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by Shiva Rea
Sounds True, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Mar 7th 2006

The Heart of Yoga

This is a collection of two double audio CDs.  Yoga Chant is largely by Shiva Rea, and features two programs.  On the first CD is an "Engergizing Sadhana" lasting 67 minutes.  This has a fairly standard yoga flow, with sun salutations, standing poses, backbends and relaxation.  The flow requires a fair amount of flexibility, and some of the backbends are especially demanding, also requiring a great deal of upper body strength.  I rather prefer the flows in Shiva Rea's Yoga Sanctuary audio CD.  There is an accompanying booklet, which illustrates some but not all of the poses in the flow; furthermore, some of the sequences of poses in the booklet are different from those on the CD, which can be confusing.

The second CD of the set is titled "Meditative Sadhana."  It lasts 63 minutes, and is much slower.  The first twenty-five minutes is a fairly simple set of flows followed by fifteen minutes of lunar yoga.  These are not illustrated in the booklet, and Rea's instructions are not always very clear.  Often, trying to follow it, I wasn't clear which side she was referring to, or quite what position she was describing.  When a program is meant to be relaxing, it can be counterproductive to leave the listener unsure if she or he is following the instructions as they are designed.  The accompanying background music was also not quite right: some of the mellow funk sound seemed to be more appropriate to some kind of erotic exercise, for example.  Other parts of the music reminded me of bad new age/jazz music from the 1980s.  On the whole I found Yoga Chant disappointing. 

The other part of the package in The Heart of Yoga is the double CD Yoga Trance Dance.  The first CD has 8 tracks and lasts 69 minutes.  The yoga here is much looser than on most other Shiva Rea DVDs and CDs: one is not asked to follow her lead as she does it, but rather to be more independent.  It starts with a meditative track, and then gets the body moving more.  The second gets the spine to undulate.  I found some of her instructions puzzling: for example, when she says, "contract your back into the self like a baby fern curling into its creative power," my whole flow gets interrupted because I have to stop and work out if that makes any sense at all.  I'm still not sure it does.  At another point she says  "toss the hips back and then shift forward."  That leaves it very unclear how far to go forward, and whether you back should be stationary or moving with your hips.  There are some photographs in the accompanying CD booklet, but they are not very instructive since they do not show the movement.  Of course, one can improvise and do what feels good, but if the CD does not give clear instructions, then it isn't clear what point there is in playing it in the first place. 

The CD moves onto the trance dance phase.  This may take some people further from their areas of comfort.  It is one thing to dance to your favorite songs but it is another to dance along to a yoga CD.  You can at least be fairly sure that you'll do some laughing, when Rea says "letting your knees get funky," or when your nearest and dearest catch you doing this.  Some people will be more accustomed to rotating their pelvises than others, and while Rea suggests sensual movements, some of us will be lucky to get any fluid movements at all.  So when Rea explains that the next stage is "ecstatic dance," I wonder whether I'm the only one who is not in ecstasy when doing this.  I picture my colleagues from work doing this, and I suspect that not that many would really find it a great release.  Which leaves me wondering who this CD is for, and beginning to suspect it is not for me. 

I'm all in favor of a good time, but this combination of yoga and dance strikes me as a little bogus.  In the booklet, in the Introduction, there is a quotation from, of all people, Friedrich Nietzsche.  "And we considered every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."  Now, he may have said that, but I've not read any accounts of Nietzsche's dancing, and the rather formal dancing of the Victorian era seems a long way from the dance nirvana that Rea seems to celebrate.  On the CD, in the section on Prana Yoga, Rea quotes a poem by TS Eliot, providing another bizarre cultural reference that does not sit well with a yoga worldview.  Of course, both Nietzsche and Eliot might have been much happier men if they had done more sun salutations and hip openers, but it is hard to imagine that they would have sustained their bleak intellectual visions if they had found the peace and self-acceptance that is part of the practice of yoga and meditation.  In quoting them, it seems Rea in undermining the assumption that trance dance has any integrity as a yoga practice. 

This raises the question, what is the aim of trance dance?  What is chanting meant to achieve?  There's very little indication here, apart from Rea's occasional suggestive phrases.  One can imagine that dancing and chanting help one get less away from one's intellectual self-consciousness and more in tune with one's body and being as a natural entity.  However, Rea does not really help her listeners much on this point.  So you would be better off just finding a book or CD on meditation and dance yoga that provides a straightforward explanation.  Then with that knowledge, you could then find some music that suits you as an accompaniment to meditation, chanting, or dance. 

In fact, in my opinion, the best aspect of this Trance Dance CD is not Rea's words but the music by Geoffrey Gordon and Ben Leinbach.  The second CD of the package contains 69 minutes of it, and it is quite pleasing, at least for those who are open to the genre.  The production quality is high, and the sounds are unusual and distinctive.  It is often danceable and yet ethereal.  Personally, I find it a little hokey at points, with inclusion of noises of the forest, panting noises, and mystic-sounding song titles, but it is pleasant enough. 

So I reluctantly conclude that this is one of the weaker Shiva Rea products available through Sounds True.  Yet it might be a popular one: many town centers and malls now have stores selling incense, crystals, and new age paraphernalia.  This audio CD package is the kind of product I see at these stores.  I occasionally walk in and browse around, but I don't stay long because I can't see anything that I'd actually want.  I leave feeling like I've just been in some Disneyworld version of yoga and meditation practices.

 

 

Links:

·        Review of Yoga Sanctuary CD

·        Sounds True

·        Shiva Rea website

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.