Change Agent: Shiva Rea

Acclaimed yoga teacher Shiva Rea uses movement to transform lives.

Sheva Rea

It often surprises people to learn that Shiva Rea’s name (pronounced sheeva ray) is not an exotic moniker that the celebrated yoga teacher chose to adopt. Rather, it’s the name she was given at birth by her father, an artist who was captivated by an image of the Dance of Shiva (an oft-depicted image in Hinduism) he saw in an art textbook shortly before she was born.

Shiva is Sanskrit for “Auspicious One,” and the name turned out to be a fitting choice for Rea, who eventually became the founder of Prana Flow, a yogic discipline that draws elements from a variety of yoga traditions. Rea began exploring Eastern healing practices and yoga traditions in her early teens — initially to better understand her name, and then to more fully embody it.

At age 14, Rea lived with her grandparents in London for a summer. Her grandparents, both English professors, intended to spend the summer steeped in scholarly pursuits — and had similar hopes for Rea — but she was more interested in what was happening outside the textbooks.

“We were in Chelsea during the heart of the punk movement. Everyone had a two-foot Mohawk,” says Rea of the counterculture vibe in early-’80s London. This new-to-her punk-rock world helped ignite Rea’s interest in other cultures and led her to a local library where she pored over books on Zen, Indian art, meditation and yoga asanas.

From there, her interest in Eastern culture and yoga intensified. After graduating from high school, she delayed college for 18 months to go on a yoga volunteer trip in Kenya. She worked in an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi and helped with village development. The trip was transformative for Rea. “My world started to open up on that trip.”

When Rea returned from Africa, she initially turned her attentions toward a career in academia. It was what her grandparents expected of her — and what she expected of herself — so she applied herself to her studies with as much commitment as she could muster. After receiving an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in dance anthropology at UCLA, she was flooded with PhD scholarship offers from prestigious schools around the country, but something inside her was pulling her in a different direction.

One day, says Rea, “I just knew I didn’t want to write about ritual and movement anymore. I wanted to do it.” Her grandparents weren’t pleased. “They still thought of yoga as freaky,” says Rea, something people did while “sitting on mountaintops.” But imbued with a strong sense of inner knowing she credits to her early yoga training, Shiva decided to follow her heart — and left the ivory tower to pursue her passion.

The California native spent the next decade primarily studying Ashtanga yoga, an energetic and active practice, and developing her personal sense of career calling. The key to that process, she says, is to move beyond rigid ideas about what you should do and what is expected of you, and get in touch with your authentic self — the deep creative consciousness that resides within each of us. Rea believes that it’s this deep self-knowledge that is at the core of most positive change and self-transformation.

When we’re in tune with ourselves, says Rea, we get a clear-eyed view of our positive and negative habits, our sense of what’s right and wrong for us, and the places we are in or out of balance. When you look inward, she explains, “You will see the signs that things are moving in a progressive direction or not, whether it has to do with your health, or with your relationships, or your work, or your spiritual path, or the creative part of yourself.” From there, you can begin making more conscious choices — transforming your life in positive, often unexpected, ways.

Yoga is just one powerful way to support that kind of personal change, says Rea, who notes that yoga has been profoundly important in helping her through a divorce and a variety of other big life challenges. “The whole goal of yoga is to release inhibitions and strengthen our capacity to live in harmony with our natural flow,” says Rea, 43, who lives in Malibu, Calif., with her 12-year-old son. “I’ve been teaching for 20 years now. I’ve seen amazing collective transformation happen in the classes, and this has all become an essential theme in my current work.”

Today, Rea practices and teaches Prana Flow all over the world. She describes the practice as energetic and fluid, with movements and sequences designed to help practitioners tap their “deep, creative intelligence.” Prana Flow, she adds, also helps spark self-transformation by helping people release blocked energy.

“People who are born with a lot of fire — people who, in the Western world, might be dubbed ‘Type A’ — get really frustrated if their fire gets stuck in mundane ways. They like to see things happen. They like to feel engaged. Often, if they don’t get to exercise, they start to feel stagnant and toxic.” Movement helps release that stuck energy and create positive forward momentum.

“You get a choice,” Rea says. “Do you want to be in the driver’s seat, steering your personal change, or do you want things to get to a boiling point where there’s a crisis, or there’s a disease, or something that becomes so stifling that then the change is quite chaotic?”

It’s up to each of us to decide when and how to heed our own personal calls for change, Rea notes. Doing so often entails some uncertainty and discomfort  (“It takes courage to become a fully realized adult,” says Rea), but it also produces exhilarating rewards — treasures that lie waiting for each of us to claim.

For more information about Prana Flow, visit shivarea.com.

Laine Bergeson is and Experience Life senior editor.

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