As a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings, Jivamukti Yoga is grounded in the original meaning of the Sanskrit word asana as “seat, connection” - relationship to the Earth. Earth implies all of life. Citing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, which states that asana should be sthira and sukham, Jivamukti Yoga maintains that one’s relationship to others (asana) should be mutually beneficial and come from a consistent (sthira) place of joy and happiness (sukham). This is a radical idea that, when put into practice, can dismantle our present culture, which is based on the notion that the Earth and all other animals exist for our benefit and to be exploited for our own selfish purposes. So the practice of asana becomes more than mere physical exercise to keep one’s body fit or to increase strength or flexibility; it becomes a way to improve one’s relationship to all others and thus lead to enlightenment - the dissolution of the sense of separateness, the realization of the oneness of being, the discovery of lasting happiness.
This core philosophy is expressed through five tenets which form the foundation of Jivamukti Yoga. Jivamukti teachers embody these tenets, so that they color all of his or her teachings, whether in Basic classes, Open classes, other classes, workshops, or even just interactions with others in the Jivamukti community. In classes other than Open classes, the teacher does not necessarily teach the five tenets explicitly or even state them out loud. In an Open class, however, the five tenets have a special role, because it is part of the teacher’s job to give the students an experience of all five tenets in each Open class, though again not necessarily by teaching them explicitly or even stating them out loud, but by allowing them to inform the class plan and teaching style. Each of the five tenets should be clearly identifiable in every Open class, even though the names of the tenets may not actually be spoken. By doing this, students learn not to see asana as separate from spiritual study or chanting or meditation, but rather to integrate all of the elements that make up Jivamukti Yoga into one unified practice. This provides for a well-rounded approach to our goal—enlightenment through compassion for all beings.
The five tenets, not presented in any particular order of importance, are:
Ahimsa — A nonviolent, compassionate lifestyle extending to other animals, the environment and all living beings, emphasizing ethical vegetarianism (veganism) and animal rights.
Bhakti — Acknowledgment that God/Self-realization is the goal of all yoga practices; can be expressed through chanting, the setting of a high intention for the practice or other devotional practices.
Dhyana — Meditation: connecting to that eternal unchanging reality within.
Nada — The development of a sound body and mind through deep listening; can be incorporated in a class using recorded music, spoken word, silence or even the teacher’s voice.
Shastra — Study of the ancient yogic teachings, including Sanskrit chanting, drawn from the Focus of the Month to the extent possible.
The founders of the Jivamukti Yoga method are Sharon Gannon and David Life. They met in 1983 in New York City and in 1984 created Jivamukti Yoga.
David being initiated into the order of Sannyasa by Swami Nirmalananda in 1989. Sharon with Swami Nirmalananda.
In 1986 they traveled to India and met their first guru, Swami Nirmalananda. On subsequent trips, they met their guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and later in upstate New York, they met their guru Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. Each of their gurus guided them further on their individual spiritual paths, and the teachings of their gurus helped shape the development of Jivamukti Yoga. Sharon and David studied with their gurus for many years and received their blessings to incorporate their teachings into the Jivamukti Yoga method. They have also studied with many other prominent yoga teachers.
The role of the guru is to expose the seeker’s misperceptions and guide the seeker toward self-knowledge. Resting on this tradition but operating on a world stage, Sharon and David have illuminated the deeper, esoteric truths of yoga, linked them to present-day culture and lifestyle, and encouraged practitioners to let go of what they think they know and embrace the path to liberation in this lifetime. Through the innovations of Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon and David have brought the ancient teachings alive, going to the root of their wisdom and making it relevant to the contemporary world. They are pioneers in teaching yoga as spiritual activism/activation, demonstrating that yoga is a living tradition, a complete system for accessing the lasting happiness that is available to all beings. They incorporate their profound talents and experiences as artists, performers and musicians into their teaching styles, making their teachings compelling, exciting and empowering.
David Life and Sharon Gannon in June 2007 Vanity Fair Magazine
Sharon and David have been featured on the Today Show and PBS in the United States, as well as in numerous in-person and print interviews and articles around the world. They have been recognized as “innovators in yoga” by Yoga Journal, and Vanity Fair credits Sharon and David as “making yoga cool and hip.” Time magazine named Jivamukti Yoga one of the important forms of hatha yoga taught in the world today. They have traveled extensively, teaching and presenting at American, European, Canadian, Asian, and South and Central American conferences.
In 1999, Sharon and David (together with Janet Rienstra of META Records) established the Animal Mukti Free Spay & Neuter Clinic of the Humane Society of New York City, which was the first free spay and neuter clinic in the city. The clinic continues to operate on monetary donations raised primarily by yearly fundraisers by Jivamukti Yoga teachers. The clinic has reduced the number of pets who would normally be euthanized in the New York City area by 37%, as well as inspired other organizations to offer free and/or low-cost spay and neuter programs. Sharon and David have been proud Vanguard members of PETA pretty much since its inception. In 2004, they were recognized as “Friends of Ferals” by the Humane Society of New York and Neighborhood Cats, and in 2008, Farm Sanctuary awarded Sharon and David their Compassionate Living Award. In 2003, Sharon and David established the Wild Woodstock Jivamukti Forest Sanctuary, a 125-acre wildlife refuge in upstate New York to provide protection for many diverse species of animals and plants who reside in the northeast region of the United States, which include white tail deer, black bear, turkeys, foxes, raccoons, as well as a large variety of birds, snakes and other reptiles, and amphibians.
Sharon and David have co-authored three books on yoga: Jivamukti Yoga, Practices for Liberating Body & Soul (2002), which includes a foreword by Sting and has been translated into Italian, German and Russian languages, and The Art of Yoga (2002), which includes a foreword by Ravi and Anoushka Shankar. Their newest collaboration, Yoga Assists, is available in both ebook and print editions.