Free from a Sense of Duty
Shiva Rea talks about how she brings her practice into every part of her day—and life.
Interview by Lambeth Hochwald
I open to yoga as a way of living rather than a practice. People sometimes start feeling a sense of duty and a dutiful relationship to practice. I hear all the time in teacher trainings: “I have to do my practice.” If you think of it that way, it becomes a burden. I’ve definitely experienced this myself.
So gradually yoga, for me, has ripened into a shakti bhakti, or a way of being one with the Source. It’s like awakening your inner GPS, or internal guidance system.Yoga is everywhere. My practice space is in my bedroom, one of the largest rooms in our house. It has a six-foot carved altar my husband found in Kerala. Altars are really important for yoga sadhana because they establish and reflect back your bindu, your center point within your heart. Our hridaya guru, or heart teacher, is our living connection to the source within. It means I can go into yoga sadhana or practice anytime. In an airport, waiting in line, I can connect to that inner altar. The teacher, in the form of our breath, is the moment-to-moment sacred guide.
When I wake up, between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., depending on the season, one of the first things I do is put ayurvedic oils on my body from head to toe. Then I go over to my altar. I enjoy my meditation sadhana. Right now, since it’s the nine nights of the goddess festival Navaratri, I offer a mantra japa to the goddess with a simple, potent fire offering.
It helps to live in a place where nature is dominant. It’s grounding. I look out onto mountains in Topanga State Park, and the ocean is just two miles away. I love that my cell phone doesn’t work up here.
After my meditation, I cook breakfast and lunch (so lunch is ready later) for my husband and eight-year-old son. Afterwards, I write and take care of organizational details. Then I do my asana practice. It is based upon prana vinyasa flow. To begin, there’s an open part of my practice that allows the inner intelligence to spontaneously inform the movement meditation. That guides me into a more complete practice of the mandala of the body that can emphasize particular pathways in the body (backbends, hip opening). I have cultivated over 25 different surya namaskars, or sun salutations, so there are choices that are more energizing, direct, fluid, balancing, or relaxing.
I have learned to be with the rhythms of householder life and teaching on the road—to be like a big cat that uncoils dynamic energy, then returns to relax and unwind. Being out with the elements and having fun is also important. My son and I like to ride those crazy reclining bikes. I love hiking in the mountains and I surf—even in the middle of winter—whenever there is a swell. When the surf is up, the primordial teacher calls and I drop everything not essential and answer her call. This shakti bhakti teaches me also to “drop it” to be with my family and to wake up to the calling for conscious activism.
Shiva Rea is a leading teacher of prana vinyasa flow yoga. She leads annual retreats in India where her Yoga Trance Dance for Life, in partnership with Trees for the Future, is dedicated to planting 1,080,000 trees.