World-renowned yogi Shiva Rea is dedicated to inspiring students to connect with their ‘inner teachers’ and move with the flow of their breath, their practice, and their daily routines. She talks to Jessica Humphries about the evolution of Prana Vinyasa, the power of ritual, and learning how to read the waves of life.
AYJ – A big part of the philosophy and experience of your teaching is FLOW. How do you stay in ow when things get challenging, in practice and in life?
SHIVA REA – Once you become a ‘student of flow’ in life, being out of synch starts to feel like a choice, as every part of your yoga practice on the mat — from the flow of breathing, movement and awareness — registers disruptions to the flow. So, like surfing, yoga has helped me be present to staying connected to the flow even when the waves are choppy. Being a student of ow is to read the waves of life as they are unfolding in real time and shift to the living current. I just try to stay attuned with my breath ow all day and let that oscillate my whole body without feeling inhibited.
AYJ – If you could give your beginner yogi self one piece of advice, what would it be?
SHIVA REA – Remember every outer teacher you have can only direct you to the inner teacher — the teacher of the teachers. From the very first breath you are connecting to that teacher and that has nothing to do with your level of practice but how receptive we are to a direct relationship to life.
AYJ – What is the origin of the Prana Flow Pranam that you are offering in this issue?
SHIVA REA – When I was 21, I spent some time in Bodh Gaya on the prostration boards that face the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha sat for his awakening. It is a board with mittens so that you can slide and be in a flow with all the other pilgrims before you. I kept that root practice alive as a treasured movement meditation and, for the past few years, I have started teaching the evolution of that prostration that evolved in my home practice as the Prana Flow Pranams.
It integrates the principles of prana flow of fluid oscillation, non-verbal ow and inner listening, and at the same time can be quite strong and dynamic or very relaxing and therapeutic. Prana flow pranams integrates backbends, forward bends, core strength and therapeutic bonding with the earth in deep relaxation. It is now part of Yoga Journal’s International Yoga Day offering of 1-108 pranams around the world and we are also focusing on September 21st for Global Mala with UN International Peace Day.
AYJ – How did your yoga journey begin, what has been the inspiration for Prana Vinyasa, and how has it evolved over time?
SHIVA REA – I was born in Hermosa Beach, California, and the beach was literally my front yard. So the imprint of the waves as the ow of life was always part of me. My father, who was a hardcore surfer at the time, gave me the name Shiva after the ‘Lord of the Dancing Universe’. The yogic aspect of my name awakened when I was 14 and I started
to practice. I ended up living around the world from the age of 17 in east and west Africa, Nepal, Bali and Jamaica where I was studying movement as meditation, ritual and its role in cultural change. I started to teach Ashtanga and then Vinyasa, as well as travelling to India annually to go deeper into yoga and movement meditation forms.
Fast forward and I found myself in a transformation period of my life: I had broken my pelvis as a third series practitioner, my mother was dying of brain cancer and I was evacuated from my cabin in Topanga during wild fires — old structures were falling away. My allegiance to the inner prana is borne out of these challenges, which gave me courage to evolve. I have just returned from India for the 15th time and feel the experience of the inner ow of Shakti is nourished and deepened every time I return.
Teaching and deepening my studies around the globe has given me a global perspective of the cross-cultural power of movement. The power of breathing and moving together brings out the best in everyone.
AYJ – The way you teach encourages the student to be mindful as you play with movements that might feel unfamiliar (compared to a ‘standard’ asana class). It feels like a ritual. How important is ritual to you, and how do you integrate it into your life?
SHIVA REA – As I travelled around the world, I started to understand ritual as a rhythm in life — a vinyasa of natural opening, sustaining and closing a process. For a ow class, we create that with the sequencing of the namaskars. Within the first 20 minutes of class, you are in synch with the movement meditation and, like surfing, that is where all the joy and skill unfold more effortlessly. This doesn’t mean less challenging, just not full of effort. It is easy to make yoga hard … intelligent activation can be integrated with natural joy.
For more about Shiva Rea and her upcoming Australian tour, see www.shivarea.com
Photo by Jasper Johal