Jivamukti Yoga logo
|Founder||David Life and Sharon Gannon, disciples of
Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Swami Nirmalananda, and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
|scripture (shastra), devotion (bhakti), nonviolence (ahimsa), music (nada yoga), meditation (dhyana), hatha yoga.|
|Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga|
Jivamukti is a physical, ethical, and spiritual practice, combining a vigorous hatha yoga, vinyasa-based physical style with adherence to five central tenets: shastra (scripture), bhakti (devotion), ahimsa (nonviolence, non-harming), nāda (music), and dhyana (meditation). Animal rights, veganism, environmentalism, and social activism are also emphasized. Jivamukti Yoga has developed a reputation as the chosen yoga style of many celebrities.
Jivamukti Yoga was co-founded in New York in 1984 by dancer and musician Sharon Gannon and her partner, artist and cafe owner David Life. Gannon and Life met in 1982 in Manhattan. In 1986 they traveled together to India and took the Sivananda teacher training program and met Swami Nirmalananda. Upon their return, they opened the first Jivamukti Yoga Society in the East Village of New York City. In 1990 they began to practice Ashtanga Yoga with Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. In 1993, in upstate New York, they met yoga scholar and ashram founder Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. In 1998, the yoga center moved to Lafayette Street, and in 2000, Jivamukti opened a second center on the Upper East Side. In 2003, senior Jivamukti students Patrick Broome and Gabriela Bozic opened Jivamukti Munich, the first Jivamukti Yoga Center outside of New York City. In 2006, the Jivamukti Yoga School NYC relocated their main headquarters to an environmentally constructed studio with an organic vegan cafe in Union Square.
The name Jivamukti is an adaptation of the Sanskrit jivanmuktih, wherein jiva is the individual living soul, and mukti – like moksa – is liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. Thus the Jivamukti method is "liberation while living".
There are five main tenets of the Jivamukti method. These are:
Shastra, or scripture, refers to the study and exploration of the four central texts of yoga as well as to the study of the Sanskrit language in which they were first written. The four texts are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads.
Bhakti, literally "devotion to God", is the practice of devotion and humility. Jivamukti Yoga holds that "God-realization" is the goal of yoga practice, and that it does not matter to what form of God one's love and devotion is directed; what matters is that the devotion should be directed to something higher than one's own self or ego. Inter-religious understanding and tolerance are significant corollaries to this practice, and altars in Jivamukti centers are typically adorned with images of multiple religious and moral authorities: Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Ingrid Newkirk intermingle with Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna.
Ahimsa is the practice of nonviolence, or non-harming. Ahimsa is informed by compassion, and is defined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra as the first of five yamas. Yamas define the measure of how the yogi relates to other people and to the external world. The Jivamukti method teaches that the practice of ahimsa extends not only to other humans but to all animal life and advocates ethical vegetarianism both as a means of resolving human karma and as an environmental imperative for the future health of the planet. The Jivamukti method further teaches that the practice of ahimsa includes promoting and providing educational information about animal rights, environmental concerns, and the need to take social/political action.
Nāda yoga centers on deep inner listening, chanting, and elevated music. Its theoretical and practical aspects are based on the premise that everything that exists, including human beings, consists of sound vibrations, called nāda. The aim of hatha yoga is to hear the nadam-the soundless sound, which is Om-by first perfecting the ability to listen. Jivamukti Yoga practices this through chanting and inspiring music.
Jivamukti classes typically include Sanskrit chanting which integrates scriptural study and bhakti practice with nāda yoga.
Contrary to many other schools of yoga, Jivamukti teachers generally do not do the postures while they teach a class. This encourages students to learn by listening, rather than by watching, and in this way develop their ability to listen effectively. Sharon Gannon summarizes the intention of this approach as follows: “Through listening, hearing arises, through hearing knowing, through knowing becoming, by becoming being is possible.”
Dhyana, or meditation, as taught in the Jivamukti method is the practice of being still and watching one's own mind think. This practice is intended to enable a person to cease to identify with their thoughts and realize that they are more than their thoughts. All Jivamukti Yoga classes include a meditation practice.
There are six types of classes particular to Jivamukti:
- Jivamukti Open classes center on a theme based on a globally-set "Focus of the Month" essay, usually written by either Sharon Gannon or David Life. The theme is explored through "dharma talks", Sanskrit chanting, reflections on the modern relevance of yoga scripture, music, asanas (postures or poses), pranayama (breathing), and meditation. The largest portion of the class consists of asana practiced as vinyasa. In vinyasa (movement synchronized with breath and intention) the teacher guides the student through a vigorous sequence of poses. The exact sequence is left to the discretion of the teacher, but always includes inversions, such as headstand and shoulderstand. During the vinyasa phase, the teacher assists practitioners with hands-on adjustments. The class concludes with a period of deep relaxation and meditation.
- The Jivamukti Basic class is structured as a four-week fundamentals course that explores a different aspect of yoga each week. Starting with standing asanas, it next covers forward bending asanas, then backward bending asanas, and concludes with inversions and meditation. Whereas in the Beginner Vinyasa and Open classes vinyasa is emphasized, the Basic class stresses alignment. Students are taught “how to do” asanas and the use of props. The Basic class lays the foundation for eventual progression to an Open or Spiritual Warrior class.
- Beginner Vinyasa
- Jivamukti Beginner Vinyasa classes are designed to provide a beginner student with the underlying basics of how a vinyasa practice works. The class follows a set sequence of asanas but is presented at a slower, more relaxed pace than in the Spiritual Warrior or Open classes. Beginner Vinyasa classes provide beginner students with a transition from a Basic to an Open class, and more advanced students with the opportunity to refine their skills through deeper, slower exploration.
- Spiritual Warrior
- Jivamukti Spiritual Warrior classes are designed with busy people in mind who only have one hour to practice. The structure is a set, vinyasa-style sequence which includes chanting, an asana warm-up, sun salutations, standing poses, forward bends, twists, backbends, inversions, relaxation, and meditation. In the Spiritual Warrior class the teacher focuses on maintaining the pace, rather than on giving spiritual discourses.
- In-Class Private
- Traditionally, yoga was taught one on one—one teacher teaching one student at a time. In modern times, yoga is more often taught in group classes. The Jivamukti In-Class Private (or ICP) allows students to experience both methods of teaching simultaneously: the student and his or her private certified Jivamukti Yoga teacher together attend a regular group class. From beginning to end, the student practices with the guidance and hands-on assists of the private teacher. ICPs always conclude with a special deep relaxation yoga massage in shavasana, or corpse pose. An ICP can be adapted to almost any Jivamukti Yoga class, but is most frequently given in an Open class.
- The Jivamukti Yoga method of meditation is a mantra form of meditation, and follows a three-step procedure: choose a seat, be still, and focus. The mantra “Let-Go” is taught to all Jivamukti students, and provides the focus. The practitioner is instructed to align the silent repetition of the mantra with the incoming and outgoing breath. By witnessing the continuous movement of breath through the body and thought through the mind, Jivamukti teaches that the practitioner can eventually let go of identification with the body and mind and come to realize the supreme Self. The Jivamukti method holds realization of the supreme self or enlightenment to be the ultimate goal of yoga. The class usually begins with Sanskrit chanting; this is followed by detailed meditation instruction and then about 20 minutes of actual sitting practice. Afterwards there is a Q&A session with the teacher, and a final closing.
Branding and ownership
Jivamukti Yoga is a branded, proprietary yoga method. The trade name and trademark Jivamukti is owned by Jivamukti, Inc., a for-profit corporation based in Shady, New York, U.S., and has been continuously used in connection with the corporation's business since 1984. Jivamukti, Inc. operates Jivamukti-branded yoga centers in New York City, Charleston, Toronto, Berlin, Munich, and London and provides Jivamukti-branded yoga instruction (yoga classes, workshops, retreats, teacher training and certification classes), clothing, body-care products, and instructional materials (books, audio, and video recordings). Jivamukti, Inc. also holds trademarks on Jivamukti Yoga, Jivamuktea, Jivamuktea Cafe, and In-Class Private. Jivamukti, Inc.'s Chief Operating Officer is David Life's nephew, Jules Febre.
Prior to this, the Jivamukti Yoga trade name and trademark was registered by the corporation, Jivamukti Yoga Center, Inc., which lists Sharon Gannon as its Chief Executive Officer and President, and David Kirkpatrick (the legal name of David Life) and Ana Maria Velasco as corporate officers (both now inactive).
- Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul (Sharon Gannon, David Life; 2002; ISBN 0-345-44208-3)
- The Art of Yoga (Sharon Gannon, David Life, Martin Brading; 2002; ISBN 1-58479-207-8)
- Yoga and Vegetarianism: The Diet of Enlightenment (Sharon Gannon; 2008; ISBN 1-60109-021-8)
- "Yoga Assists: A Complete Visual & Inspirational Guide To Yoga Asana Assists" (Sharon Gannon, David Life; 2012; ISBN 1-624-67054-7)
Jivamukti Yoga is the primary method taught at eleven yoga centers ("full program centers") and is also formally recognized as being taught at more than thirty others ("affiliate centers"). Instruction in these centers is based on the philosophy developed by Gannon and Life, which is in turn based on the guidance of their gurus and on classical yoga as described in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika. To teach the Jivamukti Yoga method in one of its centers, an instructor is first required to go through rigorous training and to pass a series of examinations.
Jivamukti Yoga's full program centers are located in the United States (New York City, Jersey City, and Washington D.C.), Germany (Munich, Berlin, and Schloss Elmau), the United Kingdom (London), and Mexico (Puebla). Its affiliate centers are located in Australia, Germany, Greece, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States.
In 2003, the Jivamukti Yoga School NYC established a 125-acre nature preserve in the Catskill Mountains, near Woodstock, New York. Known as the Wild Woodstock Jivamukti Forest Sanctuary, it serves as the country ashram for the Jivamukti Yoga School and a safe haven and unpolluted habitat for diverse plant and animal species.
Some celebrities who practice or have practiced Jivamukti Yoga are:
- Christy Turlington
- Diane Keaton
- Donna Karan
- Gwyneth Paltrow
- Heidi Klum
- Elizabeth Berkley
- Michael Franti
- Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Mike D
- Steve Martin
- Sarah Jessica Parker
- Russell Simmons
- Travis Rice
- Trudie Styler
- Uma Thurman
- Willem Dafoe
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