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How Shiva Rea found yoga -- and how it changed her life

How Shiva Rea found yoga -- and how it changed her life
Shiva Rea, shown here leading a workshop during Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, has a book coming out, "Tending the Heart Fire: Living in Flow With the Pulse of Life." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If a yoga class feels more like a multicultural dance session, then you can be pretty sure that Shiva Rea is teaching it. The Southern California native has earned worldwide recognition for her approach to vinyasa flow yoga during 25 years of teaching. Calling upon her studies in UCLA's world arts and cultures department, Rea brings a combination of dance, science and music to flow yoga, which she shares in DVDs and at retreats and festivals, such as the recent Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree.

Her first book, "Tending the Heart Fire: Living in Flow With the Pulse of Life," explores how to reconnect your life to the rhythms of the body and the natural world through yoga and traditional fire rituals.

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How did the book come about?

I became fascinated with the science behind the discovery of the electromagnetic field of the heart. ... The book is about the power of our energetic heart and the multiple benefits of living in rhythm ... and understanding that stress comes from the heart and brain wave rhythms being out of sync.

I also explore the metaphor of fire keeping. ... When we stay connected to our heart ... we can begin to feel what lights our fire, what ignites our passion.

What put you on the path to yoga?

For one thing, my name, Shiva. I found a yoga book when I was a teenager, and out of curiosity I started doing yoga in my bedroom, first with meditation, then asana (yoga poses) and ashtanga (the complete system of poses). When I was 27, I lost my mother to breast cancer. I was on a more academic path then, when I graduated UCLA in anthropology. I was a pretty cerebral person. Even though I did love anthropology, I was teaching yoga maybe twice a week. When I lost my mother, it was a wake-up call to me. There was something about yoga that offered a direct access to healing. I realized it was the one thing that could affect everything.

How do you blend meditation into your life, and how can others?

Meditation can be movement for me. Meditation can be walking. I try to kayak in the ocean every day for half an hour. I try to get in the water. I usually like to chant while I'm paddling.

I do take time in the week, the month, the season to go away or to take retreat in my own home with my family and unplug. But I think the most important aspect of meditation is to kind of be like a cat or a dog and don't feel like you have to be in a special place or a place where everything is quiet and silent. Kind of just let go of things that are pulling us in different directions, and just come back, come into the breath.

How do you keep fit on the road?

The main thing is I try not to travel to places when it's cold there. I like to be outside. When it is cold, I will find a sauna, a steam room or get on a stationary bike and get my circulation going.

What foods do you find fuel you best?

I have more of an ayurvedic orientation to nutrition. It's a thing of trying to eat seasonally. I eat more raw foods in the hot seasons, like more cooling fruits in the summer. When we get into the winter, we will make more soups, stews and cooked warm fruit, like apples and pears and warm spices. I like to keep some body fat that's made from healthy fat — avocados and lots of oils. I find if I'm totally vegan, which is great for the environment but I'm Swedish and French, so I feel amazing if I have goat cheese at the right time. Yes, I have ancestral needs for goat cheese.

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