Jivamukti Yoga Center (NYC)

As a New Yorker, many of my yoga teachers have been Jivamukti-influenced. Sharon Gannon and David Life (SG&DL) founded their Jivamukti style of yoga in the mid-eighties, when NYC was a (more of a) cesspool and yoga not yet part of the P90X extreme fitness DVD set. SG&DL took the physical practice of Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga guru extraordinaire), added some philosophy, music, chanting, and animal rights, and broke free of the strict Ashtanga series while keeping the practice physically vigorous. eh viola! Jivamukti yoga was born. Jivamukti was the most glamorous yoga show in town, developed by and for Westerners. The combination of physical and philosophical practice struck a chord, and Jivamukti did gangbusters. SG&DL mentored the students. Their students become teachers. The new teachers opened up studios. So on and so forth. By the late 90s, it became known that celebrities were doing it. Russell Simmons. Christy Turlington. Sting. [Here’s a Barnard religion paper on the history of Jivamukti yoga, worth a scan.]

I had no idea this was going on at the time. In 2000, my friends took me to my first class at Bhava Yoga Center on the Lower East Side, a Jivamukti-joint. A little later, I became a regular at Area Yoga in Brooklyn (when it was still on Smith Street), which then had many Jivamukti-trained teachers. For a while I lived near the Jivamukti studio itself and went everyday. Now, 10-years later, I have just completed my 200-hour teacher training at Laughing Lotus in NYC, founded by Jasmine Tarkeshi and Dana Flynn, both of whom studied at Jivamukti. The Jivamukti influence is everywhere I am drawn. The teachers go past asana and attempt to weave in the ancient teachings. They play music and we sing, which makes me happy.

Short story long, it’s hard for me to review Jivamukti Yoga Center with objectivity, as I owe so much to the founders and their teachings. That said, I am totally okay with sharing my biased opinions.

Jivamukti Yoga Center in Union Square has two big, beautiful studios; a gorgeous retail store; a fantastic vegan cafe; and some of the most well trained yoga teachers around. You may see Russell Simmons in class. The studio is expensive ($20 for a drop in class, plus $2 for a mat). The singing is uplifting. The teachers are serious. The teachings are political. The vinyasa is comprehensive, well-sequenced, and challenging. The dharma talks can be inspirational, or they can be annoying. I remember a teacher, after the Japan earthquake and in the middle of the nuclear powerplant disaster, saying something like, “Sending money won’t help. Too little too late. They should have planned better.” No comment on the truth of statement, but it felt unsympathetic and made me sad.

Jivamukti finds a special cause in veganism (no meat, dairy, or eggs). Jivamukti yoga is uncompromising when it comes to politics; for the school, political activism is an outgrowth of spiritual awakening. Intellectually, I agree. But after two years working for the government in DC I find politics dispiriting and don’t want to deal with it at my yoga class.

One of my favorite teachers is Ruth, who is sometimes on the schedule, sometimes not. She has you hold poses forever while she happily chats yoga philosophy. Her classes are packed.

The founders themselves: SG&DL exude happiness and humility. They are excellent teachers. In a workshop with DL did I first understand in my body how to do chaturanga properly.

I have had many great Jivamukti teachers, too many to list, because every Jivamukti teacher is very well-trained and knows their material inside and out. I am grateful that SG&DL did, and continue to do, what they do. I no longer go to the studio regularly, however, because of cost, because I live farther away, because I no longer need to journey to the source to get the nectar.

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