It was a 5am start that called us all to gather at Tauhara Retreat and Conference Centre in Lake Taupo, trudge into the bus and set off for the journey towards Tongariro National Park.
I was in New Zealand to soak up the glow of Shiva Rea: Yogini, Mother, Teacher, Activist and Global Traveller. Creator of Prana Flow, her own unique style of Vinyasa Yoga influenced by Krishnamacharya Lineage, Tantra, World Dance and Somatic movement.
I have watched Shiva Rea over the past 10 years of my teaching career mainly through her DVDâ€™s, in fact it was a fellow yoga teacher who kindly passed on her Shiva Rea: Fluid Power DVD. I recall watching the DVD before I could actually practice it, the scenery and location captured the essence of Shivaâ€™s message that she offers through her yoga: the constant rhythm of life that is moving through all things, at all times. The importance of establishing our own inner language and organic movement of the body, so our experience of this pulsation of life can be felt rather then thought.
Arriving at the national park we were greeted by our Maori Warriors for a traditional Powhiri (welcome ceremony). The essence of the land, mountains and lake soaked into our cells as we sang and greeted each other with a hongi â€“ ceremony of touching noses.
I was surprised to witness that Shiva Rea was amongst us, had woken also before the break of dawn, travelled in the bus along with everyone and was with her group, participating fully, beaming from ear to ear and basically radiating shakti from every part of her being.
Why was I surprised? I guess because of the pedestal I had put her on. Here she is, the mother of Vinyasa Flow, hanging out with us as though we have known each other all our lives. And this is the essence of Shiva Rea, there is a mothering quality within her, that reaches out and connects with all her students, creating a deep, welcoming connection amongst her tribe, without the adulation, we all became one conscious group with an intention to experience fully the flow of life within, and release the resistances that we have built to separate oneself from the world.
Later that day, after we had soaked up the utter beauty of natureâ€™s finest offerings, we headed back to our retreat centre, preparing for our evening practice, the Lunar Prana Flow. Our mats laid out, the scene of the sun setting over Lake Taupo, and the experience of revelling in the elements, earth, water, air, the internal fire. The Lunar practice was a fairly simple Namaskar; it was the repitition of it for over an hour that began to pierce my emotional and pranic body in a way I had never experienced before. Shivaâ€™s voice has an almost melodic, poetic vibration to it, and throughout the entire practice, her essence was amongst us all, encouraging, softening, reminding us of our ultimate connection to all things, seducing us to swim in the organic pulse of prana, to release the process of the intellect and instead, to come from heart intelligence.
This experience of surrendering to the pulsation of prana was the journey we all went on that week around the lake. The yielding, softening, surrendering experience that still contained a centre, but did not dominate over the way it expressed itself.
In every way, Shiva demonstrates the feminie qualities of the practice. Within the female archetypes I easily saw the Queen, the Mother, the Wise Woman and the Lover, all revealing themselves during different stages of the immersion. Shiva doesnâ€™t just â€˜teachâ€™ yoga, she lives it, every second, every breath, her personal rituals and sadhana practice spill out of her like a river when she is on her teaching throne.
There is a wildness about Shiva, an unapologetic way of being that invokes each of us, both male and female, to dive deeper into the layers of creativity that seem to get stifled as we go about â€˜making a livingâ€™. If you ever grew up with parents that taught you to be â€˜a good girl/boyâ€™ in the company of guests, or stifled your outbursts in ways that were more about their needs then yours, then you would of ventured into adulthood with an inner compass that encourages â€˜proper behaviourâ€™ and a moulding into the expectations of society, work and family roles.
This path leads to a suppression of the inner fire that always burns, the one coaxing you to take a risk, do something different, trust that the insight has arrived in perfect timing. The suppression of the internal intuition eventually turns into numbness, an experience of being â€˜comfortableâ€™ in what you do, and the thought of risking this sense of safety for the lure of a new adventure seems absurd.
The wildness that Shiva expresses, is the truest form of Shakti I have witnessed being embodied. The experience of Shakti, being the inspiration and joy arising from an inner steadiness, contentment and openness to the flow of divine grace, is a quality that Shiva offered to us during every session we spent with her.
Her delicious and intelligent sequences as part of the Chakra Vinyasa, embodied each element; earth, fire, water and air while resounding fluently with each chakra. The experience on the mat with Shiva is the closest I have been, to actually feeling the life force flow, on a deep intuitive level hearing the wisdom of the prana as it weaved itâ€™s way in and out of my contracted areaâ€™s within the body. The deeper I dived, the more this force revelled in showing me ancient samskaraâ€™s (mental grooves) that had been playing out in my life, ones that I had learnt, and oneâ€™s so deep that it was as though I was dissolving them for the lineage of my ancestors, not just to free myself from negative thought processes.
At the halfway point of the immersion, I recognized how thirsty I had been for a strong yet gentle female teacher within my yoga journey. On reflection, I saw how I had mainly trained under the guidance of male teachers. And within that structure, had played out my own psychic patterns on the masculine and father resonances that these teachers had substituted for.
Having the representation of the Mother within Shivaâ€™s teaching carried the essence of nurturing rather then regimes, yielding rather then pushing, surrendering rather then striving. The understanding of how these qualities weave themselves to allow a beautiful balance of Yin and Yang within is not overlooked, yet I was very aware of just how much Yang energy had existed in not only my practice, but also the temperament of how I taught and viewed the practice.
It was so timely to begin this journey back to the essence of Shakti, the feminine essence within. Harnessing the Goddess energy is so vital for us in the times we live in; it allows us to enhance the nurturing and calming nature for the home, which sustains our families, our community and society at large. This feminine principle needs to be protected and revered to allow universal healing at a deeper emotional level.
Shive Rea writes â€œTantra is an elaboration of the body as a metaphor and link to the universe, and the development of practices that are centred within the body as a source of spiritual unionâ€.
It is said without the anugraha or grace of the Devi (Mother Goddess), we cannot move far on the spiritual path. The archetypal spirit of the Yogini is to provide an expression for our inner being, which allows the creativity of divine grace to flow through us, manifesting itself as form in the outer world.
As we observe the state of the culture we exist within, it is obvious how externally motivated we are, being lead by the lower masculine values of achievement, acquisition and even hostility. The feminine values of fostering, surrender and respect for all things tends to be ignored or belittled by society, even by the women themselves.
Shiva Rea has embraced, honoured and worshipped the grace of the Devi and ripened her personal practice into Shakti Bhakti, a way of being one with the source. She describes the experience as awakening your inner GPS or internal guidance system.
On the last evening of the immersion, we held a Yoga Trance Dance Session. Gathered around in a sacred circle, we started on the ground, allowing the pulsating music to flow through us and tap into our own cosmic GPS. The Yoga Trance Dance builds to an ecstatic celebration, a revelation of who you are, the intelligence within and the courage to move forward in life to follow those instincts. We completed in meditation, hearts pulsing, breath moving, and stillness washing over our shimmering bodies. In the stillness I felt the presence of my Grandmother, who only passed in November. Her essence and reassurance of the process of life I was engaging in was a mixture of utter joy and a deep sorrow that she wasnâ€™t still here in her physical body. I arose from that experience with a deep sense of knowing that there is no ending, but more a continuous cycle of mother earth, supporting her children, one and all, until the collective consciousness awakens to the point of living together in harmony rather then separation.
The essence of Shiva Rea swam around us all as we hugged, chanted and took our instagram photos on the last day. It followed me out of the retreat centre and was beside me as I notice the rate of synchronicity increasing and my trust in these timely messages being solid. It followed me as I arrived home in Melbourne to a shimmering, sunlight day, walked into my apartment and sat for a moment, feeling the expression of gratitude and contentment as I felt a renewed offering in my teachings and class planning.
I donâ€™t believe this is the end of my journey with Shiva Rea, for as the cycle of life reveals herself in all itâ€™s wonderful seasons, the season of Shiva is upon me.