“No one can “do yoga.” Yoga means union with God. Yoga means eternal happiness, bliss, joy, and unconditional love. Yoga is who you are. It is your natural state. What we can do are practices that, by revealing to us our resistance to existing in our natural state, may lead us to it” – Sharon Gannon
During my second year at university, I was extremely stressed – all of which was self-inflicted. I was putting enormous pressure on myself to get the scholarship, the grades, the recognition, the perfect undergraduate performance to allow me entry into a postgraduate course of the most prestige, the idealised career of money, security and a feeling that I mattered. Over a coffee with a friend with a big Type A personality also I explained how stressed I was and she insisted “you need yoga”. Yoga? That super spiritual workout people do? I was a little dubious but also curious to see what all the hype was about. That was four years ago now. I have often heard it said that the way you approach asana (Sanskrit for “pose” or “seat”) practice on your mat is the way you approach your life – nothing was truer of my first experience at Yoga Dojo. I took no basics or beginner classes, jumping straight into an open class with intermittent and advanced practitioners. I pushed and pulled my body in every which way, supplementing the strength required for a safe, well aligned asana for my already great flexibly. In vying for the teacher’s recognition, with only faintest regard for alignment, I would often opt for all the hardest of variations for each asana. And rather than connecting with my breath to assist in surrendering to the asana, most of the time I was holding my breath and hoping for the best. But even though I was approaching my asana practice with the competitive, achievement-orientated aggression that a university culture cultivates, I felt an intense feeling of contentment, healing and fulfilment. Many times when I first started practicing I would lie on my back in savasana (the final pose, of relaxation), tears rolling down my face.
I distinctly remember one of my first classes at Yoga Dojo, were Adrienne was teaching about the importance of cleansing our body though the food we eat. If we are eating meat – literally the flesh of another sentient being – how could we expect our physical body, the home of our soul to be clean and perform optimally? I was newly vegan at this time, with not a single vegan friend, except for my long distance primarily telephone relationship with my best friend. For perhaps the first time in my entire life, I felt as though I was in the presence of people who I could deeply connect with, without having to prove my value. I was getting up before 6AM (an ungodly hour for a university resident) to catch a bus into town to practice this thing that was making me feel like… I mattered and was loved by God already, without the achievements and credentials I was so desperately grasping for. And they kept talking about veganism. Even the jivamukti chant symbolises veganism:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
Which translates to:
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way, to that happiness and to that freedom for all”
This chant is sung in almost all classes and captures the essence of Jivamukti perfectly.
Jivamukti Yoga is one of the nine internationally recognised yoga methods. The other eight being: Ashtanga, Iyengar, Viniyoga, Sivananda, Integral, Bikram, Kripalu, and Kundalini. Jivamukti yoga is a relatively modern school of yoga co-founded by New Yorkers David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984. The name Jivamukti, where ‘jiva’ means the individual living soul and ‘mukti’ means liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. Thus the term Jivamukti means ‘liberation while living’. The five elements of Jivamukti Yoga are;
Scripture (Shastra) which is the study from ancient yoga books such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Devotion (Bhakti) as God-realisation is the end goal of all yoga practices. Therefore interreligious understanding and tolerance is encouraged, as is kirtan (devotional chanting) and the use of altars in a yoga room.
Non-violence (Ahisma) is the primary ethic of yoga so the Jivamukti method promotes ethical veganism, animal rights, environmental and social activism.
Music (Nada) is used in a Jivamukti yoga class refine hearing though listening to uplifting music during the asana practice and to refine speech through kirtan.
Meditation (Dhyana) is an essential part of every yoga practice and without it Sharon and David believe that no attainment in yoga is possible.
That’s a very brief overview of a very comprehensive method. It is the ancient principle of ahimsa that is often lost in other methods of yoga but is so integral to Jivamukti yoga. The opposite of ahimsa is himsa, which means harm or violence. Himsa can be self-inflicted through thinking badly of yourself, or you can cause himsa to others by thinking badly of them. There are many examples of himsa to animals that occurs around the world today, primarily on farmed animals who are routinely exploited for the flesh or reproductive secretions. So whilst an asana practice can be personally beneficial for the practitioner both physically and mentally, there is a more noble reason to practice yoga, on and off a rubber mat.
“Not harming yourself is a result of the practice, not a directive. If you limit your practice of ahimsa to being kind to yourself, you may experience temporary happiness but you will deny yourself the ultimate benefit of the practice, which is Yoga, everlasting happiness. Everlasting happiness is achieved by kindness, by being considerate of others first. Live to benefit others and all will benefit” – Sharon Gannon
At the start of each Jivamukti class, teachers encourage everyone to set an intention for the practice. Sharon advises that if you cannot think of any particular intention to set, to devote the practice to God. At the start of each month there is a new Focus of the Month, this month (May 2017) the focus is “be the change you want to see in the world”. The Thoughtful Vegan is my attempt at activism, the courage required may never have manifested if I had not found my way home though Jivamukti yoga.
“Throughout human history, cultural heroes like Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi have chosen the path of non-violence… It is a challenging path to take, because it is rarely the path of the majority and because it takes more courage to meet violence with kindness and compassion than to meet violence with violence. Non-violence also happens to be the ethical foundation of Yoga” – David Life and Sharon Gannon
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
Jivamukti Yoga – Sharon Gannon and David Life
Yoga and Vegetarianism: The Path to Greater Health and Happiness – Sharon Gannon
Yoga Dojo: http://www.yoga-dojo.com.au/jivamukti-yoga
What is a person? (Focus Of The Month – November, 2016): https://jivamuktiyoga.com/focus/what-person-world-which-kestrel-moves
Ahimsa (Focus Of The Month – November, 2003): https://jivamuktiyoga.com/focus/ahimsa-2
David Life on Veganism underpinning Jivamukti Yoga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rweOXROS5Fg
What is Jivamukti Yoga? (Sharon Gannon) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STPTt_I9OCY
Why are you a vegan? (Sharon Gannon) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUGNF0794ns
Diet and Spirituality: Does it Matter? (David Life) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7BL7kprReI
Will we Ever Stop Exploiting Animals? (David Life) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlEUBwbfjec
Russell Brand – Awakened Man; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bKQXmvdr8o
The Real You – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMRrCYPxD0I
The Dream of Life – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU0PYcCsL6o