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Interview with Jivamukti Yoga Founders David Life and Sharon Gannon

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Updated June 01, 2012

Interview with Jivamukti Yoga Founders David Life and Sharon Gannon

David Life and Sharon Gannon

Courtesy of Acacia

Introduction to David Life and Sharon Gannon

David Life and Sharon Gannon are the founders of Jivamukti Yoga, which they have been teaching out of their New York City yoga center since 1989. There are now Jivamukti centers and teachers worldwide. This style, which blends vigorous vinyasa practice with spiritual teachings, chanting, and an emphasis on how to bring yoga's philosophy into daily life, is at the forefront of yoga's current popularity.

Life and Gannon's methods are now even more accessible, thanks to their video Transform Yourself with Jivamukti Yoga. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask them a few questions about how Jivamukti began.

Yoga Guide (YG): How did you meet?

David Life : Sharon's band, Audio Letter, toured New York City from Seattle in 1983. I [owned] Life Café in the East Village, and it was a venue for new music, poetry, and art. We met when Audio Letter played at the café.

Sharon Gannon : I was the vocalist/violinist in the band. David was very nice to us and seemed to like our music. Later on, he actually joined the band and played musical instruments he made himself.

YG: How did you first encounter yoga?

David: In college, 1968, I took a couple of free yoga classes that did not impress me at all. At the time, I was studying the great yogi Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings of non-violence. I was involved in protest actions against the Vietnam War and was inspired by the Hindustani concepts of non-violent grassroots social change.

Tara Rose, one of the waitresses at the Life Café in New York, was a yoga teacher and we started studying asana with her. In 1986, we began yearly trips to India to study with many teachers like Swami Nirmalananda, Pattabhi Jois, Shyam Das and others.

Sharon: In 1969, I went to hear a lecture about yoga by Bob Freedie, who did psychedelic light shows in Seattle; he was a devotee of Krishnamurti. That was where I got my first introduction to the Theosophical Society. Sometime shortly after that, I got a book by Richard Hittleman and did my best to follow the instructions and mimic the poses pictured in the book.

During the seventies, while a student at the University of Washington, I studied Indian music, dance, philosophy, and culture. The first asana class I went to was in 1973 in Santa Cruz, California; I was not impressed with the class and did not go back. The significant experience with asana practice was with Tara Rose. We started to attend her classes in the East Village around 1984.

YG: When did you realize that you were creating your own style of yoga? Was it a conscious decision?

David: Any yoga teacher can only teach the methods and practices that worked for them. We had many great teachers who inspired us with methods and teachings that served them well. We practiced yoga, and our friends asked us to share the methods that resonated with us. It was only after the fact that it came to be called Jivamukti yoga

Sharon: It was a conscious decision to call the style Jivamukti, because we wanted a name which, when people said it, they would connect to the aim of the practice, which is enlightenment. Jivamukti is actually an American rendition of the Sanskrit word, Jivanmukti, which means liberated while living. A Jivanmukta is one who is liberated and lives to benefit the lives of others.

YG: How did it evolve?

David: Organically. It grew quickly, but was always a reflection of our personal growth and the larger cultural developments. At some point, about 1997, we launched a program nationally to promote Jivamukti (liberated living); we now work internationally to promote non-harming lifestyles, political and social activism, and evolutionary techniques through Jivamukti yoga. Our students teach all over the world and have created centers in New York, London, Berlin, Munich, Toronto, Vancouver, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Sharon: How did it evolve? It was definitely an organic process. I mean, we didn’t wake up one morning and decide we are going to be yoga teachers, we are going to create this method called Jivamukti yoga, and we are going to rent a space and etc., etc. We were artists who were also political activists, and we were trying to shift the values of our culture through our art. We recognized pretty much immediately that the ethical percepts of yoga were in line with our activist views and aspirations, especially ahimsa and aparigraha.

Speaking for myself, I was always trying to find ways to speak out for the animals and the environment in my art and, when I discovered yoga, I saw that it could certainly provide space for this type of activism. We began to incorporate a lot of yoga into the performances, and the people who came to see those performances began to ask us to teach them. It seemed to make more sense to teach people how to practice what we were practicing than to let them sit in a theater or some place and watch us perform some artistic rendition of it.

But I think with the meeting of our holy teachers, first in the form of Swami Sankarananda and then later Swami Nirmalananda, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and Shri Brahamananda Saraswati, we received blessings and encouragement which provided us with a tremendous dose of shakit which instigated the unfoldment of the method.

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