Living Jivamukti Yoga | Omega

Cocreators of Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon and David Life have been teaching yoga worldwide for more than 25 years. Their pioneering style brings together spiritual activism and activation, teaching the ancient methods of yoga in a modern context. In this interview, they go back to their early days of discovering yoga, offer advice to new yoga teachers, and discuss how their relationship has thrived throughout the years.

Omega: You met as artists in New York City in the early 1980s. How did studying and teaching yoga transform your life at that time?

Sharon: Yoga informed our life. It provided us something to do together, which was creative, the ultimate creative adventure: self-realization.

David: My life transformed into being mainly interested in yoga, yogis, and yoga philosophy—consequently my interest in other things diminished. But most other things that could attract my interest seemed to pale in comparison to the immensity of yoga.

Omega: CNN recently ranked teaching yoga as a top 10 job in America. What advice do you have for aspiring yoga teachers who want to make the most impact?

Sharon: Teach the full package, don’t dumb down the teachings, teach yoga as a practice that can bring about enlightenment.

David: Do all that is necessary to master your subject. With mastery, you may have something worth sharing. If you find yourself teaching without complete mastery of the subject you must take refuge in the words and teachings of the great yogis who have taught before us. Do not try to reinvent yoga, trust in the lineage of masters.

Omega: Many of your students are from a younger generation than you, why do you think yoga continues to appeal to each generation? What does this generation have to teach us?

Sharon: Young people at this time see first hand the spiritual poverty and resulting devastation of our planet that our global culture, which is based on the exploitation of animals and the earth, has sanctioned. They want to do something about it. They are filled with enthusiasm and optimism. Yoga provides the tools to dismantle this present culture and build a new one—based on mutual benefit for all members of the community—animals included. 

David: If young people are not interested in what you have to teach, then you probably are teaching something that is dead (or at least culturally irrelevant.) The teachings of yoga flow uninterruptedly from teacher to student from before time. Each new generation feels yoga alive in their heart and inspires teachers to teach.

Omega: You’ve spoken in many interviews about the importance of having a lineage in yoga. How does one know when they’ve found “their” lineage and guru?

Sharon: You feel an alignment of heart and soul, you want to join forces to make wonderful things happen.

David: One does not search for a teacher like a soul mate. The relationships we are talking about are re-enacted in multiple lifetimes—God is the one true doer. Generally, the most important skill is to learn from the karmas of an unfolding life, and act with impeccability.

Omega: How did you develop the five tenets of Jivamukti Yoga (bhakti, meditation, ahimsa, nada, and scripture)?

Sharon: I was looking for a way to sum up the Jivamukti philosophy for the students who were seriously studying with us, and who wanted to teach this method. I felt I had reached a block in communication and was sitting in the office at the yoga school with my head in my hands in exasperation, then I lifted my head and looked at my hand and saw on each of the five fingers the five tenets. 

David: Alleluia!

Omega: What’s changed in your personal yoga practice throughout the years?

Sharon: Not much.

David: Consistency is the better part of immortality.

Omega: You’ve been together for more than 30 years, as a couple, spiritual seekers, and business partners. What advice do you have for others who desire to blend these different aspects of life together?

Sharon: Be grateful for every moment. Let go of finding fault. Don’t pull each other down with lots of criticism—let go of blaming and complaining. Instead support and praise each other, take care of things for the other person, and do all you can to make them smile. 

David: I can say that Sharon’s techniques will work. It really is not reasonable for me to ask anyone to live the kind of intense lives that we have led together. The commitment it takes to meet someone simultaneously on many different levels is really a commitment to the oneness of being. Not everyone is up for that kind of life, and it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry, be happy.

Omega: What does being yoga activists look like in your life today? What projects are you most excited about?

Sharon: Veganism and animal rights has never been more central to my focus. I am so excited to know that more and more students are seeing the link between raising animals for food and the devastation of our environment.

David: We are blessed with many opportunities to speak out for compassion. But in my day-to-day life, it is serving the animals that live near us that brightens my outlook—bird friends, deer friends, squirrel friends, fox friends, cat friends, flowers, and trees.

Omega: How can a yoga practice help the planet?

Sharon: Yoga can awaken one to their inner happiness and compassion. There is nothing more powerful for the planet than acting from a place of happiness and compassion. 

David: The planet does not need help—it will survive. What a yogi does is to live each moment as if the “God-in-Life” matters. Yogis live in tribes of mutuality, other-centeredness, cradle-to-grave security, and other characteristics that could serve the needs of human beings and other beings well in this time.

Omega: Jivamukti is derived from a Sanskrit word, meaning to live liberated and joyfully. What are some ways that you bring more joy into your day?

Sharon: Being thankful for every opportunity, not seeing difficulties as difficult but instead seeing them as opportunities to be grateful and cheerful. Not to fall into old habits of blaming and complaining and painting myself as a victim of others or circumstances. Remembering God by serving God and chanting God’s name and being kind to others helps me to live liberated and joyfully.

David: Well, we spoke about serving the others around me—and that is enough for one life. Eventually, when we serve others enough, we stop seeing others, and we see ourselves. Wherever you look, there you are. The end of otherness is the beginning of oneness. The loosening of attachment to name and form is liberating and the perception of oneness is joyful.

© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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