YJ Interview: Viva Shiva!

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Shiva Rea

was named by her father, an artist and surfer in Hermosa Beach, California, who was seriously into Indian art and Zen Buddhism. Rea teaches all over the world—her schedule this year includes stops in Chicago; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; London; and Kerala, India. "I definitely feel like a global citizen," she says. "I love crossing cultures and trying to reach a shared place." Known for her energetic and soulful approach to yoga as well as her adventure retreats and ecstatic trance dance classes, Rea lives in Pacific Palisades, California, with her seven-year-old son, Jai, and her husband, Ayurvedic physician James Bailey.

What was it like growing up with a name like Shiva? I've heard every mispronunciation under the sun. "Queen of Sheba" is very common. As a little girl I'd look Shiva up in the dictionary and see this image of Nataraj, Lord of Destruction, and just roll my eyes. After a while I started signing my schoolwork Fifi Veronica or Cleopatra Jones.

I've heard you allude to your southern roots. Were you born in the South? No, but my grandfather's family was from Mississippi and Memphis. My great-grandfather got W.C. Handy to serenade my great-grandmother when he was courting her. I've definitely got the blues in my bones.

What's your most vivid childhood memory? It's hard to pick out just one, but I remember being on Hermosa Beach watching my father surf and dipping Fritos in the sand because I liked the crunchy taste.

What was your favorite comfort food as a child?
French fries. I know too much about Ayurveda now to eat them.

Were you athletic as a kid? Oh yeah. I ran the 440 relay. I played point guard and shortstop.

What would you be if you hadn't become a yoga teacher? There's definitely river guide in me.

What's the most surprising way that motherhood has influenced your yoga? Parenting makes you so creative. There are 101 games you can play with the sugar packets at restaurants. In both teaching and parenting, you have to work with
whatever situation you're given.

For example? The other day I was teaching and the fire alarm went off for 20 minutes. We just did lots of kriyas and rhythmic movement with sound. It was a great class. There's this Hawaiian term, hopupu, "becoming one with the waves," which I really relate to.

Which goes back to the river guide thing—your attraction to water. Do you surf? I have. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of cold water. I'm more of a kayaker than a surfer.

What hobbies do you have that might surprise us? I love a good poker game. And I can play tag football and throw farther than most men.

What kind of music do you listen to when you're driving? When I'm driving to do yoga and rock climbing in the desert, I always dig up the Doors. When we're driving to Esalen, I bring along those shaker eggs.

Do you talk on your cell phone while you drive? Yes, but always hands free. And not on the freeway. It's nothing I'm proud of, nothing I'd recommend. But that's when having been a shortstop (and having quick reflexes) comes in handy.

A former senior editor at Yoga Journal, Colleen Morton Busch lives and writes in Berkeley, California.

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