Founded in New York City in 1984 by David Life and Shannon Gannon, Jivamukti is one of the nine internationally recognized styles of Hatha Yoga and one of the most well-known Yoga studios in the world today. David and Sharon are credited with the exponential rise in Yoga’s popularity back in the nineties, with their distinctive method of making ancient scriptures relatable to modern urban perspectives and blending a vigorous physical practice with intellectual stimulation.
David and Sharon took the Sivananda teacher training program in 1986, and began practising Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore (India) with Pattabhi Jois in 1990. The founders count among their ‘gurus’ or spiritual teachers the following: Swami Brahmananda Sarasvati, Swami Nirmalananda, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Shyam Das.
Jivamukti derives its name from the Sanskrit ‘Jivamuktih’ which means ‘liberation while living’. The founders define the core philosophy of Jivamukti Yoga as the path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. In line with this philosophy, Jivamukti emphasizes the importance of animal rights, veganism, environmentalism and political activism – practices that extend well beyond the Yoga mat.
The 5 main tenets of Jivamukti Yoga are:
- Shastra (Yogic scripture)
- Bhakti (devotion to the divine spirit)
- Ahimsa (the way of compassion)
- Nada (the way of sacred music)
- Dhyana (meditation, or the way of the witness)
What to expect in a Jivamukti Class
A typical Jivamukti class gives one a vigorous asana practice accompanied by spiritual discourse as music and incense fill the room. An intention is set at the beginning of the class, along with chanting and some philosophical discourse relating to the ‘Focus of the Month’ essay written by the founders every month. Rather than just a vigorous physical workout, an immersive spiritual experience is what the classes aim to be.
There are 6 types of classes, including one standardized warm-up sequence.
- Beginner Vinyasa: A fixed sequence of asanas in a slow, relaxed pace. This class is open to all levels and is great for beginners to gain an experience of aligning one’s breath and intention to movement. The main focus is on the breath rather than the physical alignment. The length of this class varies at different centres.
- Magic Ten: This consists of ten poses, including twists and inversions, each held for ten breaths. It can be done in ten minutes and is used as a quick warm-up in the Spiritual Warrior class and the first six exercises are used as a warm-up in the Basic Class.
- Open Class: As the name suggests, this class is open to practitioners of all levels, with asana modifications or options provided as per one’s level of proficiency. The 5 tenets of Jivamukti are applied in this class and classical Yoga teachings from the ‘Focus of the Month’ essay are also offered.
- Basic Class: Alignment is the main focus of this class. Basic classes are offered as part of a four-week fundamentals course which revolves around a different theme each week – Standing asanas, forward-bending asanas, backward-bending asanas and the integration of the practices in preceding weeks.
- Spiritual Warrior: This class is meant for busy people with only an hour to spare for their practice. A fixed sequence of poses led in a vinyasa style, the class is quick-paced and vigorous. Philosophy takes a backseat as the idea is to keep the pace moving. Best suited for intermediate and advanced practitioners.
- In-Class Private: Here the practitioner and his or her private certified Jivamukti teacher together attend a group class. Hands-on assists and personal guidance is provided by the private teacher throughout the class and also a special deep relaxation Yoga massage in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) at the end of the class.
Teacher trainings at Jivamukti are of two types: 300 hour and 800 hour, both among the most expensive teacher trainings in the world today (costing upto 3,500 USD). There are also weekend programs and 5-day courses called ‘Immersions’ held in various parts of the world. Jivamukti classes are also available on their official website (www.jivamuktiyoga.com), Jivamukti DVDs and Youtube.
Jivamukti has been at the receiving end of its fair share of criticism from long-term ex-students as well as casual visitors. Like many spiritual organisations, it is accused of being something of a cult, with mentors and apprentices held in a power imbalance that renders the latter susceptible to physical and monetary exploitation. A 1.6 million USD sexual harassment lawsuit is currently underway, filed by an ex-apprentice against a senior Jivamukti teacher. Jivamukti has duly denied the allegations, but the truth remains to be uncovered. For anyone drawn to any organisation that claims spiritual evolution and/or ‘guru’dom, he or she would be well-advised to maintain a clear sense of boundaries and not give away one’s power in the equation.
Celebrities who practice Jivamukti Yoga
Madonna, Sting, Donna Karan, Christy Turlington, Heidi Klum, Russell Simons, Uma Thurman, Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Gwyneth Paltrow are some of the celebrities known to have practiced Jivamukti Yoga.
Russell Simmons Performs Jivamukti Yoga (New York, January 7, 2010)
What makes Jivamukti stand apart from other Yoga styles/schools
In one of his recent interviews, David described it as ‘an integrated style of Yoga where you will find in one class meditation, asana practice, scripture, chanting, music. All these aspects combined into one class make it a well-rounded style of Yoga.’ Relating to each person individually, connecting with them and offering hands-on adjustments is an important part of Jivamukti’s approach.
BooksJivamukti Yoga: Practices for liberating Body and Soul
Explains the rigorous physical and spiritual practices that comprise the Jivamukti method of Yoga.
Yoga Assists: A Complete Visual & Inspirational Guide to Yoga Asana Assists
Hands-on adjustments are a staple in Jivamukti classes, and this book specifically addresses the art of adjustments.
The Art of Yoga
A book of black and white photographs depicting the physical prowess of the founders, accompanied by brief explanations based on the scriptures.
If you like the idea of a challenging physical practice that also weaves in Yoga philosophy and scripture discussion, Jivamukti might be just your jam. Always a good idea to explore different approaches to Yoga, as long as one has a strong sense of self and is grounded in one’s own power.