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Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008
Putting women on paths of potential at work and at play
Holistic life skills program helps reveal ideals
By ANGELA JEFFS
Australian-born Sara-Shivani is learning hard and fast the nature of her bliss — what she was born to be and do. Her mantra — As I am now, recognize/ As I was born to be, remember/ As I wish to be, visualize/ As nature intended, live — is the motto of the program of holistic heath she is offering to the public: Living Shizen.
Living shizen means living naturally. Sara-Shivani, who is fluent in Japanese, explains that the word (which means nature or natural) is made up of two characters: shi, for self, and zen for I am. "I love Japanese kanji and language. "
Not yet 30 and recently divorced, she arrives in a state of cool apology. She's late because her bicycle chain broke on the way from Kamakura's Yuigahama Beach, and then she had to find somewhere to wash her hands.
Tucking her feet into lotus position, she presents her new name card. "You see," she says, "I'm really getting organized. Last night I was on the beach with friends watching fireworks, having fun. The same time last year I was watching them alone from an apartment, totally miserable. Such a turnaround."
Sara-Shivani grew up as Sarah Rachael O'Brien in Sydney, with an Irish father and a New Zealand West Indian mother. People are often surprised when she tells them this. Yes, her hair is red, her eyes blue and her skin near transparent, but she can see the black in the shape of her face, even the shape of her eyes.
"My brother got the exotic looks, with beautifully polished dark skin," she grins. "I manifest more the Irish side."
She so much wanted to be a spy as a child that she rang up the Australian equivalent of the MI5, asking how to get in. But it was a crazy thought: "I love people and information far too much to keep secrets."
Forensic science also fell by the wayside and (being academically gifted) she was pushed toward law. She even interned in a law office, until a friend was murdered and suddenly she saw how the profession was played as a competitive game.
"I decided to study acting and film directing, which is how I became interested in Japan. I fell in love with Japanese film, watched NHK news every morning, and came here after finishing university and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001."
She joined a Japanese TV production company, mostly creating shows for NHK, and considered herself lucky to work with classic directors, whom she describes as "real talent." But being an assistant was tough.
"I was hit with an umbrella, ate badly, had to sleep in the office, got sick. Many Japanese directors are so disconnected with themselves and nearly all of them smoke, so I was always coughing. My health became so bad I chose not to renew my contract. Still it was a great introduction to Japan. No regrets."
It was because she was in such a bad way physically that she got into yoga. When she studied at Ogikubo's International Yoga Center, the practice was still new, so she got one-to-one attention.
"All my strengths and weaknesses came out. It was clear I was disciplined, but the scoliosis that I'd lived with all my life became pronounced."
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine and, in Sara-Shivani's case, also her ribs, which means her organs are squashed. She used to wonder if it had been aggravated by carrying a heavy school bag. All she can remember was a medical doctor saying that the condition was so bad he could only assume it was connected to the karma of a previous life.
While yoga helped, she was still in a lot of pain. So she went to China for three months to train in Qigong (pronounced cheegong) and tai chi. She then moved on to India for another three months where she did 315 hours of training and was given the name Shivani, which means sacred women.
"I spent six months crying and then, as the muscles around my spine began to relax and I began to feel lighter, straighter and more fluid, six months laughing."
In retrospect, she very much enjoyed getting back into shape, feeling the way her body, mind and spirit changed, the intensity of recovery. Always subject to asthma attacks, even her breathing evened out and became self-regulating.
It was during her second year of training in yoga in Tokyo that she was given an introduction to World Family, which in part teaches English to Japanese children by touring with a theater troupe. She has worked with the English Carnival production ever since, spending most weekends six months a year on the road.
"It changed my life. It's just wonderful to see children so happy, using English in a completely natural way. Mark Segerlund, who is at the center of World Family is the most inspiring person I have ever met. Thanks to him I've been enabled to explore many aspects of myself. I've been Sarah Sorcerer, South Pole Sarah and Sarah Sunflower. This year, I'm playing a 6-year old biker chick named Sarah Vara Voom."
But there's another side to Sarah the Performer. The side that she believes can only grow in strength and value as she gets older and can no longer play Under 10s. There's one major subject that we're not taught at school, she says, and it's the most important lesson of all: how to live.
To this end — helping people to live to their full potential — she is dedicated to showing people how yoga, Qigong and various other healing modalities in combination with spiritual practices can become a way of life and well-being.
Divorce especially can leave women feeling lonely and unsupported. Men also, of course, but since Sara-Shivani is female and feminine, this has to be her starting point. The Living Shizen program she has devised is based on the fact that by nature women are beautiful, expressive, sensual and strong.
"Yes, there are thousands of self-help books out there. But I know from personal experience that authentic life direction happens only through conscious and practical self-exploration and inter-communication in a safe and sacred environment."
That is why she is offering Living Shizen as an innovative and holistic life skills program designed to help women and girls realize their ideal personal and professional lives with energy and creativity without fear.
Sara-Shivani offers programs in Tokyo and Kamakura. "Alternatively, if you would like to form a group with friends or colleagues, in your home or office environment, I will happily come and work with you."
During the week, she works one-to-one with clients (particularly expats) who prefer to train toward well-being at home. She has also taught yoga to groups of men, something that is leading Japanese companies to seek her help, because healthy balanced workers are more productive and happier in their jobs.
She and her former Japanese husband moved to the coast from the city because they wanted a more natural lifestyle. It worked for her if not for them as a couple. She's very sad about that but once again, "no regrets."
She describes herself as so happy, so full of energy these days that she has to rebalance with yoga at the beach and with introspective work.
"Honestly, Kamakura is the best place in the world, 50 minutes from central Tokyo and yet with Mt. Fuji just across Sagami Bay. I love Fuji-san's feminine energy. Most of all I love the shizen way of the Japanese people and the cultural vibrations of the place."