Shiva Rea found her first downward dog at age 14 and hasn’t stopped flowing since. She now has 25 years of teaching yoga in 44 different countries, along with 27 DVD-CDs bringing even more yoga to people around the world.
For Rea, yoga transcends a one-hour studio class. It’s a way of life. “My personal definition of yoga is that which brings us into a unified state of consciousness. I think there’s something about yoga that touches the soul," she says.
Rea believes that anything that gets people out of their heads and into a natural flow state is the very definition of yoga. Creating and cultivating that connection to something bigger is what yoga is all about.
“Being in nature is the essence of yoga practice," Rea says. "It’s an ability to see our connection to nature as this profound inseparable reality. I like to look at how we can move into that, not just in what we think of as formal yoga practice, but during the flow of our life.”
Rea frequents nature for the deeper connection. “I like to be outdoors, so I kayak, and when the surfs up, I try and get on the wave. For me, surfing is one of the most soulful practices in terms of feeling fully alive. You don’t control the waves.”
So while doing a series of chaturangas and downward dogs may help you build muscle, the real win is when you’re able to cultivate stillness and connection within. “It’s not about the outer activity. It’s all about the inner flow and participation,” says Rea.
Finding Your Yoga
Rea doesn’t dismiss power yoga or other more aggressive classes as fads or less serious forms of yoga. “In a way, Western yoga, even though we might get stereotypically described as using a more physically oriented practice, we actually turn to yoga for soul nourishment. We need something physical because of all the distractions. We deal with the challenges of disembodiment every day. We're so challenged on a cellular level."
If you need a very physical practice to release stress or an overactive mind, then Rea thinks you should do it. Rea practiced Ashtanga for 15 years, but then made a change when Ashtanga no longer suited her. “At a certain point, a set sequence was not giving me the tools to respond to the changes in the world. I really needed to be in a practice that was changing with my energy as a woman.”
Practicing many different types of yoga is a positive for Rea. “Diversity allows people to either have a practice that speaks to them for that season of their life or whatever their current orientation is at the moment.” No matter what kind of yoga you do, Rea believes you end with the same result – feeling more vital and connected.
In fact, Rea recommends incorporating a few different styles of yoga into your weekly practice for balance. You may want to ease into the week with a gentler yin practice and by Friday, you could be ready for a hot yoga class to alleviate tension from the week.
For people just starting a yoga practice and unsure where to begin, Rea says a yoga studio is the best place to explore "because you can try many modalities and different teachers within one center.”
Finding Shiva Rea
While Rea does travel extensively, she tries to find time to lead a few classes when she’s home in Los Angeles. Most recently, she’s been teaching at the newly opened Santa Monica yoga center Mandala, home to many other notable teachers like Saul David Raye and Seane Corn. She calls many of the teachers friends, having grown up with them in the LA yoga scene. Rea also stands behind the vision of Mandala, which means a circle representing the whole.
When you practice with Rea, she teaches in a mandala, with mats forming a circle around an altar in the middle of the room. “Sometimes it’s more practical to practice straight ahead, but the mandala gets you out of the structure of following and more like we’re creating this meditation together.”
Rea is involved with yoga on a macro level now, teaching others to teach, to expand yoga’s reach on a global level. “From teaching yoga for 25 years and starting yoga when I was 14, I can really just say that yoga is my way of life. I really don’t think I have a choice anymore. It’s part of me.”
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Images via Joy Santos