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At the heart of yoga is - well, the heart


Even in Los Angeles' sprawling, wildly diverse yoga community, Shiva Rea stands out. An internationally known teacher of "prana vinyasa" flow yoga and yoga trance dance, when she's not teaching at Exhale Spa in nearby Santa Monica, the charismatic yoga instructor travels the world teaching an innovative form of yoga based upon the root teachings of tantra, ayruveda, bhakti and hatha yoga.

She is featured in more than a dozen DVDs, including her newest, "Shiva Rea: Radiant Heart Yoga."

Shiva Rea spoke to us from the beach in Malibu, where the sound of the waves intermingled with her occasional exhortations to her 9-year-old boy and his tribe of pals to have fun, but please quit throwing sand.

Question: Your new DVD, "Radiant Heart Yoga," focuses on the heart. Why the heart?

Answer: We tend to think of the heart as a pump in the circulatory system, but we also know that it's so much more. Many signs of stress affect not only your heart rhythm, but your breath rate and then the flow of liquid in your body, like your saliva when you're under stress. Even the muscles around the rib cage tighten.

These movements physically engage the heart by opening up the area around it. I don't like the term rib cage. I prefer to call the area "ribopolus" (laughs) after the Acropolis. It's a rib temple.

Q: Are there principles of yoga that apply to other sports? Golf? Basketball?

A: Yoga relates to every sport, because yoga is whole-body consciousness. I've worked with golfers, and it helps with the twisting, sideways movement and with concentration.

As for basketball, I would love to teach the Lakers. I was a hard-core athlete in junior high and high school. I was a starting point guard. The main benefit with basketball, of course, is the injury prevention of stretching the muscles that get overworked.

What I love about basketball is the same thing I love about surfing. It's alive and fresh, you don't know what's going to happen and you have to be totally present and open to change.

Q: What is the most common mistake beginners make?

A: Trying too hard. I encourage beginners to have spiritual maturity, or self-esteem, to realize that you don't have to prove yourself. Just practice like you are the king or the queen. Going deeper in a forward bend doesn't mean you're a better person. Listen to your body, and don't lose that feeling of centeredness within your own experience. That's what yoga actually helps you find.

Q: If you had to recommend one pose to do daily, what would that be?

A: This is so hard for me to answer. I'd probably have to say downward dog, because it does everything. You can do it in a way that's a backbend. If I were forced to, I would choose that, then work it to get all the other poses into it.

Q: If you had just one piece of advice for a beginning student, what would that be?

A: You're going to be surprised at my advice. I always tell people that you're already doing yoga. It happens when you're completely relaxed. It's when you have no other thought in the world and you're just in your experience in the present, and it can be anywhere, when you're taking a shower, when you're first waking up. It can also happen when you're totally physically engaged.

I have friends who are cyclists. They can be intensely engaged, but when they hit that space of yoga, they're completely relaxed.

Yoga is just a matter of tapping into something that's already a part of you.