Practitioners of Jivamukti Yoga apply what they learn by challenging their core beliefs and lifestyle choices, living with awareness and consciousness on and off the mat, and by participating in activism in many ways
Searching for Inner Integration
Jivamukti Yoga is a distinctive practice of yoga that I learned about in my studies of yoga, activism, and veganism. I found that these things are what encompass the richness of Jivamukti Yoga. As an animal and evolutionary activist whose old habits of relating to the world include anger, despair, fear, and isolation, yoga has worked miracles in my life in terms of healing my body, mind, and soul. It allows me to be more functional, present and effective as an activist and as a human in the world. As I sit here writing these words, I am aware that the ability to sit still, focus, and channel my creativity is heightened by my yoga practice.
Through yoga, I have found an inner peace, love, and compassion for all beings – a different way to see things. This creates a distinct conflict with the fire, depression, and anger I feel inside from the way I perceive the world, those responsible for the suffering I witness daily, and those not doing anything to change it. When we experience these inner conflicts, we either resolve them or they manifest as various forms of mental illness. I felt a void in the separate identities I was embodying. I knew that “yoking” these seemingly disintegrated parts of myself was the next step on my journey, but how? Yoga can be translated as “to yoke”, or to unite, and that’s exactly what is happening. I embody all of my strengths as one identity, versus the separate parts of myself struggling to make sense of the world. Through my self-work, I have realized that if I want to make a difference in this world, my work must stem from a place of acceptance, love, hope, and non-judgment. I understand we really are all connected, even to those we seem to be “fighting against”. “Us versus them” is an illusion we perceive to be real, but we are all one, and though I know this intuitively, practicing it daily is an entirely different task.
What is Jivamukti Yoga?
Enter Jivamukti Yoga: a way of life, a journey to enlightenment by way of practicing compassion for all beings. Practitioners of this style of yoga don’t just practice on the mat and then leave it all behind. The well-rounded design of a Jivamukti class (which incorporates 5 tenants) enables the student to apply their practice to their overall relationship with the world, integrating all aspects of the practice into their being. They explore the true meanings of the yogic philosophies and apply them to all aspects of life. They seek connection with Oneness, and to dissolve the illusion that we are all separate. What we do to others, we do to our Self. What we do to our Mother Earth, we do to our Self. Stemming from this simple philosophy, the practice is more than a physical exercise to stay toned and fit. It is a path to enlightenment through beneficial and reciprocal relationships to all other beings, human and nonhuman, living or nonliving (think trees, plants, and more).
The founders of Jivamukti Yoga are Sharon Gannon and David Life. The information for this article was largely found on their official website: www.jivamuktiyoga.com. Jivamukti Yoga was created in 1984 in New York City. Sharon and David traveled to India many times, meeting and studying with their gurus, Swami Nirmalananda, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and in New York, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. The teachings of these gurus and their experiences during this time shaped Jivamukti Yoga, whose teachings the gurus bless. Jivamukti Yoga interprets the Sanksrit word asana as “seat, connection” to the Earth and our relationship to all life on Earth. To practitioners of Jivamukti Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.46: “sthira (consistent) sukham (joy and happiness) asanam (our relationship to all life on Earth)”, means our relationship to this Earth and its inhabitants should be one that is mutually beneficial for all and that comes from a place of joy and happiness. They believe that through living the practice (including adherence to ahimsa and veganism) and through activism, we can challenge the accepted norms of our culture and live in a world harmonious for all.
Sharon and David are dedicated, influential activists, working for many causes. They co-established, with Janet Rienstra of META Records, the Animal Mukti Free Spay & Neuter Clinic of the Humane Society of New York City in 1999, which provides free spay and neuter services to animals in the city. Jivamukti teachers help fundraise to keep the doors open, and the clinic estimates that they have reduced the number of euthanized animals in New York City by 37%. Sharon and David are long-standing Vanguard members of PETA, have been recognized as "Friends of Ferals" by the Humane Society of New York and Neighborhood Cats, and were awarded a Compassionate Living Award from Farm Sanctuary in 2008. In 2003, the vivacious and devoted couple established the Wild Woodstock Jivamukti Forest Sanctuary, which is a 125-acre wildlife refuge in upstate New York. Sharon and David have been widely recognized for their contributions to yoga and to activism in many areas. They were featured in Vanity Fair, on the Today Show, on PBS, and in Yoga Journal, to name a few.
How Jivamukti Yoga Classes Work
Jivamukti Yoga offers six different types of classes and a unique warm-up sequence. Depending on the type of class, the 5 tenants may be openly stated and discussed or simply guidelines that inform the practice. The 5 tenants below include quotes directly from jivamuktiyoga.com, in order to preserve the practice’s exact interpretations and definitions of each tenant. The name in parentheses next to each tenant is how the tenant might appear during a Jivamukti Yoga class.
- Ahimsa (Kindness) – “A nonviolent, compassionate lifestyle extending to other animals, the environment and all living beings, emphasizing ethical veganism and animal rights.”
- Bhakti (Devotion) – “Acknowledgment that God/Self-realization is the goal of all yoga practices; can be expressed through chanting, the setting of a high intention for the practice or other devotional practices.”
- Dhyana (Meditation) – “Meditation: connecting to that eternal unchanging reality within.”
- Nada (Music) – “The development of a sound body and mind through deep listening; can be incorporated in a class using recorded music, spoken word, silence or even the teacher’s voice.”
- Shastra (Meditation) – “Study of the ancient yogic teachings, including Sanskrit chanting, drawn from the Focus of the Month to the extent possible.”
The six type of classes Jivamukti Yoga features are:
- Open Class – A class appropriate for all yogis, beginning to advanced. It provides an open, welcoming environment where everyone practices at their pace. Teacher provides verbal and hands-on guidance, incorporating all classical yoga teachings, sutras, and more. The teachings may draw from the Focus of the Month essay, can include chanting, breath work, vinyasa flow, alignment adjustment and education, and relaxation/meditation. Common in Jivamukti Yoga is the role of the diverse and creative soundtrack you will hear in each class (having eclectic music is common, though every teacher will play a unique selection).
- Basic Class – Jivamukti offers a four-week fundamentals course. Each week focuses on a different theme of asanas. Week one is standing asanas, two is forward bending asanas, three is backward bending asanas, and four is inversions, meditation, and integrating all of the material. A Basic Class refers to a class in this course, and the emphasis in on alignment and proper use of props. The purpose is to help beginners set up a proper foundation so they can be smart and safe in the Open Class. It is also beneficial for intermediate and advanced students looking to deepen their practice.
- Spiritual Warrior – A one-hour, fast-paced, calorie-burning class designed for people on the go. It’s a fixed sequence taught in a vinyasa flow style. The structure retains the full-roundedness typical to Jivamukti Yoga, including a warm-up, chanting, intention setting, sun salutations, varied asanas, inversions, and meditation/relaxation.
- Beginner Vinyasa – An introduction to the principles and basics of a vinyasa (flow) practice. The focus is on alignment of breath and intention with movement. The sequence is set but at a slower pace that the Spiritual Warrior. It’s suitable for all levels of practitioners.
- Meditation – A class open to all who desire to learn meditation and requires no previous experience. Students learn the mantra “let go”. They are taught to: “Choose [a] seat, Be still, and Focus.” The goal is to release identification with the body and mind and to allow room for Self-realization to develop. The structure varies but typically starts with Sanskrit chanting, around 20 minutes of detailed meditation, a Q&A session with the instructor, and closing prayers.
- In-Class Private (ICP) – A unique experience where a private certified Jivamukti Yoga teacher attend a regular class with the student to assist them in correct alignment and with an understanding of the components of the class. A session includes a deep relaxation massage during shavasana (or final resting “corpse” pose).
- Magic Ten – A series of ten exercises done in about ten minutes as a warm up for class or first thing in the morning to loosen up the body.
The Emphasis on Veganism and Activism
Practitioners of Jivamukti Yoga believe that what we consume into our bodies, where we live our lives, and with whom we live are physical things, just like “asana” or the yoga poses. The practice becomes a way to truly know oneself and to overcome avidya, or “the ignorance that distorts one’s perception of oneself and others”. Practitioners seek Self-realization through this exploration of the true and practical implications of our actions and of our relationship to the Earth.
Jivamukti Yoga teaches that what we choose to consume with our fork and knife is an important choice with many implications. Animals raised for food are thought of as slaves that are deprived of rights and respects and ultimately slaughtered. They believe that we ourselves can never be happy or free if we continue to cause unhappiness to others and deprivation of their freedoms and lives. We are all one, so what we do to animals and other humans on this earth, we are doing to our Self. The Yamas are known as the fundamental ethical precepts of yoga and teach us that the path to happiness and freedom comes from: not harming others (including animals); truthfulness to all (including our Self); refraining from the perception we are lacking (thus needing to steal); respect of our sexual energy; and not coveting or taking what others have (including their lives). Jivamukti Yoga teaches that the industries involved in raising our food operate on precepts opposite of the Yamas, and that when we consume their products, we cannot truly find freedom and happiness. The fork can cause destruction or promote peace, and the choice is ours. They believe the best way to uplift our lives, spirits, and health is to adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle (which includes not wearing the skins, furs, or other body parts of animals, not using products tested on animals or containing animal ingredients, and more).
Jivamukti Yoga perceives the world as an expanded Self of our own, and says we belong to Earth (the Earth does not belong to us). It is our duty to love and protect our Mother Earth and its in inhabitants. Environmentalism, Political Activism, Animal Activism and Rescue work, and Charity are direct focuses of practicing Jivamukti Yoga. Find out more details here.
Learning about Jivamukti Yoga has been extremely exciting for me. It’s a breath of fresh air to learn there is an international community of Yogis dedicated to the work I am passionate about and are integrating all parts of their Self to be effective forces of change in the world. I have unknowingly and unofficially been a practitioner of this art form for many years. Jivamukti Yoga is unique not necessarily in that the poses or structure of classes are much different than other forms of yoga. It’s different in that there is no separation between what is taught and practiced on the mat and how one chooses to live their life, taking the teachings and principles with them in all realms, even when it can be challenging. Many yogis practice ahimsa during their yoga practice, yet continue to directly inflict harm on other beings through their lifestyle choices or separate themselves from critical social, human, and political justice issues, labeling them too confrontational or stressful. Practitioners of this art understand the task before us is to spread our consciousness into areas of our life and all areas of life for others, even places where the challenge seems insurmountable (like in the case of true political democracy or injustice to animals). Jivamukti Yoga is not simply related to the body, “stretching,” or “asana” as veganism is not simply related to food, “a weight loss technique,” or “a health diet”. They are both unified and integrative ways of life. Practitioners of Jivamukti Yoga apply what they learn by challenging their core beliefs and lifestyle choices, living with awareness and consciousness on and off the mat, and by participating in activism in many ways. They understand that we are all responsible for creating a healthy Earth and for taking action to create change.
There are hundreds of classes, trainings, workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings in Jivamukti Yoga going on around the world. The official centers are Charleston, SC, Jersey City, NJ, New York City, NYC Jivamuktea Café, Sydney, Australia, Whistler, BC, Berlin, Germany: Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany: Mitte, Munich, Germany: City Center, Munich, Germany: Schwabing, and London, though there are affiliates and events in other areas. Teachers of Jivamukti Yoga must undergo special training in the art form. I’d love to hear from those who practice this beautiful art or are interested in learning more about it. I would love to bring Jivamukti Yoga to my parts of the world: Costa Rica and parts of California. I can be reached at Rima@costarima.com. The possibilities for growth, hope, and change are endless.
All of the information regarding Jivamukti Yoga and interpretation of Sanskrit from Jivamukti Yoga philosophies were found on www.jivamuktiyoga.com. Rima Danielle Jomaa is not affiliated with nor a representative of Jivamukti Yoga at the time of this writing and was not endorsed or compensated to write this article in any way, monetary or otherwise. This is purely an investigative article meant to introduce people to the art and teachings of Jivamukti Yoga. www.jivamuktiyoga.com reserves all rights over any information reflected in this article.
Rima Danielle Jomaa is from Los Angeles, California. She has an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. Rima is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern (taking board examinations this summer, IMF 63338), a Registered Yoga Alliance yoga instructor, a Level One Reiki practitioner, a hypnotherapist, and an advocate for the rights of human and nonhuman animals through her work as an activist, nutrition advocate, educator, and healer. She encourages anyone she encounters to take responsibility for their own health, happiness, and freedom. Rima enjoys being active in the community in many various ways. She appears in various yoga productions and writes on a variety of topics for different websites. Rima is a student of evolutionary activism, she regularly practices yoga, meditates, surfs, bikes, skateboards, and cooks vegan cuisine.
Rima currently lives part-time between Santa Teresa, Costa Rica and Southern California. She hosts groups of all kinds for retreats in Costa Rica, among other things. Her long-term goal and vision, along with her business partner, is to open a Residential Treatment Center for adolescents and young adults in Costa Rica. It will be designed with a holistic, yoga-based curriculum where the clients will grow their food, harvest their food, prepare their food, and be fully immersed in nature and their surroundings. Find out more about all of this on her website. More information about Rima can be found here. Join her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus!
Images via: @thesanctuaryhk, @drifterandthegypsy, @mimichenyoga,