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The Jivamukti Yoga method is a proprietary style of yoga created by David Life and Sharon Gannon in 1984.
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 inspirational 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.