If you live in the Raleigh metro area considered yourself lucky. Raleigh’s own EVOLVE Movement can boast having one of the finest and most distinguished yoga teachers in the country. And beyond the impossibly effortless, liquid smooth free flow is one of our favorite things about Carson Efird. Her Meaningful Hugs! And her beautiful, full of love, gracious spirit and smile. Whether you are a seasoned yogi or have always wanted to find your special place to feel welcome and practice we urge you to sign up and take a class with Carson. You will leave feeling 100% recharged, more limber than when you entered, and bursting with positive energy. The photographs below, from photographer D.L. Anderson, will give you a visual description of Carson’s spirit and energy. Read our interview to discover more about this incredible soul and her kick ass credentials. Follow Carson on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. –SoS
SoS: You are considered the best of the best in the yoga world. Explain your yoga credentials in layman’s terms.
Carson: You sweet! But, I have to say, I consider my teacher, Shiva Rea, to be the best of the best. As Shiva said on retreat this week at Esalen in Big Sur, “God/Goddess desires to hit it out of the park.” Essentially, what that means to me is that by following our passions and sharing our gifts from a place of humility, devotion and service we experience the success of aligning with our sva dharma or self-purpose in this life. I am honored to have been a dedicated student of Shiva’s since 2005 and to have had the opportunity to assist her internationally for teacher trainings and retreats since 2009. In 2012, she invited me to lead Prana Vinyasa Teacher Trainings at EVOLVE and we also initiated a program in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures together in 2013. The Prana Vinyasa collective of teachers is incredibly tight knit and supportive so I have also had the pleasure of teaching around the country at some of my dearest friends amazing studios from California to Colorado and I look forward to bringing them to EVOLVE to inspire our community. What makes Shiva the best of the best to me is that she is a living breathing student of yoga, meaning that her practice and teachings are continuously in forward motion while profoundly honoring the roots of yoga in India and the lineage of her teachers. She inspires me to dance along my “evolutionary edge.”
SoS: Daily Mantra? Life Mantra?
Carson: My mantras change with the seasons and life initiations that flow my way, but the single mantra that is in my heart on a daily basis is the Gayatri Mantra. The Gayatri celebrates the staining power of the sun, and, calls that luminosity into our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits so that we may shine our light in reverence for the gift of each day. This mantra is traditionally chanted at sunrise or sunset and when we lived on the PCH in our vintage trailer over looking the sun plunging into the Pacific this became a daily offering of gratitude that lives on wherever we are. We, meaning me and my husband, Joe.
SoS: An essential prop/props in your daily practice?
Carson: My altar at home is my most essential prop in my daily practice as it holds sacred space for my practice and it holds me accountable to my practice. The altar itself is an antique that I inherited from my grandmother, and because Joe and I are sustaining our marriage across the country, my altar is dedicated to our union. On it is a murti, a statue, of Radha and Krishna, the divine lovers, California sage, two hour glasses (when celebrating relationships displaying objects in pairs is customary) and a picture of us dancing on the beach where we were married as well as conch shells from that location. Otherwise, my Manduka mat for practice and my grandfather’s sheep skin for meditation and savasana is all I need. One of the many things I treasure about yoga is that all you need is your body, mind and heart as well as the knowledge. The practice is portable and can happen anywhere and everywhere.
SoS: How important is meditation and what are the benefits?
Carson: Essential!!! I am passionate about meditation whether it is sitting, moving or a state of conscioness that imbues any action with intention. I feel very fortunate to have found teachers from the beginning of my journey who emphasized meditation equally to asana. Seated meditation is my morning practice and I have a very consistent rhythm that includes: pranayama, mantra, prayer, visualization, as well as, listening deeply to the words of wisdom that my heart teacher whispers. Of course the physical benefits of meditation are motivating like decreased stress etc… But, I find the energetic benefits even more profound. Starting the day in rememberance of the innate connection between the flow of breath and the underlying support of the universe shifts my perspective on my daily purpose.
SoS: Can you recommend an easy stretch or pose that helps with a tense/tight lower back as well as shoulders? Perhaps something one could do at her or his desk.
Carson: Love to! On a desk, counter or table that is hip height or slightly taller, or even a wall, place your elbows the width of your shoulders and make a peaceful fist or prayer between your hands. Walk your feet back until your spine is in extension keeping your elbows slightly higher than your shoulders. Separate your feet shoulder width distance and sway your hips side to side. Simultaneously, melt your heart towards the earth and release your neck through your arms.
SoS: How do you deal with stress?
Carson: Spontaneous dance parties with myself and some loud groovin’ music!!! Or, hot baths with bath salts (I love those Detox bath salts from Herbivore), or, Ayurvedic Brahmi Oil from Banyan Botanicals. Or, driving with the windows down in the country airin’ it out!
SoS: Describe the Shiva Rea technique/approach as well as Prana Vinyasa Flow. Are they one in the same?
Carson: Yes, mam! Shiva Rea is the creatress of Prana Vinyasa Flow. Prana Vinyasa Flow is an ecstatic expression of her life’s work honoring the Shakti, the creative energy, in all forms.
Specifically, Prana Vinyasa Flow is Shiva’s evolution of Vinyasa Flow that invokes the five movements of Prana to energetically align breath and movement, body and mind, microcosm and macrocosm. Three identifying elements of a Prana Vinyasa class include:
Three Part Vinyasa – Inviting movement into the asanas to teach alignment in the flow and connect with the pulsation of breath.
Wave Sequencing – Creating a seamless class experience that naturally unfolds from simple to complex towards a peak asana.
Bhavana – Opening to the feeling state of each asana, as well as, the whole experience of the class, physically, mentally and emotionally through the use of poetic language, music, free-form movement, ambiance and more.
I love Prana Vinyasa because it encourages diversity and creativity inside of the practice while opening pathways for depth, growth and evolution inside of the practitioner.
SoS: You know we have to ask…What’s your favorite brand to wear/practice in the studio?
Carson: AVIATOR NATION!!! And, Spiritual Gangster.
SoS: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have in regards to yoga?
Carson: Oh lord! The one I hear the most that makes me laugh is, “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough!” Which is the perfect portal into the conversation of where to begin. Krishnamacharya, the Indian yoga guru who is the grandfather of our modern-day practice, advised to begin where we are, because really, we have no other choice aside from not beginning. So, begin with tight hamstrings. I love it when Shiva says in class that you might have tight hamstrings for a really good reason… Maybe you are a firefighter who runs up flights of stairs saving people from burning buildings. But it is so funny and endearing that we think that in order to do something we have to be accomplished at it first. How self- defeating!?!? This as my grandmother would say is putting the cart before the horse, or as Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamarcharya’s student would say, “Practice and all is coming.” Yoga is self-acceptance. The practice teaches to look at our misconceptions, judgements and criticisms, of things outside of ourselves like, “yoga is only for flexible people,” and realize that they are reflections of our misconceptions about ourselves “I am not flexible.” Once placed in our bodies, yoga empowers to transform these limiting misconceptions of ourselves into opportunities for potential growth and personal evolution. As Iyengar said, another of Krishnamacharya’s students, “Yoga teaches to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” After beginning where you are you will gain either more flexible hamstrings, or more compassion for your hamstrings that are stronger than they are flexible for a good reason. There are infinite numbers of misconceptions of yoga, but these are the best places to start the conversation on beginning a yoga practice. By reflecting on your misconceptions of yoga, you learn more about what you need out of the practice. And, this will help you find the most appropriate style of yoga as well as teacher. Generally, in yoga, the obstacles on our paths, whether physical, mental or emotional will be our greatest teachers.
SoS: What does the word yoga mean to you?
Carson: Integration. This first time I heard yoga defined as integration by my friend and teacher Chris Tompkins it really hit home. Traditionally, yoga is defined as union. But, I prefer integration because it goes deeper, beyond coming together, or meeting in the middle. Integration is two things becoming one without fear of losing their individual essences. Whether it is the integration of breath and movement, body and mind, individual and community or microcosm and macrocosm, one shines light on the other. For instance the more connected we feel to our breath the more connected we will feel to our movement and vice versa. Breath doesn’t fear being lost in movement and movement doesn’t fear being lost in breath. In their coming together they learn more about themselves. Breath is movement. Movement is breath. This to me, on all levels, is the essence of integration, of yoga.
SoS: What are the top 3 benefits of this ancient practice for you personally?
Carson: This is an interesting question because I don’t feel like I have practiced specifically to receive the benefits of yoga for a long time. Eventually, you stop practicing because you want to be more flexible or stronger or more relaxed and you start practicing because it is a part of who you are and what you do. The benefits are inherent to the practice. But, if I think about what brings me back to the mat after a hiatus, like a vacation or something, it is always the desire to return to a rhythm, routine and ritual of self-care. If I don’t practice for a few days, I get grumpy, like energetic constipation, it is easier to make negative choices for myself, and, I don’t feel like I am resonating at a high frequency. My intention becomes less clear. As soon as I resume my physical and meditation practice as well as the Ayurvedic lifestyle routines I follow, my mood lifts and I feel empowered to make positive choices for myself. I begin living in alignment with my intention and emanating higher vibrations. The ability to cultivate this inner and outer transformation to me is the greatest gift of yoga. How are we supposed to do good on this earth if we aren’t feeling good ourselves? And, no one else is responsible for our feeling good other than ourselves, so in that light the practice is incredibly motivating and inspiring. The last three Niyamas, the observances towards the self, that come from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are: Tapas, discipline, Svadhyaya, self-study, and Ishvarapranidhana, surrender. This is what is coming to mind. Through the practice yoga embues the practitioner with will-power, self-awareness and humility. Those could be the three greatest benefits… but, really, you are right, it is so personal.
SoS: Greatest lesson you have learned throughout your years of dance and yoga?
Carson: Dance and yoga have been in conversation in my body since I was a baby growing up on the beaches of South Carolina. I remember at Yoga Trance Dance Teacher Training Shiva asked to free write about our original dance, our first memories of being moved by our internal intelligence. The first thing that came to mind was when I was around the age of two, I would only go to the bathroom if Dad put me in the john boat, rode me out to the Pawleys Island inlet, stripped me naked, and let me dance around until I squat down in the sand. This specific internal intelligence is what we would call Apana Vayu, or the movement that flows down and out. Both dance and yoga have taught me to tune in, listen, and respond to my natural instincts while cultivating a deep trust and respect for my whole being. Dance brought me to yoga, yoga brought me back to dance, dance returned me to yoga and yoga has returned me to dance. They are two parallel inseparable paths. I used to think of them as binaries, and that I would have to choose, but I am learning that the two practices inform one another within my embodiment. For me it’s not about integrating the two on the outside, but what happens when the two forms alchemically combine on the inside. And this is what is so exciting about the revolutionary research Shiva and Chris Tompkins, are doing together, essentially asana practice as we know it was birthed from spontaneous improvisational dance.
SoS: One or two things that people would be surprised to know about you?
Carson: I was a debutante, twice (!), in Union and Greenville, South Carolina! And, I write country songs in my free time.
SoS: You divide time your between the east and west coast. How are the vibes different and how are they the same?
Carson: In my experience east coast vibes are stability and growth and west coast vibes are freedom and adventure. I am loving my bi-coastal flow and I feel that my intention in each place aligns with the strengths that each place has to offer. It feels good to come home to Raleigh and focus so intently on growing EVOLVE; and, it feels equally awesome to go home to Los Angeles and open to the spirit of adventure. But, essentially, home is where the heart is, so I love connecting with the amazing local communities in both towns and experiencing the local flavors. Both Raleigh and Los Angeles are in new exciting phases of development right now and have a lot of creative momentum. I am grateful to be a part of it.
SoS: Favorite healthy snack and meal?
Carson: I am super into eating local and supporting small binesses. So, when in Raleigh:
SoS: Describe Evolve Movement in 5 words or less.
Carson: How about six? Movement is life. Life is evolution.
SoS: What’s on your playlist in the studio? What’s playing in your car?
Carson: In the studio: I’ve been working on my Soulful SUNday Sweat Fest playlist mixing rock and roll, kirtan, gospel and reggae inspired by: George Harrison, Steve Gold, Govindas & Radha, CC White, Bob & Ziggy Marley, Agape International Choir and more!
In my car: The spring mix includes Lucinda Williams, Joni Mitchell, Frazey Ford, Hiss Golden Messenger, Gillian Welch, War on Drugs, Tinariwen, Grateful Dead, D’Angelo, Mount Moriah, Neil Young and Califone.
Image Sources: D.L. Anderson