Going with the Flow: An Interview with Shiva Rea
by Nora Isaacs
Shiva Rea—yogini, mother, teacher, activist, and global traveler—has taught yoga for more than 20 years, founded Yogadventures, and gathered thousands of devoted students along the way. She travels throughout the world to lead workshops and teacher trainings, spreading her message of movement. Shiva has studied Krishnamacharya’s yoga, bhakti, tantra, Ayurveda, world dance, and somatic movement, which all influence her unique style of vinyasa yoga, Prana Flow®: Energetic Vinyasa, and her movement meditation practice, Yoga Trance Dance.
You coined the names “vinyasa flow” and “prana flow.” What does the word flow mean to you?
Flow is a state of unified consciousness—the unbroken flow. If we observe animals, nature, collective bodies, and even our own lives, we see a rhythm of flow, an unfolding flow, which is what “vinyasa” means. Everybody who comes to yoga has experienced the state of flow, but yoga is the method of cultivating that state in every aspect of your life as a living experience and not something that you try to achieve.
I think flow is a profound way of both viewing and experiencing your life. From the deepest level, we are the embodiment of realizations within quantum physics; what we think is solid is actually fluid. Consciousness is flow. Life is flow. Even when we die we are still flowing, still in a process of change and transformation.
How does this knowledge help us in our daily lives?
On a very practical level, understanding life as a flow helps us look at where there is stagnation so we can release blocks to our body, thoughts, actions, creativity, and love. But we must remember there are many rhythms to flow, from grounded to wild, which is why we look at the full spectrum of our life. Like a stable tree, there is incredible sap that is flowing as the lifeblood of that tree. Like a river thawing out, sometimes we need to move swiftly and freely. There is an incredible diversity of rhythms of flow—and that’s what I’m devoted to in yoga and in life.
So why have people suddenly been turned on to flow now?
I think there is so much simultaneous change, combined with lots of mundane routine and sitting at computers, that people are recognizing the capacity of yoga to be powerfully transformative in every aspect of life. People come to my classes for the inner level first, which they learn to listen to more clearly in a prana-flow experience.
So in essence, you are teaching people to “go with the flow” as a way to move through change?
Yes. Westerners have a tendency toward intellectualizing our experience, a tendency to learn from the outside coming in. It’s important to reestablish the instinctual language and flow of the body for the depth of yoga to emerge.
How do you help newcomers understand flow?
I try to connect beginners to the organic pulsations of prana. I don’t like people to look outside themselves. As a teacher, I am a servant of their life force, breath, movement, and heart intelligence. My whole intention is to help people get connected to that flow as a real and practical experience.
As a mother myself, I often wonder how you balance your life as a householder, world traveler, and in-demand teacher.
Most parents would love to do everything with more energy than we have in that moment. The house never seems to get perfectly clean. Some things come together while some things are falling apart. It’s a dance. Ultimately, our fulfillment in being is a state of realizing sukha shakti. Sukha is your innate happiness, and shakti is the power of that. I learned this doing volunteer work in Kenya and Old Delhi. I met people who have nothing, no possessions. Some didn’t even have arms or legs. But you look at their faces and they are radiating joy like enlightened beings. Tapping into that joy factor as a natural state is the most important thing we householders can do for ourselves.
Sounds great. How do we use yoga to get us there?
We actually experience yoga from the quality of our being—then we bring that into various forms and practices. If you have the feeling that you have to do your practice, there is never enough time. If we live in the state of yoga, it will inform every aspect of our speech, thoughts, actions, the quality of what we are resonating inside ourselves, and our life force. When those things are in circulation, you come into mediation, asana, kirtan, pranayama—all of those different aspects of formal practice—as extensions of our consciousness.
So how do we stay in this state of yoga when we are busy, bored, shut down, stressed, or overwhelmed?
It’s part of my Living Yoga Sadhana progam I call tending the fire. It’s cultivating a 24/7 relationship to your heart fire—the light in your heart and in every cell of your body. It’s not a chore—it’s a priority. If we don’t tend the fire, it will go out. If the fire goes out, you get to a point of exhaustion, apathy, depression, and being pissed off and angry.
If you lose your sacred passion, you’ve lost the whole purpose for being alive. That’s what I saw in the eyes of people deep in the bush in Kenya, people living in absolute abject poverty. Tending the fire means that no external circumstance can put out your fire—you know how to stay connected and devoted to your heart-fire.
Tell me more about your Living Yoga Sadhana program.
Living Yoga Sadhana is about the season of your spirituality. Are you in a virile season, cutting through regressive habits, harnessing your potential, or going for it? You might want to cultivate your heart energy, become more peaceful, let go of unnecessary forms of stress. So we explore Five Paths of Practice: bhakti (the power of love and devotion), vira (awakening the fire of one’s potential), shakti (unleashing the creative power), hatha (the path of balance and integration), and shanti sadhana (living peace). The sadhana opens up your creativity and activates your vision through yoga.
In browsing your website, I’ve noticed that you are very tech-savvy. Where do yoga and technology intersect for you?
I want to integrate technology and the practice of yoga both individually and collectively. For example, I’ve created Pulse, a year-long sacred-arts calendar to help people stay connected with the sacred rhythms in their lives. Created through the web, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, it’s a medium for people to understand the new moon, full moon, and major transformational holidays of every culture, from the Chinese New Year to Yom Kippur. I don’t think you have to be a Hindu to benefit from Navaratri festival, so we will be offering people from around the world a way to stay in touch with the global cultural vinyasa. The idea is to harness the consciousness of a greater collective and encourage people to practice and stay connected. So, for example, it will invite people from all over the world to upload their solstice and full-moon celebrations and prayers. It will create a larger community for bringing inspiration, activism, and the sacred into everyday life.
Tell me about your work as an activist.
The culmination of different forms of activism for me was starting the Global Mala Project in 2007 (globalmala.org). The first year we got 108 studios together in Los Angeles and there were about 800 events in 44 countries around the world. In a lot of towns and cities, people were coming together for the first time. It’s really about activating the place of essential unity and harnessing that energy. Now it has a life of its own. It encourages yoga communities to come together across the borders of their mats and studios, to raise consciousness and funds through the embodied practices of yoga around a mala.
We’re starting a Yoga Energy Activist program (YEA), which gives people a five-point way of understanding energy from the personal level to the climate-change level so they see the interrelationship of those things. We are encouraging people to transition from limited, toxic energy sources that are polluting and killing the earth and creating global climate change, like petrol fuel and coal. This transition is a priority for all beings on the planet because it will affect us all irreparably. It behooves us all to become energy activists. It’s a way to encourage people to look at a micro level at their own lives, and then to the macro level.
Why a “yoga” energy activist?
The difference between a regular energy activist and a yogic one is that we have to start from the level of our thoughts, food, and actions. This is the energy that we are circulating in our own life. So we are giving people resources to look at their home, communities, and organizations that are supporting energy activism and renewable energy, like our initiative with 350.org (an international campaign for finding solutions to the climate crisis).
You seem to draw much of your inspiration from nature.
I live on a sandy beach in a small boat apartment in Malibu. Almost every day I get to see the same six to 25 dolphins that form pods in the bay. The dolphins teach me a lot about attunement and being in the moment. In order to catch them, you have to get in the kayak and get past the waves with no hesitation. Sometimes I have to drop everything and just go in, whatever I’m wearing, in order to catch them as they go undulating slowly by. Recently, I didn’t see them for a month and was somewhat worried. And then, sure enough, on a magic day, they came back. I got out there and saw that they had been busy—there were eight dolphins and their three new little babies. Every day is a gift.
Nora Isaacs, a former senior editor at Yoga Journal, is a San Francisco-based journalist who writes about health and spirituality and is the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age. www.noraisaacs.com
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of the Kripalu catalog. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.