Shiva Rea – “From that moment, I could not go back.”
I’m a person of about 64 or 108 passions. Not every passion is meant to be for somebody else.
Modeling the 64 arts, I have passions that are part of a tantric sadhana. There’s a powerful form of sustainability when passion is married with compassion. There’s also a process of honing in.
My core passion lies in the moving arts. In moving prayers and movement meditation. That’s also what I teach. It’s rooted in yoga, but there are additional pathways that extend back to having lived in Africa and India. In these parts of the world, movement is essential to the flow of life. Many of my passions all feed back into this core. To the rhythm of life and those rhythmic cycles. Similarly, I’m passionate about the seasons and seasonal cooking.
I’m also passionate about spontaneous music. We have instruments lying all around our home. I don’t claim a particular instrument as my own, but I love drumming! Recently, I picked up an n’goni, which is like a harp from Central Africa. It’s a beautiful sound.
Some of my other passions extend into activism. I’m particularly passionate about solar energy. I live in a solar home. I drive an electrical car. I have a solar light project called “Be a Light,” which is a passion that fuels my daily life. I believe solar energy is the metaphor of our time – despite an abundant clean energy source, we still choose toxic sources.
I grew up completely on the ocean in Hermosa Beach and moved to an intense intellectual urban environment while my father attended UC Berkeley. That experience exemplifies an important theme in my life – the split between the head and the heart. In the west, we’re simply taught that intelligence exists in the brain and our heart is just a fantastic pump. We often lack a way to reintegrate slower brainwave frequencies. Through meditation and creativity, this subtle reintegration occurs and an inner art happens.
Embracing my head over my heart, I over developed analytically. More precisely, I over developed a perception that did not integrate the other aspects of my kinesthetic intelligence.
My undergraduate and graduate degree are in world arts and cultures. It’s an interdisciplinary program of anthropology, ethnomusicology, dance ethnology, folklore, and art history. At that time, the only PhD program was in cultural anthropology. It was a very, very long and arduous intellectual process, even though I was studying what I love – the power of movement in culture.
No matter how much I embodied movement, yoga teacher training was a radical shift from academia for me. It may not seem radical in retrospect, but at that time, yoga was not popular. My grandparents were very disappointed.
Now, I understand kinesthetic intelligence is my strongest intelligence. That’s how I was born in the world. My parents could not stop me from moving. Everywhere there was music that meant that you could move. That was California in the late 60s, so there was no problem with a dancing girl.
I shut all of that down in order to acclimate into the educational environment. I think sometimes that happens with women, or for people who have spiritual intuition. They justify, “Okay, to participate in this larger dialogue I have to sacrifice and learn this other language and this other form of communication.”
The thing is, the body really speaks your poetry.
An example that isn’t really addressed in the yoga world, is that not everyone responds to structural alignment cues in the same way. For many people, cues keep them in an outer brainwave frequency. In an intellectual mode we adopt in relationship to our body. What happened for me is that the poetry of the body, the kinesthetic intelligence, became the basis for the flow of Vinyasa. The tantric orientation of being moved rather than moving.
In many ways I continue to be a researcher, integrating our intelligence, investigating the roots of yoga through movement meditation, observing as much as possible walking down the beaten path in India, and transforming what got lost in translation.
Prostration practice is the main way I integrate the different aspects of my background. From the scholar Christopher Tompkins, to the earliest tantric prostration practices from which the Vinyasa that we practice today emerges. Though less known, movement meditations are the power of prostrations. Blending our deepening understanding of yoga with our current needs is what everyone is engaged in – in one way or another. Integrating different aspects of our background, different aspects of ourself.
There was a strange time in my life when these profound, life and death shifts were happening.
I went through brain cancer with my mother. It was a nine month process and wasn’t something she could heal from at that time. There’s still not a cure for Glioblastoma, just an extension of a couple of years. It kind of cracked my heart. I had also broken my pelvis in a car accident right before the diagnosis.
For me, breaking my pelvis was actually an incredible gift and I experienced it as such. It was unusual because I was already doing third series Ashtanga, but I was actually listening to Krishna Das when I was broadsided. I didn’t see the car. They ran a red light, so they were going fast but I wasn’t. The next moment I had blood from head to toe. I felt God’s presence so strongly, thick as the heatwaves when Joshua Tree gets hot. Thick with God.
All of the firemen were worried. The crash knocked fear out of me rather than put it into me. From that moment, nothing was the same. Not even my yoga practice was the same. Just moving toes, moving fingers, breathing. I was strangely ecstatic. That surprised the hell out of me because when you experience something like that, there’s so much life force. It’s like when you’re pregnant. There’s so much life force that’s sent. I could feel that force was more important than all the deep asanas I was doing. I was like, “Wait a minute.”
It was a good initiation. From that moment, I could not go back. Although I struggled.
I think that the world today doesn’t know how to integrate mystical experiences people have with their own life force. Even just the experience of the healing force or experience of, when they’re in yoga, another kind of intelligence moving through them, we kind of default back to, “Okay, right.” I don’t think that that’s happening as much. I think we’re learning to trust these integrated intelligences and we’re allowing them to change us. That was my experience. I keep most of that very private. I’d say it was like a long goodbye.
A long, slow goodbye.
1st part of The Yoga Blog interview series with Shiva Rea at Shakti Fest 2016 in Joshua Tree, CA.
Interviewed by Hung Tran and Dawn Morningstar
Photo credit: Shiva Rea
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