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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 31 A few years ago, a friend and I were tooling around the Berk- shires’ rural roads, killing time while waiting for our yoga work- shop at Kripalu to start. Suddenly my friend said, “Did you just see the goddess in the woods?” I craned my neck out the car win- dow, but only managed to catch a glimpse of blond hair. Better was the workshop itself. Yes, the goddess my friend saw was Shiva Rea, one of America’s most celebrated yoga teachers. And, indeed, she did lead us through poses with something of a divine, yet thor- oughly grounded, grace. I reconnected with Rea while she was at her California home, located near her favorite surf break. She talked with me about what she sees as the power of self-less service and about the true, transformative nature of yoga. — ANDREA MILLER Yoga literally means “to yoke.” What is yoked, or united? In the yogic tradition, the highest level we can attain is commu- nion with the ground of this consciousness, such that there is no longer anything to yoke. Different schools of yoga describe what is separating our experience of this natural state of conscious- ness in different ways. In the West, when people say yoga, they think asanas, or pos- es. But by no means does yoga mean asanas. For me, yoga is a state of unified consciousness that all beings experience natu- rally. So, the system of yoga is the vast collective wisdom—the methods, teachings, and realizations—of all sages, yoginis, po- ets, and householder teachers. This system is there for anybody who wants to cultivate the natural state of yoga as the base from which they experience life. Then how do physical postures help us on this path? Asanas are extraordinary mudras, ritualistic gestures that are un- derstood in Buddhist practice to be concentrated forms reflect- ing different aspects of consciousness. So asanas, like mudras, balance or enhance our state of consciousness. When we bring our hands to our heart, it has an effect on our being—mentally, emotionally, physically. If we are open to asanas at that level, they will have that integrated effect. But if we think that we’re just do- ing a physical practice, then that may be all we experience. What is a common obstacle on the yogic path? Even if we don’t want to admit it, when we first come to yoga, we’re goal-oriented. But what use are strong abdominals or a very flexible spine? With them, you can still be a mean, agitated, and confused person. Unless your inner consciousness goes through the fullness of transformation, your life doesn’t change. How has your yoga practice changed over time? I’ve come to really yoke all of my senses and tune them, back—as close as I can—to their natural, unified flow of consciousness. Now yoga is less a thing that I’m doing, and more of a process I’m engaging in. Ultimately, yoga helps us to dive deeper into what is truly impor- tant. Yet in many yoga classes, there’s a lot of competition in the air—a lot of striving to strike the pose perfectly or to have the best yoga pants. What would you recommend to remedy that? First of all, I think it’s important to find the class—the commu- nity—where you feel that the person next to you is in a similar heart space. But it’s also important to keep in mind that if an earthquake were shaking the studio, no one would care that their leg was higher than someone else’s. I think that we just don’t have enough contact with life-and-death issues. That’s one rea- son why I travel. I did development work in Africa for two and a half years and I’ve been to India nine times. When you get out Q&A The Goddess Pose SHIVA REA PHOTOBYMARIAGARREPHOTOBYDEBRAMCCLINTON