in that moment, every decision that you make is in relationship to this bigger flow that is happening that you don’t have control over.
So when I go out with people who are beginners, and then the waves start to come in, it’s like you’re either going to decide, “I’m going to take this wave!”[or not.] And the thing about surfing is that in order to catch a wave, you have to get on a wave just as it’s breaking. So that’s the first thing in a parallel to life, is that sometimes in the risks that we take, we don’t know the outcome, and we have to open ourselves to whatever wave is rising in that moment. And so you’re never going to catch a wave unless you’re willing to get on a wave just as it’s breaking.
The other part of that is sometimes you’re not able to catch that wave, and you have to be willing to fall. And if you play it safe, you’re never going to catch a wave. And at the same time, you’d need to know what waves are too big, or you’re not in the right place, and how to dive underneath the waves. So it’s this way of really moving and dancing with these forces that are larger than our small self, and yet feel empowered by these instinctual choices that do involve some risk.
TS: I’m wondering if you’d be willing to make this very real for us by sharing some examples in your own life that you could say would be analogous to maybe big waves that you’ve ridden, and big waves that have wiped you out.
SR: Sure. Well, Tami, actually I haven’t really talked about this publicly, but I did go through a life change that began in 2007 when I turned forty. And that’s also when I began to do some big wave riding, and going to Costa Rica, where their overhead waves [are] sometimes double overhead waves. And I felt like just literally having the balls to get on a big wave, like I felt like my balls dropped [as I was] going on what’s called “the outside.” The inside is where it’s safe; to go on the outside, where the big waves are and where the other surfers are who’ve been surfing for a while—I mean, it takes balls! And the part about the balls dropping is that it’s about really getting in touch with a deeper desire, a deeper calling, a deeper truth, an authenticity about my own life energy. And there’s nothing mental in that moment about catching a big wave.
And there’s also [the fact that] in the preparation of that, I let a lot of perfect waves go by. And you feel so—[sighs]—I don’t know, it’s like when a wave that’s just perfect for you, in the setup, in the shape, and everything, and then you don’t take it, there’s something you feel in your heart. So what happened to me is, like a lot of people in what I call the “great shakedown of 2007, 2008, 2009,” I went through a marital change, went through quite a long process of divorce, which sometimes we say in California [as] “marital liberation.” And I don’t think that I would have had the inner resources so alive in me when I turned forty to make this leap had I not had a way of translating my yoga practice in a form that was not comfortable for me when I began.
When you said it was awkward, I like doing things where I feel awkward simply because of this, Tami: if we are only doing that which is integrated within us, when life brings us a curve, a curveball, or a big wave, then I find when I’m able to get out of—sometimes we’d say it in common language, out of our comfort zone—and then find the inner skills, or being able to apply the core connection that has developed in yoga through meditation, through asana, to now be in this big expanse of the ocean and the power of the waves, it really prepared me to shift my life and to come into greater core integrity. And be willing to also take the hits. I mean, if you go out, sometimes you get smacked around by the waves a bit. It’s part of it.
TS: Now, Shiva, I love hearing a woman talk about having her balls out. I have to say, I really love that. And what I’m curious is, what in your actual yoga practice prepared you or gave you the confidence or the kind of masculine power to do that?
SR: The interesting thing, I guess, when we say “balls” is I have to just give you one tiny image so that we don’t make it exactly in terms of gender, although I agree with you in terms of yogic practice, [where] we would say the balls and being active has to do with solar energy, which is often connected to what we would describe as the masculine. But I remember I met this Hungarian fortune-teller on Halloween in this kind of Hollywood mansion that they turned into this whole Hollywood-thing Halloween party, and at the very top was this Hungarian fortune-teller, very authentic, the real deal, and she had this necklace on that had these two crystal balls. And when I asked her about this, she said, “These are my balls! This is what we all need in order to move through life authentically.”
And so I’m basically in my personal practice very much connected to the shaktic traditions within yoga, which means the goddess-oriented traditions, and have made many pilgrimages in India and [have] worked with [these traditions] both in terms of embodied movement and also in terms of mantra and meditation, with really connecting with all aspects of shakti or the goddess. So when you see the images of Durga or Kali, which are the aspects of the feminine that are connected with the—[when] we say “fierce,” we mean this capacity of our consciousness to meet life when that energy is arising, which requires, since we get back to the balls, requires us to be in our root energy, requires us to be connected to our inner fire, requires us to not be thwarted by fears or doubts or conventionality.
So I think my balls are as much birthed by my connection to the goddess. For instance, for the past twenty years connecting to the Navratri Cycle, which is coming up in September and October, which are the ten nights for the goddess. Three nights are dedicated to Saraswati, the sublime goddess of the arts and the flow, the inner rivers of our consciousness; and then Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, all things created. And then Durga, the warrior goddess, the aspect of the life force that decimates obstacles, inner and outer, that limit our path. So I think from going through those practices, I just got in this juncture, Tami, where I was not going to be able to evolve unless I was able to get on a big wave. The small waves were not capable of birthing the inner energy that I needed to embody for the next phase of my life.
TS: Now with this period of time, Navratri, coming up, could you tell us a little bit more [about] what practices do you actually do during that time?
SR: It’s one of the largest festivals in India, and it’s quite elaborate in terms of household ritual. But of course you have a whole community of support, and a lot of the rituals centered around a pot, which can be clay or elaborate, that you imbue your prayers into this Kumba, this pot, that represents the vessel for life that the forms of the goddess represent. And so I don’t have a place, I don’t have all the resources like when I would be in India, so at home the preparations before Navratri—and this is something that if someone’s interested, our newsletter gives people a lot of advance warning and guidance. Because I’m really interested in how these universal festivals are really there for everyone, and I try and really attune to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur [and] everything that’s happening around the fall season, even if it’s outside of our spiritual culture, [because it] is usually pointing to a process of inner purification, cleansings, and also awakening and fortifying. So the first thing you do before Navratri is really get your house in order, so literally [it is] like a kind of spring cleaning in the fall.
Then the second part is to really connect with what your personal altar is. I think everybody has a personal altar, and some people have a very established personal altar. But it’s the place where you really are representing this reflection back to your own heart and consciousness of really that which is essential. So the altar is really important during that time, and having everything fresh, and [having] fruits and flowers, and keeping that space really as a clear vessel.
And then the other essential part of that practice for me is there’s the 1,008 names of the goddess, which sounds like, “Whoo! A thousand and eight names!” But there is a chanting practice that goes with that, and I try and at least do a minimum of twenty minutes of that practice. So [doing it twenty minutes a day] would take three days to do the entire 1,008; and if I can, [I chant] the entire 1,008 names of the goddess. And you would love it, Tami, because it really gives a reflection in a very universal way for this wide spectrum of who we are, that gets embodied in the goddess. And of course the understanding in India is that the goddess is really beyond gender; it’s referring to the reflection of life itself.
TS: So you mention these three goddesses: Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Durga. And I’m curious: do you see each of the goddesses as representing a different energy inside of you? How do you actually view these goddesses?
SR: Yes, absolutely like that. That’s the triple goddess, and I think different cultures have different forms of the triple goddess, and I think in Western culture it’s often maiden, mother, crone. And I think what the representation in yoga is, is that we have this energetic spectrum with, say, Durga and Kali on the more solar side, the more—even though this is completely both inner and outer, you could say the more active or dynamically expressed level of our consciousness. And also our ability to come to terms with something that was very difficult for me, actually, that I think this last period I really had to work with in my own being, which is Durga rides sometimes a lion or sometimes a tiger, and she has these eight weapons that are considered to be weapons of liberation and liberating consciousness.
So we have Durga on one side. And Saraswati, her iconography is she’s sitting on a crystalline lotus, and she’s playing the vina, and she has her crystal mala, and she’s like the very sublime and subtle energy that we are. And Lakshmi is kind of the embodiment of those two polarities, you could say.
And so I think the different aspects of the goddess are very interesting mirrors to give ourselves, and I think sometimes we’re in life cycles that are better served by one spectrum of this energy, and then I think we get these times in between the waves, where we get to integrate all these different aspects and kind of rest in the center of this potency.
TS: Now, I have to say, Shiva, I’ve never had a conversation here in this podcast series—I think we’ve done over 70 conversations so far—where we’ve had the waves in the background. I love it so much!
SR: Oh, good.
TS: It reminds me that one of the phrases I’ve heard you use, and it’s the title of one of your DVD programs, is this idea of fluid power. And I’m curious what you mean by that [expression] “fluid power.”
SR: It’s an orientation to this continuum that really exists from our energetic body to a way of being in the world. So in other words, from literally the kind of subtlest aspect of ourselves, from the cellular body, from what’s actually comprising the cells, to the vibrational body. And what fluid power really represents is a kind of particular orientation in practice, as well as living in the world, that doesn’t deny two fundamental aspects of our being, which for some reason in kind of conventional Western approaches to the body and life are denied, and are not investigated.
So the starting point is really, OK, we are primarily made of water. When we’re in the womb, this is as much as 95 percent, because our lungs are filled with fluid. And then we know that decreases, but even at its lowest point, 75 percent, 80 percent, we’re comprised of water. And then the other part is that we are completely energetic beings. There’s no part of ourselves that is not in a vibrating, energetic expression. So fluid power is about connecting with the way that both water and energy move, which is as a wave.
And so it’s kind of like a revelation, and it’s beautiful to see people wake up to this really essential aspect of how they’re actually comprised. In the actual yoga practice, this is then an emphasis on wave motion in asana, seeing our breath as—literally we refer to it as the “breath wave,” and literally moving as the water and energy that we are, emphasizing the circular and spiral and undulating patterns that are already there within the asanas. But for some reason we keep choosing—and I think this is really the crux of moving from embodying the Newtonian mechanical worldview to embodying the quantum worldview—is that we keep choosing to move as solid, fixed, and rigid beings. And so a lot of time you see people in the asanas kind of frozen. Fluid power is really about thawing out the potentiality that we have in movement, and returning the circular spiral movement to our joints, for lubrication for our spine, our limbs, for really our kind of inner health and vitality. And ultimately it’s a kind of contemplation on who we are. Who are we, really?
TS: So actually on the mat, as a yoga practitioner, if I wanted to explore this wave feeling, you mentioned the breath wave and that was a really helpful idea for me. But how else on the mat do I explore yoga in wavelike patterns?
SR: So the vinyasa that I’ve come to offer in the world we refer to as “prana flow” or “energetic vinyasa,” in that it’s based upon the pulsation of breath along these five patterns. But I don’t want to make anything complex, because you actually can find them really easily.
The place that I usually start people is on all fours. And there’s this practice that is called, usually people understand it as “cat’s breath,” but we actually just call it a “pulsation vinyasa,” where you’re on all fours, your hands are under your shoulders, your knees are under your hips, and on the exhale or inhale you round your spine, so making like an arc, dropping the head, and then as you inhale, you draw your heart forward, and you make that arc in the opposite direction.
So if you allow this arc to be first generated by the pulsation of inhale and exhale, then the next step to experiencing the natural fluid dimension of your body and how this is expressed is literally let that simple movement between those two poles begin to circle. When we see a wave, there’s this coiling that happens in the pelvis, and then there’s this rising that is the rounding of the spine, and then finally when the wave breaks upon the shore, there’s this release of the heart forward, and then the whole cycle begins again.
So it’s about first connecting with that rhythm and letting your body find it, and then also giving yourself the power to spontaneously diversify that by simply embodying the circle and the spiral. And not taking any resistance to moving in a fluid way personally. I digested every day the cultural conditioning toward rigidity and holding, and I’ve actually studied this in terms of our long human history, and it’s really fascinating. So really to move in wave motion is to affirm the quantum leap that we’re all making.
TS: Now, what do you mean by not taking our rigidity personally? Isn’t my kind of rigid motion and my unwillingness to be fluid a personal problem here?
SR: Well, basically it’s been going on for most of us since we were in grade school, although you live in the Boulder area, I’m here in California; it’s possible that people went to school in very progressive places or where movement was encouraged rather than stifled. But my background is in movement therapy from UCLA, and so as I was saying, I studied the literally over 2,000 years of repression of [movement], particularly free-form movement. So if you have to think back, you can go back 500 years, you can go back 1,000 years, you can go back 2,000 years, you can go into places in the world where right now to move your body, to dance, to move in a free-form way, was literally something that was persecuted to the point that people did die for dancing.
I think most people have been taught to sit still. If you’re in the bank in line, there’s just this kind of cultural agreement in the West that we’re just going to hold our body back. And there are other parts of the world where—I lived in East and West Africa, or say if you’re in Brazil, where just people are not so conditioned to hold their body in a kind of inhibited way. And if you see kids [and how they move], just giving ourselves that same freedom of movement.
TS: It does seem though that when we allow ourselves this wave breath and wave motion, [this] circular motion, and discover areas that have been frozen for whatever reason, that there’s also a lot of emotion, an emotional release, that could feel probably pretty personal, and maybe even a little scary to go into.
SR: Absolutely. Sure. I didn’t mean to say that in such a way—
TS: No, no, that’s OK. But I’m just curious about—
SR: What I was trying to say is that as you go into the personal strands of those imaginary or literally just dense muscle fibers that just develop either over some habit or some emotional experience, that as you go into the personal unraveling, know that you’re not alone, that everybody is doing this in a way. And it’s perhaps that we don’t lick ourselves enough, like you see the big cats do, the tigers, from the big cats to the small cats, to the dogs to the animal worlds, this licking, this bathing, this attending to one’s self, kind of at any moment of the day when you need to do it, not just letting it accumulate and go to a yoga class, or accumulate it and go just when we feel that densification happening, to unravel it. And sometimes there is emotion, and sometimes there’s just the habit of rigidity. And to just know that you’re not alone.
And the scary part of it is, is that it’s the same thing like getting on the wave. It is; it’s always—there’s always some level of resistance to move from one phase to the other.
TS: Now, you mentioned these big cats licking themselves, and I saw the image as you were speaking of the photograph of you in Vanity Fair magazine featured with these big tigers on the beach. I’m curious why you chose to be pictured with tigers. I mean, it was a great moment for me; not many Sounds True authors get profiled in Vanity Fair,so it was just a fabulous moment.
SR: Well, that was a kind of surprise for me, that this call comes. The other part of it is that I have great respect for the gurus and traditions of India, and I did know that Mr. Iyengar and Desikachar and other great teachers were being photographed. But the day before I got to speak with Michael O’Neil, the photographer, and they were planning on having me in the desert with a surfboard—I don’t why the surfing image is back!—and there was something in my cells that was like, “Oh no. This is not—” It’s coming back to the same theme: “This is a missed opportunity. There’s something deeper to be explored.”
And I had been having dreams about tigers just the days before, and it was just one of these moments. OK, Tami, here you go! This is one of these big-wave-riding moments. In that moment I said—because who else can you ask for, “Is there any way we could have some live tigers?” except Vanity Fair? Who has the budget to fulfill such a dream? Who has the courage to fulfill such a dream? So it literally was just the day before, and they called back and said that they had these wonderful two tigers that were a year old. And it was an amazing transmission.
And the reason I asked for that was not just because of having dreams, but again back to my dedication to the goddess and this process that has really unfolded in me. That when I tell people I’m actually kind of shy, I’m a very circular person; I’m not—I don’t need to be front and center, but somehow the force of consciousness and the way that it’s unfolded in me has really asked me from the inside to be willing to express the inner dimensions of the goddess and of the yoginis who— You know, one of my disembodied teachers from the spirit world is Lalleshwari, who a naked yogini clothed just by her hair in Kashmir. And her poems are so fierce and tender. So I guess I had already taken enough photos in yoga clothes. Not having clothes on really had to do with the tigers, like clothes look absolutely ridiculous with the tigers. And anything flowing they wanted to play with it, so there was no way to have any flowing fabric. So I think the state of the tigers that is embodied in the goddess and is really the spirit of the yoginis, is a willingness to be in a kind of naked reality, to not hide behind conventional coverings, but to kind of really reflect the rawness and wildness of nature.
TS: Wonderful. When you said that it was a powerful transmission, did you mean being with the tigers in that way?
SR: Yes. Yes. Yes. And actually the hard part was, it was actually freezing. It was in November; you can go in the desert for Burning Man in August and you’re like, “Oh, it’s so hot!” But it’s freezing at night; it can be freezing at night. So it was extremely cold, and the only thing that the trainers who, you know, really care for these tigers very well, they said, “You just can’t look them in the eye, or they will want to play with you.” And so it was really—it was a long time, it was about two hours with them, and they were at my feet, and I’m balancing in this windy, very cold desert wind, so it was this like, whooo, this intensity. And you know, so the sun is going down, so if you’ve ever been around a photographer when the sun’s going down, everything is on the edge. And afterward I got to look them in the eye and hug them. And I don’t think I’ve been the same since.
TS: Now, I want to just circle back in a circular way to this circulating, circular motion, this fluid wavelike motion. And at the same time, earlier in our conversation, you talked about core strength, and how the physical practice of yoga develops this core strength. And I’m curious to hear how these things go together, the fluidity [and] the core strength. And then what that looks like kind of on and off the mat.
SR: Sure. Lately I’ve been seeing this unified polarity between the circle and what’s called in Sanskrit thedanda.And danda means the “staff,” and the danda is your spine, just as your spine can then suddenly turn into the serpent. So this kind of, again this energetic continuum, that in one given moment [is] relaxing and releasing and allowing form to be more pliable is the best method. You don’t even think of it as a method in the moment, but it can be a method. I work with a lot of women, with fertility, and a lot of women are affecting their hormonal structure by the, not just the stress but literally being too much in a linear relationship to the world and their body. And so moving in a circular way becomes very, very healing.
But for another part of our being, or for someone else, we have to have the danda. And the danda as a staff has to do with our ability to really channel energy and to be in our strength in the same way that a tree has its roots and its trunks. That’s the danda of the tree, and you could say the branches are the fluid expression that emanate out of that danda. So it’s really a complementary dance.
And that’s one of my favorite practices, is to take people into strength through fluid movement through a kind of alteration. Like for instance, if you know that yoga asana [called the] plank. Where you have your shoulders over your wrists and your body—it looks like it’s a push-up position, but you’re just there. Instead of just holding that only, we’ll do the same pulsation that we do in cat’s breath, where we’ll coil up through the center and then express the body from the heels to the crown of the head.
And so I think it’s really this integration of the two that I’m finding men and women—I feel like men aren’t given enough permission to be fluid, and then I think for some women, we need to find our danda more. And then it can be reversed. And I guess that’s what I love about yoga, is its full spectrum. But we need to open to its full spectrum, and it’s very easy for people to just practice one side or the other.
TS: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. Now, one thing I’m curious about is that you use a lot of music in your yoga classes.
TS: And I know here at Sounds True, we’ve released four different music compilations with you of music that you love to practice yoga to and teach yoga to. And you know, I have a memory, Shiva, of us sitting together in a car—
SR: In your fabulous Honda UV, I remember!
TS: And you were playing lots of songs and showing me the kind of music that we might be able to put out on a compilation, that you’re a natural DJ. But how does that go with the yoga practice? I mean, wouldn’t it be better for me just to be paying attention to the wave breath and tuning inside?
SR: I’m very interested in healing through sound and vibration, and the power of music and movement together, and really study that both, as I’ve kind of mentioned, in its long linking for the kind of yogas that were really the yoga of our earliest human history. And we say that we have carbon dating now of our ability to make fire at about 800,000 years now, so we really have been syncopated to music and movement and chanting sound as an integrated modality, or you could say an integrated yoga, a process of coming more into a unified state, for much longer than we’ve tried to separate them.
So my experience is that I love to practice just hearing the waves and silence. I try to use music really in relationship to kind of yogic raga theory, that there’s a particular energetic that is really appropriate for the time of the day and the mood that you’re in. But I also feel that, in terms of collective yogic experiences, that music becomes like—I call it the “third language in the room,” with verbally guiding the practice being one language, and then touch or the visual of how the body moves is the second language, and that music really is the third language in that it conveys so much of what is happening elementally in the body.
And so I could purely use only Indian classical music and have the same effect, but when I look out into the sea of practitioners who are my yoga class in Venice or in London or at Estes Park at theYoga Journal conference, I mean, we have a lot of ancestors represented there, usually from all over the world. And particularly in Venice there’s just a tremendous, fantastic diversity: from the Middle East, from Africa, from all over Asia, from Down Under, from the South Pacific. Not to mention just different parts of the United States: I grew up part of my life in Memphis, so I actually play a lot of really slow blues, and when I’m giving them, guiding people through the experience of yoga, that blues can convey more about moving in a kind of slow, rooted connected way than a whole slew of words. And the whole thing—by the time we reach our yoga experience, I feel we’re really ready to shift out of a nonverbal experience.
And so music for me conveys so much of what I want people to be able to explore inside themselves. And it is just one of the oldest ways we’ve unified ourselves.
TS: When you hear a piece of music, how do you know if you think, “Yes, this one I want to bring to my class” or not? What’s happening when you think, “This is it”?
SR: I always say I’m a kind of equal opportunity employer, meaning that I don’t have a kind of genre bias. There’s something, though, that I call it—it’s like some piece of music that starts moving you. It just has it; I don’t know how to— I mean, I could play some pieces side by side, and I have done this when I do yoga trance dance teacher-trainings and I really need to take teacher trainees through a process where they become much more sensitive to the effect of music. And what I find is that when I play music from all over the world, if it has this kind of factor, just—I really can’t put it into words. It’s just something that within the first few notes, that music is inside you and starting to affect you. It has—particularly I’m interested in affecting people’s soul. Of course that’s mysterious to actually describe too, but I think this is this interesting place that music really takes us to, is that it’s not always how much technique somebody has, but how much soul they’re able to move through the music, you know?
TS: Now, I’m noticing, Shiva, that I have so many things I still want to talk to you about—
SR: Sure. But I have a Southern way of going on and on!
TS: No, no, it’s not that! We’re kind of coming to a close. But I have a couple more questions that I just must ask you.
TS: So one is that you’re a tremendous innovator. You always seem to be on the edge of the wave, so to speak, so I’m curious what you’re currently working on that feels innovative to you.
SR: Well, it really is related to everything that we’ve been speaking about, and also my personal journey of always wanting to stay connected to the roots, and also from those roots then being really open to the zeitgeist, what’s being created in the now that is kind of carrying the spirit of what needs to happen. And I’m now meaning also on kind of the sacred-activist level, you know, being influenced by Andrew Harvey, who’s a wonderful mentor.
And so there’s a couple of different interrelated projects, and one is called the Pulse Project, and it is about helping people to syncopate with these macro-rhythms that shape the seasonal as well as the yearly flow, down to the flow of our daily lives. What this is, is through our newsletter, and eventually in about three months’ time it’s going to be a membership site, where people are given preparation before the new moon, before the full moon, before these sacred holy days, that really begin—we’ll be following it from the winter solstice till the next winter solstice, and giving people a way to connect with these opportunities of renewal and syncopation to our macro-rhythm, and also giving people tools from Ayurveda and tantra and prana flow to be able to really work with their daily life rhythm. And I could describe that in more detail, but it’s really about not just talking about flow or giving someone a DVD practice, but really integrating it in a continuum through time.
And then having that kind of culminate in these different music festivals and projects, like the Global Mala Project. So I’m involved in different music festivals, such as Wanderlust and also Bhakti Fest. And with Yoga Journal we’ll be doing, it’s called Pulse 108; it’s a Friday night at the Estes Park Yoga Journalconference, where we’re really working with the cycle of 108 minutes and going through cycles of yoga, kirtan, and then free-form movement, and raising money for this other project that I’m calling Yoga Energy Activism (YEA), to really try and harness the energy in the yoga world toward both the inner and outer ways that we can make this shift from toxic, limited fuel sources toward renewable energy. And for us to see that not just in terms of the choices we make of the fuels we use, such as even the simple things like—you’ve maybe already done this, but I was kind of horrified, because all those little tea lights, if they’re not soy based, they’re completely polluting the environment. And so just giving educational tools, and tools for people to feel the power of their own community.
So they’re all kind of interrelated, and they have to do with also really linking communities in the United States and in the global community through the power of the web and through like what we’re doing with this podcast. And not make more information, but provide more tools of integration.
TS: Wonderful. And just so people have your website, what is that, Shiva?
SR: Well, the easiest I’m afraid is just my name: shivarea.com. I wish it was shivarea.OM, but we don’t have that possibility yet. Or the Pulse Collective: http://shivarea.com/pulse/collective
TS: Very good. And then I just have one final question for you, which is there are so many young yoga teachers who I can imagine look to somebody like you and say, “Wow, what a great life she has! She’s traveling all over the world, she’s teaching in London, she’s involved with all these projects. Here I am, I’m leading a yoga class with four people in it, six people in it. How do I get from where I am to anything like the fabulous life that Shiva Rea has?” So I’m curious to end with what advice you would give to such a person?
SR: Well, for one, just to kind of speak very plainly, I definitely have paid my dues. I worked full-time while I was teaching my first yoga classes. I almost didn’t go to my yoga teacher training because I thought, “How am I going to become a yoga teacher in six weeks?” And I was really on this more academic, anthropology trajectory. But then when I lost my mother to cancer, it just really shook me up at my core, and I decided to serve the bodily intelligence at the kind of front lines, at the cellular level, and kind of trust the ripple effect that would come from that.
And I think that the thing that I actually offer to teacher trainees and mentors in our program is that it’s really important if you’re going to be a yoga teacher as your livelihood that it’s first your path, and that any personal ambitions you have are really put into the compost of the quality of what you’re offering, as well as the quality of your own 24/7 experience of evolving in yoga. So many times I see people try and put workshops around, sending out workshop descriptions or doing this [or that], and it’s just too soon. My basic thing is that I decided really early on that I was never going to invite myself anywhere. And the organic effect of that is that when you’re at a level of ripeness, people do start to invite you and say, “Hey, could you come here, we want to experience this here and there.”
And the practical part of that is being like a wave rider, and really looking to the horizon. One of the things that when you first learn to surf is that you need to learn to watch the waves. It’s not like, whoa, they magically appear. You can see them on the horizon, and you get ready; you get ready for that wave to meet you. You will exhaust yourself paddling around trying to create waves. So I think we have to really bow to the source of the waves and trust the way that we each one of us are uniquely, [how we each] have this unique seed of what is to unfold.
And there will be times where, you know, it may look like nothing’s happening. I’ve been teaching for twenty years, and I’ve been through so many different rhythms. I remember there was a time when there were so many packed classes in LA for so many years, and then it was really time for me to open up to being a mother. And there was a period after that where I didn’t have so many people coming to my classes anymore, and being OK with that.
There’s an ebb and flow to everything, and I think the power really comes from how we tend the inner fire, how we relate to the larger rhythms beyond just what we can only see in front of us. And so my core advice is, tend your inner fire. And look to the horizon, not anxiously, but to really see what opportunities are there that are organically linked to your own becoming, and what you can serve in the world.
TS: Wave-rider Shiva Rea! Thank you so much, it’s been so fun to talk with you.
SR: Oh, you’re amazing, Tami. I could talk to you forever, and really I just want to bow to you as just an amazing source for generating extraordinary resources of evolution and consciousness. I mean, there’s no place like Sounds True, and I just think it’s amazing. So I’m also celebrating 25 years of Sounds True.
TS: Wonderful. Shiva Rea, the creator of many programs with Sounds True: four music compilations, including Yoga Rhythms, Shakti Rhythms, Jala, and Nataraja, as well as an incredible DVD, an award-winning DVD filmed in India, Shiva really took it on as an incredible production, called Yoga Shakti,by far Sounds True’s bestselling DVD, as well as some audio instructional programs that have music combined with them, taking you through the prana flow yoga sequences, a program called Yoga Trance Dance and Yoga Chant and Drops of Nectar,along with the very original Shiva Rea release, a guided yoga practice called Yoga Sanctuary.
Wonderful to talk to Shiva, the wave rider! SoundsTrue.com: many voices, one journey.