Tag Archives: Shiva Rea
American yogis often gravitate toward practices of fiery, strength-building intensity. In fact, the most ubiquitous sequence in the West is surely the ultimate heat builder, the Sun Salutation. The sequence’s Sanskrit name, Surya Namaskar, is literally translated as “bow to the sun.” And as you lift your arms and then bow down, as you lengthen forward and jump back, you begin to embody solar energy. You stretch, strengthen, and warm your whole being from the inside out.
But on days when you’re feeling depleted, overstimulated, or overheated, it’s good to know that Surya Namaskar has a soothing sister sequence known as Chandra Namaskar, or Moon Salutation. As the name suggests, Chandra Namaskar is a quieting sequence that invites you to bow to and cultivate the moon’s soothing lunar energy.
Perhaps Chandra Namaskar isn’t as well known as Surya Namaskar because it hasn’t been around as long. In all likelihood, it’s an invention of the late 20th century. The Bihar School, which is a yoga school in India founded in the 1960s, first published the sequence in asana pranayama Mudra Bandha in 1969. (The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health created a variation of Chandra Namaskar in the 1980s that differs from the sequence that we’re presenting here.)
But the idea of looking to the moon for rejuvenation is certainly not new. In fact, the Shiva Samhita, a 500-year-old Tantric text, regarded the moon as the source of immortality. In The Alchemical Body, David Gordon White, a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, describes how practitioners of Tantra (a form of yoga that preceded hatha yoga) believed that the “sun” was located in the solar plexus; the “moon,” in the crown of the head. The moon was thought to contain amrita, “the stuff of the macrocosmic moon, the divine nectar of immortality,” which “pours itself into the world in the form of vivifying rain.” While the fiery sun in the abdomen was important for triggering the yogic process, its heat would, over time, cause aging, decay, and death. To reverse this process, yogis did specific practices, such as inversions or mudras (locks, or seals), to both preserve and produce amrita. The act of turning upside down was believed to draw vital fluids from the lower chakras up to the crown, where they would be transformed into amrita (also referred to as soma).
Get in the Groove
Pay special attention to the quality of each movement. Instead of moving quickly, jumping into and out of poses as you would in Sun Salutations, move slowly, as though you were moving through water. You can also add some spontaneous movement within the forms of the poses. For example, instead of pressing immediately into Cobra Pose, which is a heat-building backbend, try circling your shoulders back and swaying side to side until you arrive at your own natural version of Cobra. Rea calls this sahaja, which she describes as “the spontaneous movement that comes when we’re receptive to our innate inner wisdom.”
When you can, practice Chandra Namaskar in the evening. Surya Namaskar is traditionally practiced at sunrise as a way to pay homage to the sun and to warm up the body for the coming day. It makes sense, then, to practice Chandra Namaskar in the evening when the moon is out. Not only is it a great way to prepare yourself for sleep, as yoga teacher and Yoga Journal contributing editor Richard Rosen points out, sunrise and sunset have always been considered powerful times for practicing hatha yoga. “During these times, there’s a balance between light and dark. It’s not day. It’s not night. You’re at a junction between the two,” he says. “This reflects internally in your body: Your hot and cold energies are also in balance. It’s a natural time to do the practice.”
This meditation, adapted from the Bihar School of Yoga, can be done before or after you take the final resting pose, Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Slowly become aware of the space between your eyebrows. Within this space, visualize a full moon in a clear night sky, shining brightly on the waves of the ocean. The full reflection of the moon penetrates the deep waters, and the cool shade of moonlight catches the tops of the waves as they dance.
See the image clearly and develop an awareness of the feelings and sensations that are created in your mind and body. Slowly let the visualization fade and again become aware of the whole body.
Excerpts from Yoga Journal article Moon Shine by Shiva Rea
Shiva Rea, the renowned creator of Prana Flow Yoga, designed the sequence beginning on the next page to link asanas with particular feelings or states of being, known as bhavas. Rea believes that every pose elicits certain bhavas and that by becoming aware of the feelings that arise during your asana practice, you can create a strong connection with your deepest intentions.
To that end, Rea combines each asana with intentions to invoke through your practice. In Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), for example, Rea suggests the affirmation “I am awakening ___.” After assuming the shape of Vajrasana, say, “I am awakening” aloud and see what comes to mind. Perhaps you are awakening courage, or awakening to new possibilities in your life. Complete each affirmation as you go, seeing what comes up as you assume the shape of the pose. Alternatively, you can choose one intention, such as hope, humility, or strength, and use that as the focus of your entire practice.
Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Empower Yourself by By Elizabeth Winter; sequence by Shiva Rea
In the Hindu tradition, gods and goddesses dance as a way of expressing the dynamic energy of life. The image of Nataraja represents the god of gods, Shiva, as the Lord of the Dance, choreographing the eternal dance of the universe as well as more earthly forms such as Indian classical dance (which is said to have originated from his teachings). In Hindu mythology Shiva is also Yogiraj, the consummate yogi, who is said to have created more than 840,000 asanas, among them the hatha yoga poses we do today. While a cultural outsider may not relate to these mythic dimensions in a literal way, dancers in India revere the divine origins of their dances, which were revealed to the sage Bharata and transcribed by him into the classic text on dance drama, the Natya Shastra (circa 200 c.e.). What many practitioners of yoga do not know is that one of the central texts of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, written around the same time, was also inspired by an encounter with Nataraja.
Srivatsa Ramaswami, Chennai-based yoga teacher, scholar, and longtime student of yoga master T. Krishnamacharya, includes a pivotal story of how Patanjali came to write the Yoga Sutra in his book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life. In Ramaswami’s account, Patanjali, a young man with a great yogic destiny, is drawn to leave home to do tapas (intensive meditation) and receive the darshana of Shiva’s dance. Eventually Shiva becomes so taken by Patanjali’s ekagrya (one-pointed focus) that he appears before Patanjali and promises to reveal his dance to the young yogi at Chidambaram, a Nataraja temple in present-day Tamil Nadu. At Chidambaram, Patanjali encounters a golden theater filled with many divine beings and sages. To Patanjali’s wonderment, Brahma, Indra, and Saraswati start to play their sacred instruments. Shiva then begins his ananda tandava (“dance of ultimate bliss”). As Ramaswami tells it, “The great tandava starts with a slow rhythm and in time reaches its crescendo. Engrossed completely in the divine dance, the great sages lose their separate identities and merge with the great oneness created by the tandava.” At the end of the dance, Shiva asks Patanjali to write the Mahabhasya, his commentaries on Sanskrit grammar, as well as the Yoga Sutra, the yogic text most widely used by Western yoga practitioners today.
Another area where dance and hatha yoga meet is in the actual sadhana (practice), where there are many parallels between the two arts in both the technique and spirit (bhava) of the dance. The tradition is passed from guru to shishya (student) in a live transmission; the teacher gives the proper adjustments and guides the students into the inner arts of the practice. All of Indian classical dance refers back to the Natya Shastra text for an elaborate classification of the form. If you thought the technique of asana was detailed, you should peruse the Natya Shastra: It not only describes all the movements of the major limbs (angas)—the head, chest, sides, hips, hands, and feet—but also offers a detailed description of the actions of the minor limbs (upangas)—including intricate movements of the eyebrows, eyeballs, eyelids, chin, and even the nose—to create specific moods and effects. As in hatha yoga, one begins with the basics of body mechanics and gradually moves toward the subtler aspects of the art.
The karanas, dance counterparts of asanas, are linked into a sequence known as angaharas. Ramaa Bharadvaj compares angaharas to the flowing yoga of vinyasa, in which the “dance” of yoga is experienced as the linking of one asana to the next through the breath. “Even though a posture can be held,” she says, “it is really part of a flow. It’s like the Ganges coming down from the Himalayas: Although it passes Rishikesh and then Varanasi, it doesn’t stop; it keeps flowing.” Like the alignment of asanas, the karanas are based on the center line of the body in relation to gravity and include not only placement of the body but also attention to the pathways of energies that flow through the body.
Ultimately, yoga is about connecting to the Big Dance, which one can experience either abstractly, through the lens of spiritual culture, or more intimately, as did physicist Fritjof Capra. In his book The Tao of Physics, he describes the experience he had while he was sitting on the beach and watching the waves, observing the interdependent choreography of life: “I ‘saw’ cascades of energy coming down . . . in which particles were created and destroyed. I ‘saw’ the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy. I felt its rhythm and ‘heard’ its sound and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva.”
Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article The Divine Dance by Shiva Rea
Kalari students begin their embodied practice by learning meybhasa – swinging kicks moving from the East to the West in a continuous flow emerging and ending in vaidavus or Kalari postures. The eight kicks flow forward, to the side, around the body, turn and flow from the ground to rise and finally spin in a flowing circular backbend. The eight primary Kalari postures or vaidavus are named for animals that are experienced as sharira mudras or forms containing concentrated energy that awakens the energy invoked by the particular form:
Gajavadivu (elephant pose)
Varahavadivu (wild boar)
and Marjaravadivu (cat)
These sharira mudras are repeated through the practice until the abhyasi (Kalari practitioner) becomes one with vaidavu of a lion or serpent as an emanation of their embodied spirit. The inner energy comes alive, awakens and stabilizes through nabhi mula or “root of the navel energy;” in Yoga, this is the same energy activated in uddiyana bandha.
“Nabhi mula is the activation of samana vayu or the movement of prana” says my teacher, “that draws energy to the core to bring balance not just to the body but inner mind. This is the importance of foot work and the preliminary leg exercises for they help a person find their internal center through their external body. A person balances within the flow by sensing how they can move in the space with the least amount of effort and the maximum flow while all the time keeping the energy within their center.”
Yoga and Kalari share many similarities. For example, asvadivu (horse) has the same lower body stance as virbhadrasana one or warrior pose. The difference is that in asvavadivu, the hands rest on the inside of the inner leg. When I teach this Kalari posture (with my teacher’s permission) in a Yoga class, I emphasize the balance of form and feeling that I learned from the way my teachers transmit the energy of the postures through their own bodies and the methods they use to adjust the spine in relation to the feet to awaken the core flow of prana.
-Excerpt from Kalari Shakti The Flowing Art of Kalarippayatu by Shiva Rea
When I was an Ashtanga student in Mysore, I loved walking the several blocks to Pattabhi Jois’s yoga shala (school) for 4:30 a.m. practice. In the quiet darkness before dawn, the side streets would be dotted with the neighborhood’s sari-clad women kneeling upon the earth in front of their homes drawing rangoli, intricate sacred diagrams (also known as yantras) made by sifting rice flour between the fingers. Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, these offerings to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and prosperity, were always vibrant-and destined to be erased as soon as the streets filled with traffic. I was inspired by the women’s dedication, creativity, and lack of attachment to their beautiful creations. As I became friends with some of the neighborhood women and they taught me a few simple rangoli, I learned that these offerings are not merely duty or decoration, but creative meditations that invoke a connection to the Divine on behalf of everyone. As one mother told me with a smile and an expansive wave of her hand, “These offerings remind me of the big picture, which helps me take care of the small things with love.”
These morning offerings, like so many everyday rituals in India, embody the yoga practice of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering (pranidhana) to a higher source (Ishvara). Ishvara pranidhana is a “big picture” yoga practice: It initiates a sacred shift of perspective that helps us to remember, align with, and receive the grace of being alive.
Yet to many modern Westerners the idea of surrender as a virtue may seem strange. Many of us have only experienced surrendering to a higher source as a last resort, when we’ve confronted seemingly insurmountable problems or in some other way hit the edge of our individual will and abilities. But in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali transforms “surrender” from this sort of last-resort, emergency response into an essential ongoing practice. Patanjali repeatedly highlights Ishvara pranidhana as one of the five niyamas, or inner practices, of the ashta-anga (eight-limbed) path (Chapter II, verse 32) and, along with discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya), as part of kriya yoga, the threefold yoga of action (II.1).
Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article, The Practice of Surrender by Shiva Rea