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This weekend I got the chance to participate in workshops with one of my teaching inspirations, Shiva Rea.
On the way in to Salt Lake City, I could see the moon rising over the mountains. It hung there, so full and heavy, larger and brighter than I remember ever having seen it. The moon had not been that close to the earth since 1993.
In that first workshop Friday night, Shiva had us each write down what we wanted to unleash. We each lit a candle and placed our intentions under them. We also were asked to think about what we want to ignite. The room was dark, except for the candles. We each touched someone near us, and then took our turns saying our intentions out loud. This wave of vocalized intentions swept the room.
“I want to unleash my passion.”
“I want to unleash compassion.”
“I want to unleash my unrealized sexual energy.” (Lots of w00ts!)
“I want to unleash my fear of death.”
“I want to unleash habits that are holding me back.”
“I want to speak my truth.”
“I want to unleash compassion, love and light.” (that was mine, fully realizing that i want to radiate the love and light at my core, and let go of my attachment to this downer ride i’ve been on lately.)
The workshop was sold out, and our mats were about an inch apart. This made it difficult to place our candles in a safe spot to lie on our bellies in prostration pose. The smell of burning hair wafted through the studio a couple of times. And being in the back row, kicking a leg up and back in downward dog meant kicking the wall. But there was a feeling of community, of bonding in the shared space.
Inspired by the full moon, the workshop was slow and deep, yet intense.
Shiva is a master of sequencing. I learned a little about her wave theory in a teacher training module taught by Twee Merrigan, her senior teaching assistant, at the beautiful yoga spot I ran in Rincon. In the wave theory, you link poses together, moving toward a peak pose. The wave mounts and crests, and then mounts and crests again, and then again, and each time the sequence goes a little deeper. So you’re not repeating the same poses three times in a row. They’re connected, and similar, yet there’s a feeling of intensifying and climbing to the final peak. She took it deeper still, invoking dedications into each of the three waves. The first was creating, the second was sustaining, and the third was completing.
When inviting us to try sahaja cobra, which is a spontaneously flowing, unleashed form of cobra pose, she cracked me up. As an ashtangi, she used to be more rigid, less smiling. “It took me 20 years to learn how to smile the way I did as a child,” she said. Doing sahaja cobra, she was worried she would get a ticket from the ashtangi police. Perhaps the biggest influence she has had on my life, through her teachings directly, or filtered through Twee and Sarah, two of my teachers who assist her, is this spontaneity of movement. Rather than holding poses statically, you tap into the flow of prana, or life force. Yoga becomes like a dance.
I also love her creative namaskars that have you practically spinning on your mat.
She infused chanting into many of the poses. Chanting is a vibration that opens your heart and gets the prana flowing. Chanting while moving into poses really takes you into the present.
Shiva is a little goofy — calling plank pose “plankasana,” hands over the heart “pancanjali mudra,” or maybe it was “pancakanjali mudra” (anjali mudra is the palms pressed together at the heart, but this was hands flattened onto the heart like a pancake, i think). She is warm, sincere, beautiful.
I left Friday night feeling completely wrung out, but finally calm.
Saturday morning as I arrived at Flow Yoga, the awesome studio that hosted this event, the snow was just starting to come down. Shiva turned up the heat, leading us through a crazy intense agni namaskar (agni being fire). As the three waves progressed, we went through 108 pushups as part of the sequence. Not chaturanga dandasana, with the elbows straight back. We turned our hands in, and with the elbows out, bowed down. Part of the sequence was jumping into handstand in the middle of the room — one of my weaknesses. I can get into handstand easily with one leg, but when jumping with both legs at the same time, I’m a complete spaz. The sequence was hard, and humbling. I left wondering if I’d be able to make it through the final workshop.
Then outside, I saw beautiful pure white snow was covering everything. Tyler and I went shopping at Deseret Industries (the Mormon-owned thrift store) for ugly sweaters for a friend’s party. My first drink was so strong that I ended up dropping my second drink on the floor. good thing it was in a plastic cup (someone else had already broken a glass). There was much merriment.
So this morning’s workshop was hard. But I made it.
Flow Yoga is a gem of a yoga studio. Jennifer Ellen has brought in world-class teachers, like Shiva Rea and Dharma Mittra. I’m so grateful to be here and be a part of this community.
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