For Shiva Rea, a leading teacher of vinyasa flow Yoga, change begins from within and expands from there, like ripples in a pond. “When people start studying Hatha Yoga they become more aware of the physical body, and the seed is planted. A natural healing process develops that leads to action,” she says.
In her younger days as an environmental activist, Shiva worked closely with the Earthways Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports small-scale projects in the areas of environmental preservation, human potential, and sustainable development. Through her work she was able to observe the activist’s life up close. Shiva came to identify two different types of activists: what she terms “hard-core activists” and “natural activists.”
Hard-core activists spend long hours at the computer, so completely absorbed in their projects that they forget to take care of themselves. Ignoring their own bodies, they skip meals, eat protein bars, and drink bucketfuls of coffee just to keep going. These hard-core activists could use a little yoga in their lives. In contrast, natural activists have a desire to help, but this desire comes from a healthy center of self-awareness.
As a student of the ancient healing methods of Ayurveda, Shiva believes in the importance of cleansing and nourishing the body and adhering to daily rituals. Her daily practices, also known as Dina Charya in Ayurveda, include touching the floor by her bed to connect with the earth as she awakens, massaging her skin with oil, and sitting down to a home-cooked lunch. These practices help her feel grounded and more in tune with nature and its cycles.
Shiva believes that for her students as well, eating healthily becomes a natural choice as their Yoga practice deepens. Yoga practitioners naturally turn to organic foods and begin to prepare more wholesome meals at home. “Looking around you, you see that the Yoga community is sustaining whole foods in this country,” she says. The desire to cleanse and nourish the body continues to ripple outward and affects the way Yoga practitioners interact with their surroundings.
Shiva says that this natural lifestyle creates a feeling of being grounded, of belonging to nature. “We begin to observe and honor the seasons and the phases of the moon,” she says. This sensitivity to natural cycles is called Ritu Charya in Ayurveda. “Yoga came from the observation of nature and experience of the cycles,” she notes, alluding to the earliest Indian yogis and yoginis whose Yoga studios had no walls but only nature itself.
Rea now channels her passion for nature and the environment through her teacher training programs, teaching outdoors whenever possible and even taking her groups rock-climbing. “I like to get out…and be in nature, where the energy is very powerful.” The language she uses while teaching is intended to help students connect with nature and to feel themselves part of a greater whole. Her phrasing evokes powerful images, such as “irrigate your body with breath,” or “cultivate the soil of your awareness.” She encourages students to worship the life force within and to let go of thinking. “Feel the organic in your own body,” she says. “Allow that Shakti to flow.”
About the Author
Magdalena Winter grew up in Uruguay, where she was introduced to the joys of Yoga. She is a member of the Green Yoga Association Volunteer Working Group, and co-founder of North Beach Yoga, a studio in San Francisco.