Shiva Rea

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Namaste, gentle readers.  Unless you are new to Under a Red Roof, you know quite well of my fondness for yoga.  It truly has changed my life.  I know for many of you this might sound a bit precious, but it’s no exaggeration.  Everything is better with yoga, everything.  Even with a cat on my back.  How cute is my guruji, Paris?  Normally, she prefers to give her sage advice during savasana, but who am I to argue?

Anyhoo, I’ve got some more recommendations for videos and the like, even expanding my repertoire to include, holy crapper-doodle, works by people other than Shiva Rea!  I know, even I didn’t think it was possible.  This dog can learn new tricks, go with the flow, rhyme and steal…

However, since I do have such a longstanding relationship with Shiva and remain ever loyal, I’ll start with her.  A.M. Energy is a really dynamic and invigorating video, and a departure from what I consider typical Shiva style.  It contains four separate practices (about 20 minutes each) that can be linked via the matrix or done individually.  Each ranges in difficulty and in style, from lots of not super yoga feeling floor work that builds strength through repetition, flowing movement, and some extremely challenging standing postures.  I have much to learn and do here and continue to be dazzled by Shiva’s ability and grace.

Shiva’s Yoga Wave (thanks for this one, Mom!) is an audio only collection, though there is a booklet with photos, so I would definitely only recommend it to those practicing for a while.  It contains a Solar and Lunar CD, and with the help of an i-pod or similar device can be mixed up in a myriad of fashions.  Each CD has progressively more difficult waves of similar postures, building upon each other and kicking your behind.  The solar wave CD is like doing seventy-five minutes of sun salutations, which is great for heating you up and developing your legs.  The first time is a killer!  The lunar wave is mostly spent on the floor opening hips, back bending, and twisting.  This one is in a pretty regular rotation for the hubster, as it’s really great to counter the repetitive movements of bike riding.


Now for something completely different.  Completely!  My massage therapist, who has a beautiful and strong body, is as big of a devotee to Kundalini, Ravi Singh and Ana Brett as I am to Shiva Rea.  After hearing her raves, I decided to give it a try.  It is a real departure from the yoga I am used to practicing.  I think, and this is by no means a slight, because I really like it, it is like yoga that was created by a child.  Let’s grind our hips around while sitting on the floor, and then we’ll flap our arms, sit like frogs, dance, lie on our bellies and bounce, walk like we’re marching in a parade, and pant like dogs.  Oh, and one more thing, it’s gonna be fun!  And it is.  I can’t help but smile during and well after.  It must be all that good Kundalini energy!  For those who already find yoga a bit out there, this will probably be too woo-woo for you.  That being said, both of the videos are fun and challenging, especially all the arm flapping Gurmukh does.  Seriously, I could not do it all, and I’m in pretty good shape.  Sat nam!

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I fell down the stairs a few years ago.  It really hurt, and I got a nasty bruise on my back, but I didn’t really think about it much.  I do that, move right along once the initial pain subsides.  I’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see!  The trouble is, my back never really healed properly, even though it felt okay.  It got itself in a bit of a jumble that’s caused other problems, more irritating and insidious.  I’ve tried visiting a chiropractor and acupuncturist to get rid of it, but nothing seemed to work.  I’ve recently been working with a massage therapist, and she said, rather casually, that problems like these, ones that should heal but don’t are often the result of not being able to let go of something painful.  This idea gave me pause.  Is it true?  Is there something I’ve been unwilling to loosen from my grasp?

I talked to my former student, now friend, Daniel last night.  He’s coming for a short visit and wanted to be sure we saw each other, which we will.  It’s nice to be thought of like that, wanted.  I like it.  Anyway, during our conversation, we talked about life and what we’re doing, and whether the work we do means anything or is going anywhere, despite the hours, days, weeks, and months we’ve been at it.  In particular, I was thinking about my blog and the fact that my last post was the 500th (Zowie!).  I’ve come to this space five hundred times, put myself out there as honestly and earnestly as I can, yet what is it doing, really?  Where is it going?  What is it about? What kind of blog is it?  Honestly, I have no idea.  I only do what feels right at the time.

I was at the library the other day, in a section I don’t normally browse, and found a sweet little book called Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron.  It’s about meditation and how to practice and cope with whatever life brings, mostly by letting go.  I brought it home (along with a giant stack from the sections I do normally browse – libraries are awesome), and I’ve really been enjoying it.  She writes in a very accessible style, with many personal anecdotes.  I find myself laughing a lot and agreeing with her words, especially these: Give away what you don’t want.  Give away what you most want.  Nothing is concrete. There are no definitive answers.  There’s only this moment and this breath.

Then, yesterday, I popped in a bonus Shiva Rea DVD, again, like the book, something I wouldn’t normally browse, and watched an interview with Shiva about the practice of yoga.  At the beginning she said, “With yoga, you start where you are.”  Well, the light bulbs went off friends.  I thought about how true it is, especially in reference to Pema Chodron’s book.  Nothing is concrete.  Each moment is new.  With each yoga practice, I start where I am.  Sometimes, I am strong and steady, moving with grace and ease through the postures.  Other times, like yesterday, I fall on my ass doing what is normally pretty simple.

Then I got to the big picture thoughts that have been weighing heavily on my mind.  I’ve written five hundred blog posts and am nearly forty years old.  This is a big deal, isn’t it?  Something significant, concrete, should be happening, right?  Fireworks?   I should know what I’m doing, where I’m going, what I’m going to be.  I should be making money.  It’s about time.

Then, finally, it’s back to my massage therapist’s words and the book.  Letting go.  Everything is a passing memory.  I’ve had these ideas and expectations my whole life.  I’ve been holding on to the notion that I should know what I’m doing, be successful, that my back shouldn’t hurt, that I should like everyone.  It’s all very concrete and solid, like the knots in my back.  But what if I looked at life differently?  What if I allowed a space for softness, for not knowing, not grasping.  What if I let go of all the stories?  What if I start where I am right now, again and again, no destination, no need to be anything different than what I am.  What will happen then?

I guess I will see.

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Last Thursday, I ventured north to Bellingham, Washington for my long anticipated class with Shiva Rea. I had never driven that far on my own before (about five hours), and the writer in me created all kinds of awful scenarios in which I did not return in one piece (the price for creativity!).  I prepared for many eventualities, every last duck in a row, and left very dark (seriously Spring, no need to be so shy) and early.  Thankfully, the drive went off without a hitch, a succession of NPR news stories, jazz, and rock and roll.

When I exited the highway hours later, my stiff legs itching for a stretch (yoga!), I had the first of many indications that none of my visions of doom would come to fruition.  The sun started to peek through the clouds and a Bald Eagle swooped over my car.  Talk about a warm welcome!

I arrived at the class after a picture perfect afternoon (more on that tomorrow), a warm, light-filled room, with equally warm and friendly strangers of all stripes.  Then Shiva arrived and the magic began.  With the beat of a drum, the raven spirit invocation (even more auspicious, considering my deep love of crows and ravens), curious, mischievous, dancing and spreading his wings, inviting us all to fly.  This was followed by a truly amazing, heart liberating kirtan with Dave Stringer (like this).  I sang at the top of my voice, every cell pulsing, full of joy, and ready for practice.  The sadhana was kick-my-ass challenging with moments of silliness too (Shiva is funny!), everything I hoped for, infused with grooves from Dave and his cohort, and a final round of chanting to bring the magical practice to a close.

It’s pretty amazing when someone you’ve admired for a long time lives up to your expectations, live and in person, and a bit of a relief, too.  I’ve been practicing with Shiva for the past six years, her work, and ours together, inspiring me more than I ever could have imagined.  So when it came came time to thank her, for everything, that in the flesh, no going back, she’s standing right in front of me moment, rather than take my hand extended in gratitude, she embraced me, a hug between “old” friends.  A perfect day, a perfect sadhana, made all the more sweet.  Namaste.

p.s. I hope to get a picture with Shiva next time!

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As many of you know, from this space and my life in the physical world, I practice yoga.  What initially began as neat way to get exercise has become a deeply invigorating physical and spiritual practice.  By God’s (or maybe Buddha’s or Shiva Nataraja’s) grace, I have the privilege to be led through asanas that bring me closer to what I believe is most important in this world: body, mind, and spirit connecting and strengthening, not just within me, but to human consciousness, and all that lives, breathes, and moves.  As a result, I have changed.  I am more integrated, physically stronger yet softer, more understanding, caring, and connected.  I still have a long way to go, but the journey, with yoga, is far more joyous and centered.

At the center of this is Shiva Rea.  I have had other teachers, but none has inspired me or encouraged me to continue as she has (despite never having met!).  Were it not for the discovery of the brilliant Yoga Shakti DVD more than five years ago, I don’t know that I would still be practicing.  It’s not only Shiva’s way of teaching, of leading, but the steady evolution of her yoga, rooted in the ebb and flow of life, not to mention those fabulous matrices that allow me to mix it up according to my needs and time.

These four DVDs are my favorites and are the foundation of my practice.  They are challenging, fun, beautiful, and as ever changing as I am.  Difficult one day, a breeze the next, they enable me to be exactly where I am and embrace it.

As for each video – Yoga Shakti is closest to what I would call a traditional vinyasa practice.  I think, too, if you are new to yoga, it is the best place to start, as she offers some basic postures and forms.  As you progress, it can be very challenging, too.  Even after more than five years, I can, by no means, complete all the postures as shown.  Shiva is strong and incredibly flexible!  My goal is to have this video mastered in 2013.  The body and mind open slowly, over time.

Trance Dance – I’ve written about this before, and my love for it is simple.  Dance!  Invigorating, fluid, sacred, and totally fun!

Daily Energy – I was so jazzed when she made this DVD!  Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time.  With this video, I can have a complete practice in as little as twenty minutes, which is pretty awesome.  Since it also has a yoga matrix, I can make it a whole lot longer, add some core work, forward bends, and a complete shavasana, too.

Creative Core + Upper Body – Though the practice is centered around 108 push-ups (not all at once – thank goodness!), it is definitely not just for the upper body.  The legs and core get a terrific workout, too.  Speaking of the core – in all of the DVDs except Trance, she offers core cultivation in very creative and fun ways.   I’d never seen or felt anything like it – very good!  Oh, and this one is also pretty short, running at 35 minutes.

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Something amazing happened to me the other day, mind blowing, wonderful kind of amazing.  I was finishing my yoga practice with a meditation before shavasana, something I don’t normally incorporate for reasons of time and laziness.

Anyway, as I was sitting there, listening to Shiva’s kind voice, I felt my body moving, only I didn’t feel like I was the one doing it.  It was just happening, smooth and effortless, a birch branch slowly oscillating in the breeze.   As I continued to move, I had this sensation of fullness, effervescence.  I could no longer tell where my body ended and the rest of the universe began.  In my closed eyes, I could see and feel billions of tiny bubbles of light pulsing and emanating to and from what I can only guess was the essence of all being: me, you, the sun, moon, and stars.

As you might imagine, it was exhilarating.  It brought me the greatest sense of joy, peace, and wonder, and the moment I became fully conscious of what was happening, I wanted it to continue, to watch where it might take me, but, of course, in this same moment, I made the connection back to my thinking mind, and it was over, leaving me with tiny traces of its perfection.

Thinking about it now, I feel a bit empty but in the most positive way.  Empty of pain, worry, suffering, and full of hope at the possibility of my life and our world.  Now I am sharing it with you.


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