Finding the Yogi in You
It's easy for many to dismiss, especially if you're inflexible or supremely focused on sweating off the pounds. But there are a lot of payoffs to yoga, some less obvious than others, says Shiva Rea (pronounced shee-va ray), a 44-year-old yoga master who has starred in 18 yoga videos over two decades.
Those benefits include greater energy, reduced stress and a heightened sense of awareness of your body and what you put in it -- which in turn can help shed extra weight.
"Yoga makes us more attuned to the energy that we put into our bodies by means of fuel or food, thoughts and self-care," Rea says. "It also makes us more conscious of what we put out into the world through our speech and actions."
Yoga for All
Rea, who has practiced yoga for 29 years and developed her own fluid style called Prana Flow, has seen the transformative effects of yoga in her classes and in her own life.
She's at work on a book, Living Yoga Sadhana: Tending the Sacred Fire, and her More Daily Energy fitness DVD will hit stores in November. They both focus on using yoga as a tool in your life to get energized and spur yourself into action or to slow down and heal.
Rea's challenging yoga sequences can be both inspiring and off-putting (100 yogic push-ups?), but she says her style is only one of the countless flavors out there. She thinks it's silly that people rule out yoga categorically when they have one bad experience.
"That's like saying fruit is not for me or vegetables are not for me," she says with a laugh. In other words, you may not like pineapple, but there are still hundreds of other types of fruit out there to enjoy.
If downward-facing dog isn't your thing, Rea says you can try other forms that encompass singing, dancing and aerobic-type movement, as well as deep breathing and meditation. There are styles -- like Rea's -- that flow, while other classes have poses that are held longer. Some styles are athletic, and others are as relaxing and restorative as a Swedish massage.
Many people continually drag their friends to their yoga class, insisting that they will fall in love with it eventually. "If you say 'this is not for me,' it probably isn't and you should look elsewhere," Rea says. "The main thing is finding a teacher and a style that resonates with you -- something that has breathing and movement combined."
Even running can be a version of yoga, she says. If the runner syncs her breathing with her movement, it's known as vinyasa. "I have a very wide view of what constitutes yoga, which includes everything from a big long sigh to a meditative walk or bike ride," Rea says. In fact, some of Rea's sequences have been drawn from her hobby of surfing near her Pacific Palisades, Calif., home.
Rea got her yoga-friendly moniker from her dad, an artist and surfer who was fascinated by a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva doing his cosmic dance. Despite the exotic name, she claims to have been a fairly ordinary kid, playing volleyball and softball before taking a great interest in yoga in her teens, in part to seek an understanding of her name and its origins.
Her interest in eastern culture and traditions led her on a yoga volunteer trip to Kenya after college to work in an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi and help with village development.
When she returned, she thought she would pursue a career in academia, getting both an undergraduate and master's degree in dance anthropology from UCLA. But ultimately, she was compelled to spend her days moving -- dancing and doing yoga and teaching it to others, rather than writing about it.
Control Your Breath, Control Your Life
Yoga, Rea says, has the ability to circulate what's good in our lives -- the joy and the love -- and flush out the toxic beliefs, emotions and tension that can spoil it.
Just the simple act of breathing and elongating your breath on a daily basis can help you lighten your load and be more present. Ever wonder why so many yoga sequences have teachers inhaling, reaching their arms overhead, to a count of six and exhaling, as their arms go down, for the same amount of time?
"It's about getting your inner self into a state of flow," she says. For some Type-A people, the movement in yoga is a great way to release trapped energy and feel less stuck, she says.
Indeed, the longer she has practiced yoga, the more focus Rea has put on energy and well-being. "Energy is the thing that affects how much we are going to enjoy our life," she says.
It also needs to be kept in balance, so you can get a good night's sleep. To that end, Rea and her 13-year-old son, Jai, have a quiet moment together every evening when they watch the sunset together, breathe deeply and release the stress of the day.
Starting a Yoga Practice
The frequency and variety of yoga you do should relate to what's going on in your life, Rea says. "It really depends on your state," she says. Someone who's under a lot of stress might need to do a full hour at least three times a week, while someone who's running on an even keel might only do 10 or 20 minutes five times each week to get grounded.
The important thing, she says, is finding a routine that works for you and your busy life. Here are her tips for those just discovering yoga:
- Start where you are: Don't limit your experience with the idea that you need to meet some external goal. Let the internal and external changes happen in their own time.
- Show up: Stay present in your breath and be compassionate with yourself as you discover and play with your evolutionary edge (or what you thought were your limits).
- Be consistent: Establishing a practice is about finding a rhythm. Try practicing at different times of day until you find the time when the rhythm of your daily energy naturally supports a steady practice.
SecondAct contributor Melinda Fulmer writes regularly about issues of health and wealth for publications such as the Los Angeles Times and web portal MSN.