This evening I had a tech session on Jivamukti. Jivamukti is a style of yoga that started in the US in the 1980s by two Americans who studied with an Indian swami; those two individuals then brought the teachings they learned from India to New York City – and created a studio, and a brand.
Tonight’s teacher gave us a very high-level overview of the history of Jivamukti as it was created by the two American founders, a general sense of what Jivamukti consists of, and led us through a few “Jivamukti”-specific poses – just to give us a feel for what the style is like.
So first, the quick history: Jivamukti is a lineage-based practice; which means that the roots of the style’s poses, beliefs, and structures can be traced back to ancient India. I like this aspect of Jivamukti. Some yoga folks (and people in general) can get some kooky ideas about what yoga is/isn’t, or what yoga should/shouldn’t be – and while a solid history doesn’t mean a style (or a method, or a belief) is inherently “good” (there is still lots of craziness out there that has persisted for hundreds and thousands of years), it does give me a bit more confidence when something lasts beyond a year or a decade. Now, don’t misunderstand – it is still absolutely my responsibility to examine/assess the item for myself (whatever the item in question is); but I’m willing to give the item a bit more effort and latitude if it’s weathered a few tests of time. So, anyway, Jivamukti is lineage-based.
The spirit of Jivamukti is also something that resonates with me: The name “Jivamukti” is pulled from “Jiva”, which means all of us; and “muti”, which means liberation. So basically, Jivamukti endorses the idea that we humans can become enlightened beings; and once having become enlightened, we then work here on earth to help liberate other humans who are not yet enlightened. Basically, it’s the Buddhist concept of a Bodhisattva.
After the introductory information, the teacher provided us with a general overview of Jivamukti’s five main tenets:
- Scripture: The belief system of this style of yoga is based on ancient texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Yoga Sutras – which are all widely accepted texts regarding yoga. These texts are to yoga kind of like what the Bible is to Christians. Kind of.
- Ahimsa: The yama of non-harming and non-violence. Notable among Jivamukti is the focus on ethical vegetarianism.
- Meditation: As in, meditation is an essential component of yoga practice. It’s not enough to just do the asanas (poses); meditation also has to occur if a person wants to reach liberation via yoga.
- Nadam: The yoga of sound. Music is used in every Jivamukti class, and call-and-response singing/chanting is also frequently employed. The Jivamukti belief is that a person should pay attention to outer sounds, so that they can then begin to hear inner sounds (i.e., their inner voice).
- Bhakti: Devotion. This yoga style operates under the premise that the goal of all yoga is “God realization” – but the term “God” is meant to include all forms of spiritual belief. So one doesn’t need devotion to “God” persay; but rather devotion to anything spiritual – like devotion to lovingkindness, or devotion to being a better person.
The teacher then had us do a brief-but-impressive exercise that blended elements of ahimsa, meditation, and bhakti all together in a 2-minute power-packed punch. You can do it right now, if you’d like: Think of an annoying person. Then, bring love into your heart. Then, bring the annoying person into your heart. Then, work on keeping both the love and the annoying person in your heart together. That’s yoga.
After about 40 minutes of discussion, the teacher explained that as for the asana (pose) practice of Jivamukti, it is very vinyasa-centric (i.e., connects movement to breath), and pretty darn intense. To demonstrate, she had us complete a few Jivamukti-specific sun salutations – and I agree, the pace was pretty quick, which made the practice more intense.
But – about 10 minutes of pretty standard sun salutations (which I do every morning) was really all the teacher offered us from an experiential perspective. She talked a lot about ego, and liberation, and breath work, and attitude, and intention – which are all primary focuses in most yoga styles – but offered us very little by way of having us do Jivamukti. In fact, she mentioned that “There are 14 critical components that must be included in every Jivamukti class” – but then refused to expand or actually explain what those 14 things are. (“Trade secrets,” she told us. “If you want to know them, you need to pay $9,000 and travel to New York to receive the Jivamukti teacher training.”)
At which point I got irritated, and said to myself, “Oh bull s**t.” In my mind, spiritual practice should not have an associated price tag, but should instead be offered freely to those who seek it. If Jivamukti is all about liberation (as it claims to be), that shouldn’t come with an associated $9,000 fee.
Which brings me back to the point I made at the beginning of this post: that Jivamukti is a brand. And that’s fine; we’re in America, capitalism is our societal practice, I get it. But don’t pretend to be concerned with “spiritual enlightenment” when it’s really all about the cash. Don’t be hypocritical.
If I really want to see what the style of Jivamukti yoga is all about, I will need to attend a session of it, and have a full class experience. I was hoping this tech would give me some sense of Jivamukti beyond just talk; but alas, that just didn’t happen. So, if I want to learn about this style, I will need to feel it instead of just chat about it.
And that’s fine, actually. One of the many things I am learning in this yoga teacher training experience is that I gain just as much knowledge and wisdom through practice (living) as I do by studying (learning); that living is equally important as learning. And for someone who never did sports as a kid but who excelled at academics, and whose adult default is to analyze then act, this awareness is very significant. And I didn’t even have to pay $9K to get it.