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A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Acorn.
I recently had the chance of sitting down with prolific yoga master, Shiva Rea, for a fireside chat. OK, maybe she was driving on the freeway and talking to me through her cell phone and I was sitting in my office, enduring the hot summer heat but it felt like a fireside chat. Her voice came through the phone and soothed my feathers that had been ruffled that morning by the world’s happenings.
I must live in a bubble because I only recently discovered Rea this past May at Shakti Fest. Shakti Fest was my first yoga festival and the thing I loved most was the variety of teachers I got to sample. I am primarily a Vinyasa practitioner so it was nice to be exposed to so many different styles without having to put in a substantial financial commitment. Rea’s style of yoga is called Prana Vinyasa. She had everyone in a circle giving each other massages before she started to teach her class. What resonated about her with me was her openness to the world and her desire to have all of us become as intertwined as she obviously felt with one another and the cosmos around us. She is the real deal.
I had to know about her name though. I’ve known yoga teachers who’ve been swept away into their new lives and reemerged as Rad Hanna or Sri Masta when they went in as Igor or John. “My father named me,” Rea told me. “He was an artist and a surfer and later in life, at a conference, I met one of his friends who remembers him pulling out this art book that had the image of Shiva Nataraja in between surf sets and saying, I have this little baby girl and I named her Shiva.” Rea said that most people in India have a name that connects them to the divine. “It’s been a really beautiful seed that has continued to flower in my life. I’m grateful to my father for planting that seed.”
Rea credits her young parents for exposing her to a global perspective of life. “They were 20 when they had me and I was always with them. They exposed me to a multicultural world view and so I’m really interested in helping people find the universal aspects of yoga. Bhakti, or the way of the one, is one of those universal aspects.”
Bhakti Fest is a celebration of the one, bringing everyone together to celebrate their harmony. Bhakti Fest’s origins go back to Woodstock when Bhakti Fest founder, Sridhar Silberfein, looked from the stage upon the crowd of 500,000 music fans and promised his guru, Swami Satchidananda, that someday that many would come to chant the names of god, or the one. Forty years later Silberfein fulfilled that promise.
Rea says that even though everyone at Bhakti Fest is chanting the names of the one in different languages, the things that connects us is our breath. “The power of love is the power of love and it speaks beyond language with the power of breath, what we share, and yet we are barely tapping into it. Bhakti yoga becomes a way to connect to people with their deeper purpose.”
These days Rea only teaches classes through her DVDs, online or at special events like Bhakti Fest. In her quest to find her path, she’s taught yoga all over the world and has brought back ideas from her many voyages to India. “I do feel grateful that I’ve been able to be a bridge between the roots and the evolution.” One thing unique to her classes is that she teaches in a mandala, or a circle. “We live in the solar system revolving around the fire of the sun. Essential to yoga is the homa or the yajna, the fire after the ceremony. I feel that when we sit in a mandala, we are able to understand that everybody is creating the experience. We look across and we see each other. We’re not just looking up and seeing one teacher.” Rea believes it is in this way of seeing each other that we begin to understand how our actions affect others and on a larger global scale, how what we do in one community, oil spills or chemical dumping, will affect another downstream. It is in this vein that she started the Global Mala project, a movement that connects yoga and community action worldwide to create a more sustainable planetary living environment.
Rea believes that festivals like Bhakti Fest are a way into that healing space that moves from nurturing ourselves into being mindful about our actions within our community. “In your practice, you’re really able to affect all of the different aspects of your being. Both the spiritual and therapeutic aspects of yoga are really what are natural to us, but are becoming, unfortunately, unnatural to us. When you walk into a class at Bhakti Fest, you really have that experience of the personal transformation that’s available through yoga, a guarantee. I think you can walk into any yoga studio and you may have a wonderful class, but this transformative aspect, the inner and outer transformative aspect, the integration of movement and music is really unique in Bhakti Fest.”
Intimate experiences of sharing our journeys in the Sacred Women’s Tent and the Men’s Lodge were highlights for us. Conscious music with kirtan performers Govinda Ras (the artist formerly known as Ira) & Radha, Dave Stringer and Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band, to name only a few, are the soundtrack that accompanies the entire Bhakti weekend. Other not to miss moments are the Sound Bath Dome, Family Village with activities and crafts for kids (12 and under are free!) and the variety of the most amazing food vendors I’ve ever tasted at any event.